States want the GST guarantee set in legislative stone


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

The government hoped to have the pressure on Labor over planned legislation for a new GST carve up but instead it has found itself on the back foot.

At a meeting of state and territory treasurers on Wednesday, there was a general demand across the political spectrum for the legislation to include a guarantee that no jurisdiction will be worse off.

NSW Liberal Treasurer Dominic Perrottet said after the meeting that “all states and territories put forward the strong view” the bill must include this.

“Unfortunately the Commonwealth indicated it would proceed with legislation without that guarantee,” he said.

He said that under the federal government proposal “there are a number of scenarios where NSW would lose substantial funding.

“That is not an acceptable outcome,” Perrottet said.

“In the weeks ahead I will be making every effort to ensure any Commonwealth legislation includes the guarantee the Prime Minister and the Treasurer have previously given – that our state will not be worse off.”

Federal Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said the legislation would be introduced in the next parliamentary sitting week. He reaffirmed that, “based on the Productivity Commission’s data”, the deal “will make every state and territory better off. This will guarantee an extra $9 billion in funding over the next 10 years”.

Frydenberg said the government was not including the guarantee in the legislation because “we don’t want to run two sets of books … the old system and the new system.”

If the government does not give way beforehand, the issue of the guarantee will likely become one for the Senate.

The new distribution for GST revenue is driven by the need to give Western Australia a fairer share. To win the support of the other jurisdictions the government announced the $9 billion in extra funding, to make for winners all round. But the states are concerned that if the guarantee is not in the legislation, unforeseen circumstances could arise that might disadvantage them.

Anxious to bed down the new GST arrangement without the need to get agreement from all jurisdictions, the government resorted to the unusual course of legislation – only to then run into Wednesday’s problems.

Victorian Labor Treasurer, Tim Pallas said the lobbying would continue to have the guarantee “enshrined in legislation”.

Queensland Labor Treasurer, Jackie Trad said that without the legal guarantee there was a “real risk” some jurisdictions could be worse off in certain circumstances. “We cannot prepare or forecast or model every single scenario.”

The South Australian and Tasmanian Liberal treasurers also declared they wanted legislated protection.

Shadow treasurer Chris Bowen said: “It’s a particularly special day when Josh Frydenberg offers an additional $9 billion in GST top up payments and still manages to get every state and territory Treasurer united against him.”

Bowen said Morrison promised when treasurer that no state would be worse off under the changes. “But he’s been called out this week for the government’s legislation failing to match this guarantee”.

Labor’s position is that it supports legislating the new distribution but wants the guarantee included. Morrison has been challenging Bill Shorten to back the legislation.

While there was a fight over the GST distribution legislation, there was unity over removing the GST on tampons from the start of 2019, ending a battle that began when the tax was introduced.The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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Why the government will be sending more GST funding to Western Australia


John Freebairn, University of Melbourne

If the Commonwealth government’s proposed reforms for the distribution of the GST revenue between the States and Territories is implemented, about a billion dollars a year of additional commonwealth funds will be spent to ensure “no state will be worse off”. But where the extra funds will come from is left to the imagination.

A key aim of the reform is to reduce the wild swings in how much states receive from GST collected. The Productivity Commission had recommended GST be apportioned using an average of the states ability to provide services (known as “fiscal capacity”), but the government has decided to use Victoria and New South Wales as the benchmark.

Given both the current allocation and the proposed reform are instruments for meeting equity and efficiency objectives, the unknown loser is who pays for the additional commonwealth funding.




Read more:
Explainer: COAG and the ‘GST carve-up’


GST is collected by the Commonwealth and then redistributed. The share of the GST given to each state is designed to meet the objective that “each of Australia’s States has the same fiscal capacity, under average policies, to provide general government infrastructure and services.”

The government’s proposed reform claims not to reduce the revenue provided to each state. However, it will change the relative shares of the larger sum to be allocated to the different states.

Vital state revenue

State and Territory governments depend on transfers from the Commonwealth government for about half of their revenue.

