Desperately seeking a tax dodge

If you ask most Christians what they want for their future, no one replies: more hand-outs for big business and please cut spending on health and education to fund them. Yet that is what some big businesses in Australia are seeking.

Ever heard of ‘patent box’ rules? Not many of us have, but this is a way of dodging taxes and it’s something some big businesses have been lobbying hard for in Australia. The UK Government already allows this dodge, which offers a low 10 per cent tax rate on income derived from new patents registered in the UK. In comparison, Australia’s corporate tax rate is currently 30 per cent.

Multinational corporations encourage governments around the world to play off against one another. The aim is to get governments to undercut each other with lower and lower corporate taxes as they compete for businesses to locate their activities in their country. But while multinationals get richer, the overall result is less revenue to fund health services, education, aged care, disability services and public transport.

As a church, protecting and supporting people who are vulnerable is our core mission. While business has an important role to play in society through providing goods and services we need, as well as employment, the interests of business cannot be allowed to dominate a society. The parable of the rich fool comes to mind – once all those barns have been built, then what?

The UK government’s Office of Budget Responsibility assessment in 2010 found that the patent box rules would cost £1.1 billion ($2 billion) in tax revenue a year to the UK. Imagine what this money could have been spent on?

The independent UK Institute for Fiscal Studies assessed that the patent box policy added complexity to the tax system and was unlikely to result in much additional research taking place in the UK. In their assessment the extra profits from the reduced tax would mostly flow to large corporations that were already profitable and not in need of further government assistance.

The UK is not alone in trying to steal tax revenue from other countries by offering tax dodges to businesses by artificially registering patents in places where the technology has not been developed. France, Spain, Hungary, Belgium, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Cyprus and Malta all offer similar arrangements.

Companies like PricewaterhouseCoopers have publicly marketed to companies in other countries to take advantage of these tax dodging arrangements.

Uniting Church members have been writing to the federal government to raise concerns about the priorities of the Federal Budget. The replies from the government have stated that everyone has to make sacrifices to meet the government’s priorities. But businesses have already received a 1.5 per cent cut in the corporate tax rate in the budget, down to 28.5 per cent.

We need to be saying when enough is enough and making sure our government raises adequate revenue, fairly, to protect the vulnerable and maintain a just and fair society.

Mark Zirnsak
Director, Justice & International Mission
Commission for Mission

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