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BFCSA: Labor to target overseas tax haven loopholes and 'citizenship shopping'

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Labor to target overseas tax haven loopholes and 'citizenship shopping'

Australian Financial Review Sep 20 2018 11:00 PM

Tom McIlroy


Labor will move to end travel allowances for known overseas tax havens and stop citizenship shopping by requiring Australians with foreign residency to report to the Tax Office.

Shadow assistant treasurer Andrew Leigh will announce plans to close a loophole that allows wealthy employees to receive allowances of up to $2000 tax-free for trips to nearly 30 countries including the Bahamas, Bermuda, Barbados, the Cayman Islands and Monaco.

Currently some allowances paid to employees for overseas travel are tax deductible – up to $400 per day for five days.

The plan would automatically deny deductions relating to all jurisdictions included on a European Union-style blacklist, including countries such as Nauru, the Maldives, Cook Islands, Niue and Vanuatu.

Individuals could apply to the Commissioner of Taxation to receive the deductions, provided they could demonstrate the travel was legitimate.

Firms would avoid additional compliance costs for the vast majority of overseas work-related travel, provided it doesn't include trips to known high-risk tax jurisdictions.

The plan is expected to raise about $34 million over a decade.

A crackdown on so-called "passports for sale" schemes and the ability to buy citizenship is also planned, stopping efforts to undermine the OECD's base erosion and profit shifting program, including the common reporting standards.

Large firms specialising in tax residency advertise citizenship rights to get around reporting by participating countries to exchange tax information across jurisdictions, with purchased citizenship helping wealthy people to open offshore bank accounts using local information.

'Unquantifiable positive impact'

Under a Labor government, all individual Australian taxpayers would be required to declare to the Tax Office any residency or citizenship of another jurisdiction and to name the country.

False declarations would attract significant fines.

Labor says modelling by the independent Parliamentary Budget Office shows the proposal would have "an unquantifiable positive impact" on the federal budget.

In a speech to the Tax and Transfer Policy Institute at the Australian National University on Friday, Dr Leigh will describe no-tax jurisdictions as "the hiding ground for crooks".

"Tax havens are used by drug runners, extortionists and money launderers. They are used to hide the proceeds of fraud, corruption and tax evasion."

He will say the critiques should not be conflated with hostile anti-migration and anti-foreign investment sentiment at a time of burgeoning right-wing populism.

Australian Bureau of Statistics data details the gap between operating profits and taxable profits for multinational firms operating in Australia, showing a 30 per cent difference for a typical Australian firm.

That figure is similar for multinationals whose owners reside in the United States at 28.4 per cent, Britain at 26.6 per cent and Japan at 28.5 per cent.

'Startling difference'

Dr Leigh will argue a very different picture exists for other countries.

"If you're a Bermuda-owned multinational operating in Australia, then on average the gap between operating profit and taxable profit is 88 per cent. If you're a British Virgin Islands-owned multinational, the reduction is 92 per cent.

"So if you start with $10 of operating profit, then Australian firms report about $7 of taxable profits. The same is true for American, British and Japanese-based multinationals.

"But for firms based in Bermuda or the Virgin Islands, and operating in Australia, $10 of operating profit produces just $1 of taxable profit. That's a startling difference."

The announcements follow Labor's 2017 tax haven transparency package and efforts to close multinational tax loopholes.

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