About half of this is special payments for things such as education, health, housing and infrastructure. The other half is the GST, and these funds are free for the states to spend as they desire.

How much each state receives is determined so that if each state applied similar state-based taxes, the revenue from state taxes plus their GST share would fund similar levels of state government services to its citizens – fiscal capacity.

Those states that have a greater ability to raise taxes (say they have a large mining industry) or can provide services more cheaply (due to a smaller remote and elderly population) receive less than an “equal” per capita share of the GST.

Currently, NSW, Victoria and Western Australia receive less than an equal per capita share of GST.

By contrast, states who can raise less revenue, or have a higher cost of providing services, receive more than an equal per capita share.

South Australia, Tasmania and the Northern Territory are all currently net recipients of GST – they receive more than they pay in.

Changing the distribution

Giving some states more and others less than an equal per person share of GST is done for both equity and economic efficiency. For equity, the idea is that citizens in similar incomes, demographic and other circumstances should enjoy similar levels of state government services regardless of where they live.

For efficiency, the distribution aims to neutralise the need for different state tax rates; if the states are to fund similar levels of services, particularly on mobile labour and capital.




Read more:
FactCheck: is the GST as efficient but less equitable than income tax?


Up until the mining boom the current distribution of GST revenue among the states was generally accepted.

But the large increase in mineral royalties, and especially iron ore in WA, resulted in WA shifting from being a net recipient to receiving only a third of a per capita share in 2017-18, many years after the end of the mining boom.

The data used to determine the allocation of GST lags, meaning the 2017-18 allocation is based on average 2012-13 through 2015-16 data.

Western Australia, and more recently the Northern Territory, have been vigorous critics of their smaller share, and at the same time South Australia has vigorously argued they retain at least their current share. After all, resolving these conflicting political claims is a zero-sum game!

Introducing a benchmark

In order to deal with wild swings, such as that introduced by the mining boom, the Productivity Commission (PC) considered several reform options.

A key proposal was to replace the current model of bringing all states up to the fiscally strongest state with a more stable benchmark.

The preferred benchmark proposed in the draft report was the second highest state. The final report recommended an average across the states. The commission assumed a larger share for one state would mean a smaller share for other states.

But the federal government’s proposal includes additional funds to top up the GST.

The federal government’s interim response to the PC final report has a few more differences to the PC’s recommendation.

The benchmark for allocation will be the fiscal capacity of NSW or VIC, whichever is the largest. This will provide stability for major structural and cyclical economic shocks, and a high level of fiscal capacity for state government services.

A “floor” will also be established at 0.7 to 0.75 of the benchmark, creating a safety net.




Read more:
WA’s economic mismanagement is not a reason to review how the GST is carved up


The recommended reforms for distribution of the GST revenue between the states by both the PC and the commonwealth government seek to reduce volatility of the shares while roughly maintaining previously accepted principles of equity and efficiency.

The ConversationFor the additional revenue cost, the commonwealth government argues no state will be worse off.

John Freebairn, Professor, Department of Economics, University of Melbourne

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Turnbull government says no losers in its new GST carve-up plan


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

The federal government promises to subsidise the transition to a new formula for carving up the GST revenue, after rejecting an alternative proposed by the Productivity Commission inquiry it ordered.

The government’s plan, to be released by Treasurer Scott Morrison on Thursday, would ensure the fiscal capacity of all states and territories was “at least the equal of NSW or Victoria, whichever is higher”.

“Benchmarking all states and territories to the economies of the two largest states will remove the effects of extreme circumstances, like the mining boom, from Australia’s GST distribution system,” Morrison said.

A “floor” would also be set, below which no state could fall. From 2022-23, this would be 70 cents per person per dollar of the GST, rising to 75 cents from 2024-25.

The changes follow years of complaint by Western Australia, after its share of the GST revenue fell drastically. The GST has threatened to be a federal election issue in WA, where the Liberals have several vulnerable seats.

In its report, commissioned by Morrison last year, the PC recommended distribution being equalised on an average of all states and territories. But Morrison said the PC’s model would move too far from the “fair go” principle – it would risk leaving behind the smaller states.

As well, it would cause “unnecessary disruption and transition costs that most states, and the Commonwealth, would not be able to reasonably accept or absorb”, he said in a statement.

The PC report was sent to the states and territories on Wednesday. When details started leaking late Wednesday Malcolm Turnbull quickly declared its proposed model had been rejected. He told a news conference that under the government’s plan “no state will be worse off and indeed every state will be better off”.

The transition to the new system would be over eight years from 2019-20, eased by funds from the federal government.

Short term untied funding would be given over three years from 2019-20 to ensure no state received less than 70 cents per person per GST dollar.

Also, Morrison said, “a fair and sustainable transition to a new equalisation standard will be ensured through an additional, direct, and permanent Commonwealth boost to the pool of funds to be distributed among the states”.

The Commonwealth would put in $600 million in 2021-22, with a second injection of $250 million in 2024-25. The additional Commonwealth funding would be indexed.

Morrison will go on a road show to sell the plan to the states, with a special meeting of the Council on Federal Financial Relations to be held in September.

The government is aiming for agreement on transition arrangements being reached by the end of the year.

Morrison said: “This will be the first time real changes have been made to fix problems in how the GST is shared since the GST was introduced almost 20 years ago”.

In its report, the PC said the current approach to horizontal fiscal equalisation (HFE), though having strengths, “also has significant weaknesses. Reform and development opportunities are likely being missed at the expense of community wellbeing over time”.

While equity should remain at the system’s heart, “there is a need for a better balance between equity and efficiency”. The Commonwealth should set a revised objective for HFE “to provide states with the fiscal capacity to deliver a reasonable standard of services,” the PC said.

The present system “seeks to give all states the same fiscal capacity to deliver public services. To do this, all states are brought up to the fiscal capacity of the fiscally strongest state”.

Correction

The ConversationThe original story has been corrected – it wrongly said that state consent was needed for the change. Morrison told a news conference on Thursday he wanted state and territory agreement, but it is not formally required.

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Levying GST on all packages is complicated and risky for everyone involved



File 20180628 112607 6rg9j0.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
Amazon has restricted Australians’ access to goods from its American site because of the GST reforms.
Shutterstock

Kathryn James, Monash University

If like most Australians you have an online shopping habit, then as of this Sunday you will likely pay 10% more for any goods you have delivered from overseas suppliers.

The reforms rely on local and overseas businesses and platforms (such as eBay and Alibaba) that make more than A$75,000 worth of annual sales in Australia to collect Goods and Service Tax on sales of imported goods worth A$1,000 or less, and then pass on that revenue to Australian authorities. Australia is the first country to require offshore suppliers to collect GST.

Once a platform reaches the A$75,000 threshold, any business making sales to Australian consumers through that platform will need to charge GST regardless of its size.




Read more:
How will Amazon navigate Australia’s taxation system?


However, the complexity of the reforms might jeopardise the necessary cooperation of overseas businesses, and place consumers at risk of paying wrongly charged GST. It could also leave governments locked in to an ineffective way of collecting GST on imported goods.

The government’s own estimates suggest that, after taking into account exclusions and non-compliance, the reforms will capture only half of all eligible sales. This will generate modest revenues of A$300 million over the first three years.

Why the reforms?

There are several good reasons to extend GST to goods bought by Australian consumers from overseas suppliers.

Much has been made of the need to “level the playing field” between domestic retailers (who collect GST on all eligible sales) and overseas retailers (where GST is charged only on sales over A$1,000).

At a more basic level, as a tax on household consumption, the GST should tax the purchases of final consumers. Therefore all imports should be taxed under a GST, as this is where the goods will most likely be consumed.

The choice to not tax imports of low-value goods was made for a practical reason – the cost of customs authorities collecting the GST at the border could outweigh the revenue obtained. Estimates suggest the exclusion cost about A$390 million, or less than 1% of total GST revenues of A$62.2 billion for 2017-2018.

But this has changed with the expansion of online shopping and the development of collection methods other than at the border. These reforms are therefore best understood as a revenue-integrity measure.

What will be the effect of the changes?

As border authorities will continue to collect GST on imported goods worth more than A$1,000, the reforms effectively establish two separate schemes for imported goods.

It is possible for one transaction to be taxed at the point of sale (GST is payable on sales that include low-value goods even if the total value of the sale is more than A$1,000) and again at the border (because GST will continue to be payable on imports where the value of the whole consignment exceeds A$1,000 even if it consists entirely of low-value goods).

So if a consumer buys three pairs of boots at A$400 (A$1,200 total) the transaction might be taxable either at the point of sale (as a sale that includes low-value goods) or at the border (because the total value of the consignment is over A$1,000).




Read more:
Aussie retailers need to adapt to a world built on speed


The reforms contain rules to address this double taxation. For example, it can be avoided by the supplier providing notice to customs prior to importation.

In the event this doesn’t happen, the consumer risks paying the GST twice because no provision is made for refunding GST paid at the border.

Consumers would need to rely on the goodwill of the supplier to refund the wrongly paid GST. The same risk applies if an overseas supplier wrongly charges GST at the point of sale on a GST-free good such as a medical aid or appliance.

All of this will require a lot of cooperation by suppliers with little reward for compliance and only patchy enforcement mechanisms for those that don’t comply.

The response of suppliers and platforms

Despite big players warning that the reforms might “force marketplaces like eBay to prevent Australian buyers from purchasing from foreign sellers”, Amazon has been the only one to act. It announced on May 31 2018 that it would no longer ship from its US website direct to Australian consumers as of July 1.

Consumers will instead be redirected to the Amazon.au site (with Amazon collecting the GST on imports) or would need to engage a redelivery service to ship items bought on Amazon.com to Australia (with the redeliverer responsible for collecting GST).

Although Amazon is right to question the “workability” of the reforms, there is little doubt that Amazon has the capacity to comply, as Treasurer Scott Morrison has suggested.

Amazon’s chosen method to comply with its GST obligations results in either reduced choice for consumers (64 million goods via Amazon.com.au compared to 480 million on Amazon.com) or increased cost (if shopping through Amazon.com).

It also transfers the compliance costs from Amazon to redeliverers (no doubt offset by increased customers) and makes the redelivery provisions in the reforms, intended as a last resort, far more significant.




Read more:
Amazon in Australia might not be the end of retail as we know it


However, Amazon’s move is not simply about its capacity to comply with GST obligations in Australia. It must be understood in the context of governments around the world moving to collect GST and other taxes on online consumer spending.

Australia is the first jurisdiction to move to adopt a vendor-platform collection model and many jurisdictions are poised to follow suit (the European Union, Switzerland and New Zealand have all announced similar reforms). The Amazon response might give them pause for thought, and sufficient pause is all that might be needed.

Amazon would like transporters such as freight and logistics companies and Australia Post to collect GST on imported goods because it means suppliers and platforms like Amazon won’t have to do so.

The transporter method potentially offers a more reliable method to collect GST, but the paper-based international postal system is unable to do so at least until 2023.

Amazon appears willing to take a short-term hit while waiting for technology and regulatory change to make it viable to adopt its preferred method of transporter collection.

The ConversationIn the meantime, consumers should take care when making purchases from overseas suppliers to ensure as much as they can that GST is being correctly charged. And the world is watching.

Kathryn James, Senior lecturer, Law, Monash University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Fear not, shoppers: Amazon’s Australian geoblock won’t cramp your style



File 20180601 142102 1owy6g4.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
Will there be fewer of these on Australian doorsteps?
Ink Drop/Shutterstock.com

Gary Mortimer, Queensland University of Technology

Online retail giant Amazon’s decision to block Australian shoppers from its US website has prompted an outpouring of anger from its customers. However, economic statistics indicate the actual value of online purchased products entering Australia from international marketplaces is relatively low. While some shoppers will be disappointed by Amazon’s decision, others will simply find ways around the geoblock.

The federal government has been under pressure from legacy retailers like Gerry Harvey, who have called for an end to the GST exemption on overseas online purchases worth less than A$1,000.

Federal Treasurer Scott Morrison last year introduced legislation for this measure, arguing it will “establish a level playing field for our domestic retailers”. From July 1, 2018, GST will apply to all overseas online purchases.

The Australian Retailers Association has proposed a “vendor collection model” under which foreign retailers would collect the GST at the time of purchase and then pay it to the Australian Taxation Office.

But the fact is that these measures won’t level the playing field. Overseas online prices for many items are so low that that even if GST were added, they would still be far cheaper than they are in Australia. For example, a recent search showed Levi’s 510 jeans for A$115 at Myer, compared with A$74.85 in the United States; and a Uniqlo Women’s ultralight down jacket for A$200 here, versus A$154.10 over there.




Read more:
Three holes in Hockey’s plan to levy GST on overseas purchases


In 2017 Australians spent an estimated A$24.2 billion online. Yet this is just 7.8% of the amount spent at bricks-and-mortar shops. And more than 80% of online spending was through domestic retailers, which are subject to GST.

With only A$4.84 billion spent via overseas retailers, a quick calculation indicates that adding 10% GST to those purchases would have added A$484 million to the government’s coffers last year.

Why has Amazon blocked Australia?

Amazon has blamed the new GST rules for its decision to bar Australian shoppers, arguing that the vendor collection model would create significant operational difficulties:

While we regret any inconvenience this may cause customers, we have had to assess the workability of the legislation as a global business with multiple international sites.

Yet rival online seller eBay seems to have managed to implement the vendor collection model without undue trouble. It looks as if Amazon, which generated almost US$180 billion in sales last year, views the Australian market as just too small to justify the hassle. In fact, one study has estimated that Amazon will only gain a 16% share of Australian online retail sales by 2025.

Amazon’s view on Australia’s red tape may well be right. Modelling by Australia Post suggests that if the postal service were tasked with assessing and collecting the GST on international deliveries, it would cost almost A$900 million to collect A$300 million in revenue.

Who are the winners and losers?

As mentioned above, Amazon probably won’t suffer much from cutting loose its relatively small Australian customer base. But what about the customers themselves, and Amazon’s competitors?

When Amazon Australia (not to be confused with the now geoblocked US site) launched in December 2017, just in time for the Christmas rush, 3.8 million Australians visited the site during that month alone. But this is well short of the 11 million Australian shoppers who visit eBay each month.

Amazon’s withdrawal will undoubtedly benefit eBay and other sites such as Alibaba, which look set to attract shoppers who are still hungry for an international bargain.

While some dedicated fans of Amazon’s US site are understandably annoyed, most customers simply won’t notice the difference. Customers will be automatically directed to Amazon’s domestic offering, which claims to stock more than 60 million products.




Read more:
Amazon in Australia might not be the end of retail as we know it


For Australia’s traditional retailers, the playing field still isn’t really “level”, even without access to Amazon US. Don’t expect everyone to suddenly start banging down Harvey Norman’s doors come July 1. In reality the impact will be minimal.

How to get around the geoblock

For the very determined shopper who demands access to Amazon US, there are naturally ways around geoblocking technology, such as re-shipping services, freight forwarders, and VPNs.

The ConversationBut given that the average online shopping basket was worth A$145 in 2017, it seems like a lot of trouble to go to just to avoid paying A$14.50.

Gary Mortimer, Associate Professor in Marketing and International Business, Queensland University of Technology

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

GST carve-up to be examined by the Productivity Commission


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

The government has ordered the Productivity Commission to review how the GST revenue is sliced up, setting the scene for a new round of hostilities between states over what they get from the tax. The Conversation

The review, to report by the end of January, follows long-standing pressure from Liberals in Western Australia, which currently loses out heavily from the present formula. There is now deep concern, after the Barnett government’s wipeout, that a number of federal seats in that state could be lost at the next election.

Under the Grants Commission’s formula, WA in 2017-18 will get only 34% of the average national per capita distribution of the GST.

The new WA Labor premier, Mark McGowan, welcomed the review, saying he had pressed for it. He said action was needed as soon as the report was received.

But South Australian Labor Treasurer Tom Koutsantonis said that after the WA rout of the Liberals, the federal government wanted “to take GST away from South Australians and give it to Western Australians”.

Expert sources said potential winners and losers from the PC review could not be predicted.

The outcome of the review would be taken to the Council of Australian Governments (COAG).

Treasurer Scott Morrison said the commission had been asked to inquire into the impact on the national economy of the current system of horizontal fiscal equalisation (HFE) which underpins the present distribution.

Under this system, the Grants Commission recommends a carve up to give each state the capacity to provide its citizens with a comparable level of government services.

“In recent years, views have been put to the government that the current approach to HFE creates disincentives for reform, including reforms to enhance revenue raising capacities or drive efficiencies in spending, arguing that any gains from reform are effectively redistributed to other states,” Morrison said.

“It is important for Australia’s future prosperity that our system underpinning Commonwealth-state financial relations supports productivity, efficiency and economic growth across the country.”

The federal government has been topping up WA’s money and confirmed that it will continue to do so in next week’s budget, by providing it with some A$226 million for infrastructure.

One closely watched area in the budget will be health, with the government expected to announce a staged lifting of the freeze on Medicate rebates, probably over three years and starting with GP consultations for those covered by concession cards.

Labor is pre-emptively seeking to raise the bar higher than the government will meet. Bill Shorten and health spokeswoman Catherine King said in a statement that if the government “doesn’t drop every single health cut in full”, including the entire Medicare freeze from July 1, it would be “more proof that they can’t be trusted on health”.

Meanwhile, Education Minister Simon Birmingham is setting the scene for the imminent announcement of the university funding policy by releasing a study on the cost of delivery of higher education, commissioned by the government and undertaken by Deloitte.

It showed revenue rose faster than costs – between 2010 and 2015 the average costs of delivery per student increased by 9.5%, while per student funding growth was 15%.

“This independent analysis speaks for itself: funding for our universities is at record levels, but it has grown above and beyond the costs of their operations,” Birmingham said.

“Australian taxpayers gave universities around $16.7 billion in 2016 alone or around $19,000 per student, which is more than ever before. In the context of a tight national budget, the Turnbull government is focused on getting the best return for every taxpayer dollar invested,” Birmingham said.

Birmingham has a meeting with university leaders and business and student representatives on Monday.

With housing affordability a key item in the budget, there is speculation one measure could be a tax break for first home buyers’ savings.

In its pre-budget monitor on the economy Deloitte Access Economics says the economic news is getting better – reinforcing the point Morrison made last week.

“National income is jumping by $100 billion this year, equalling the gains of the previous two-and-a-half years in one gulp,” it says, adding that the good news is mostly in profits. But wages growth remains low, restraining the growth in revenue.

Deloitte projects a deficit of $38.3 billion this financial year, $1.8 billion worse than in the official mid-year budget update, and (on the assumption of no further policy changes) the deficit falling to $27.5 billion next financial year. That would be $1.2 billion better than projected in the mid-year update.

Deloitte doesn’t expect Australia to lose its AAA credit rating in the near term. “Were it to happen, the initial trigger may actually be the debt of families rather than that of government,” it says. “In recent months Australian families passed those of Denmark to move into second place as the world’s most indebted [behind the Swiss].”

https://www.podbean.com/media/player/r88ra-6a1eda?from=yiiadmin

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Imposing GST on low-value imports doesn’t level the playing field


Kathrin Bain, UNSW

The government wants to extend GST to imported online goods under A$1000, effective from 1 July 2017, with Treasurer Scott Morrison stating it will “establish a level playing field for our domestic retailers”. But the proposed legislation doesn’t do this. Rather, it unfairly imposes GST on goods purchased from overseas sellers, that wouldn’t be subject to GST if purchased from an Australian seller. The Conversation

The government also hasn’t cleared up how the collection will be adequately enforced. Without appropriate enforcement, collecting more revenue from this tax seems unlikely.

Currently, low-value imports (those with a customs value of A$1,000 or less) are exempt from GST. If the legislation is passed, overseas vendors who sell more than A$75,000 of low-value goods to Australian consumers would be required to register for GST, and collect and remit GST on low-value goods to the ATO.

Those imports will continue to be stopped at the border with any GST, customs duty, and associated fees paid to Australian Border Force by the importer before the goods are released.

For sellers of low-value goods it will mean that an overseas supplier of both low and high value goods will be subject to two separate tax regimes. The requirement to collect GST will apply only to low-value goods.

Online marketplaces and mail forwarding services

The new law will also apply to online marketplaces such as eBay and “redeliverers” – businesses that forward goods to Australia from overseas companies. For goods purchased through an online marketplace, the marketplace rather than the seller will be treated as the supplier. Similarly, if low-value goods are delivered to Australia by a redeliverer, they will be considered to be the supplier for GST purposes.

While extending the GST to these goods is meant to level the playing field between overseas and Australian vendors, treating the online marketplace or mail forwarder as the supplier of goods is inconsistent with the treatment of domestic transactions.

As eBay has stated in their submission to the Senate Committee: “eBay is not a seller. eBay is a third-party online marketplace that simply connects buyers and sellers”.

For Australian vendors who sell items on eBay, it’s the individual seller who is responsible for collecting and remitting GST on products they sell (if they are required to be registered). A seller who uses eBay, but isn’t carrying on an enterprise or does not meet the A$75,000 turnover threshold, isn’t required to be registered and would not be required to collect GST on their sales.

However, the proposed legislation does not treat overseas vendors in this way, by treating online marketplaces and mail forwarding services as the supplier of goods. The Treasurer stated that:

Including online marketplaces ensures that only a limited number of entities need to collect the GST, rather than the multitude of small, individual vendors making supplies through these online marketplaces that compete with Australian retailers here in Australia.

With all due respect to Scott Morrison, he seems to have missed the point that small, individual vendors should not (if their turnover of low-value goods into Australia is less than A$75,000) be required to collect GST merely because they use an online marketplace.

EBay has gone as far as stating in their submission that: “Regrettably, the Government’s legislation may force eBay to prevent Australians from buying from foreign sellers”. This is because they would not be able to comply with the requirements imposed under the new legislation.

Compliance concerns

Despite the legislation being intended to come into effect on 1 July of this year, it is still unclear how the new system will be adequately enforced.

At the moment, information displayed on international mail declarations doesn’t indicate whether the overseas supplier is registered (or required to be registered) for GST. It also doesnt say whether GST has been collected, and whether it is being correctly remitted to the ATO. Even if this information was readily available, it’s not clear how the ATO would deal with non-compliant entities.

If it was determined that GST had not been charged and collected by the overseas supplier of the low-value goods, there is nothing in the proposed legislation that would allow the GST to be collected from the importer (instead of the supplier) when the goods enter Australia. However, attempting to enforce an Australian tax debt against a non-compliant overseas vendor would be a complex, costly, and likely fruitless endeavour.

Consumer advocate group Choice has expressed concern that the government would use powers under the Telecommunications Act to block the websites of non-compliant entities. However, Scott Morrison has indicated that the government has no intention of using this power.

Concerns regarding enforcement have been echoed in a number of submissions, including the Taxation Institute of Australia and Amazon. Both highlight the fact that lack of enforcement may simply encourage Australian consumers to purchase goods from non-compliant overseas entities that are not charging GST.

By treating online marketplaces and mail forwarding services as the supplier of goods, the proposed legislation does not treat overseas vendors in the same way as domestic vendors. The tax will only be effective if the system for collecting GST on imports can be adequately enforced. Without appropriate enforcement, high levels of compliance seems unlikely. A lack of compliance will continue to leave Australian retailers at a disadvantage, with only minimal increase in GST revenue.

Kathrin Bain, Lecturer, School of Taxation & Business Law, UNSW

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.