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Tag Archives: superannuation tax concessions

First speaker in the mature debate

image Dear Mr Abbott,

I welcome your call for a mature debate on taxation. I too deplored the “screaming match” that surrounded the introduction of carbon pricing and am pleased you realise how counterproductive that sort of approach is to constructive governance.

As a concerned citizen I would like to make a few suggestions to get the ball rolling.

Your opening gambit is to increase the GST. This is a regressive tax which will, once again, disproportionately hit lower income earners. Treasury modelling done for the previous government showed that even a modest increase in the rate to 12.5 per cent – along with removal of exempted items such as food, health, childcare, and school fees – could hit a two income two-child family by as much as $205 per fortnight.

Perhaps there is a better way. For example:

Fossil fuel subsidies.

The Australian Government is set to spend over $40 billion in the form of tax rebates and concessions, foregone revenue and expedited write downs of assets per year from 2013/14 to 2016/17. This assessment only includes tax measures, and does not include direct grants or State Government measures, which could add billions more to the annual totals.

The proposed replacement climate policy, the Emissions Reduction Fund, relies on paying companies as an incentive to reduce their emissions. A fundamental contradiction exists between such a policy and the continuation of a range of existing fossil fuel subsidies. Many subsidies significantly reduce the economic signal for companies to identify efficiency opportunities.

Polluter handouts are also highly inequitable. For instance, the mining industry receives a 32c per litre discount on fuels such as petrol and diesel for off‐road use. So while most Australians are paying full price for their fuel at the bowser, their taxes also cover the cost of a huge discount to the mining industry. In all, this handout costs Australian taxpayers $2 billion each year.

Australia, along with all other G20 nations, committed in 2009 to phase out inefficient fossil fuel subsidies over the medium term. In his recent State of the Union address, US President Barack Obama reiterated the need to phase out tax‐based fossil fuel subsidies. Other organisations like the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, the United Nations and the International Energy Agency are also calling for nations to end fossil fuel subsidies.

In 2009, the Commonwealth Treasury identified $8 billion in annual savings that could be made if Australia fulfilled this commitment. This money could be used to fund a wide range of nation‐building projects, yet to date we continue to use these funds to line the pockets of polluting, and in many cases highly profitable, industries.

Prime Minister Abbott has said that there is to be an end to corporate welfare. Statements by Treasurer Joe Hockey have warned that “the age of entitlement is over,” and that “everyone in Australia must do the heavy lifting now.” It is critical that this rhetoric, if applied, is applied consistently.

Superannuation tax concessions

A study by the Australia Institute found the rate of growth of super tax concessions is greater than that of the pension despite the ageing population, meaning the cost of the tax concession will soon overtake the pension to become ”the single largest area of government expenditure,” by 2016-17.

”’The age pension currently costs $39 billion and superannuation tax concessions will cost the budget around $35 billion in 2013-14,” the study found.

It notes that the Commonwealth bill for these concessions is projected to rise at a staggering 12 per cent annually to be $50.7 billion in 2016-17.

”The overwhelming majority of this assistance flows to high-income earners,” the report finds.

”Low-income earners receive virtually no benefit. The combined cost of these two policies will be $74 billion in 2014 alone.”

Negative gearing

The Grattan Institute’s report, Balancing budgets: tough choices we need, included a section on abolishing negative gearing, which it claims would save the Budget around $4 billion per year initially, falling to a saving of around $2 billion per year over the longer term.

Grattan highlights a number of non-budget (social) benefits from reforming negative gearing, namely:

1.increasing home ownership rates by reducing returns at the margin for landlords relative to first homebuyers; and

2.increasing investment in other more productive assets.

The report also debunks claims that reforming negative gearing would raise rents, since “for every landlord that sells, there would be a renter that buys and becomes a home-owner. The supply of rental properties would fall at the same rate as the number of renters”. It also does not believe that the construction of dwellings would be materially affected, since “almost all of investment property loans are now for existing dwellings”.

Tax avoidance

A report by the Tax Justice Network – an international group focused on investigating tax avoidance – and the United Voice union says almost a third of companies listed on the ASX 200 pay 10 per cent or less in corporate tax.

This is substantially less than the statutory 30 per cent corporate tax rate.

Some companies, such as James Hardie and Westfield Retail Trust, pay zero tax.

Rupert Murdoch’s 21st Century Fox pays 1 per cent tax and casino group Echo Entertainment pays 5 per cent tax.

The report says the government is losing out on at least $8.4 billion in tax each year, which is substantial but may be the tip of the iceberg.

According to the research, 57 per cent of all ASX 200 companies have subsidiaries in tax havens.

Several big-name companies, such as 21st Century Fox, Westfield, Toll Holdings and Telstra, have more than 40 entities in well-known tax havens such as the Cayman Islands, Luxembourg, the British Virgin Islands and Bermuda.

Fourteen in the 20 top companies, including two of the country’s big banks, also hold entities in these locations, according to the report.

“Secrecy jurisdictions play a key role in multinational tax dodging and undermine the ability of democratically elected governments to levy taxes in a just and fair way,” the report’s authors say. “Corporate tax avoidance must be addressed.”

Financial transaction tax

Introduce a Financial Transactions Tax on various categories of financial transactions including: stocks, bonds and currency. If implemented on a global basis, its projected revenue could be as much as US$400 billion a year, depending on the size of the levy imposed, the size of the reduction in trading (if any), and the number of implementing countries/jurisdictions. In the US alone it has been estimated that annually, between US$177 and $353 billion could be raised.

A flat rate of 0.05% has been proposed on all financial market transactions, many experts actually advise vary rates (of between 0.01 and 0.5%) depending on the transaction (stocks, bonds, currency, commodities, swaps, derivatives, etc). The UK stock exchange, one of the largest in the world, already has a 0.5% tax on share transactions.

(1) An FTT will reduce the instability in the global financial system by reducing the volume of trading in financial markets, especially the sort of trading that increases market instability and has led to the turbulence in the financial markets over the last decade.

(2) An FTT will provide an effective way of raising revenues for both domestic purposes, such as assisting governments help pay for the costs of post-financial crisis bailouts, as well as for spending for international public goods, such as the funds needed for climate change adaptation, and to assist countries in meeting the Millennium Development Goals.

The tax is specifically designed to target high frequency traders, especially of securities, where the average holding period is often minutes or seconds. High-frequency traders currently account for 70% of US equity market trading and 30-40% of the volume of trading on the London Stock Exchange.

The tax will only affect financial institutions and funds to the extent that they are involved in this type of high-frequency trading.

Australia is a leading player in global finance in its own right: the Australian Securities Exchange (ASX) is the ninth largest stock exchange in the world. Australian support of the FTT would be a significant boost to the cause of the global campaign. Moreover, Australia is a G20 country and plays a significant role in the group whose endorsement would effectively make the FTT a reality.

 

You could always keep the mining tax and close the rorting of FBT car leases and…dare I say, bring back the carbon tax…if you are mature enough to admit when you are wrong.

So let’s have some mature debate on these issues Mr Abbott before we jump to charging pensioners more for their bread and single parents more for childcare and sick people more for their medicine.

Over to you……

Cherchez des revenus

When my husband lost his job not long after the birth of our first child, my immediate reaction was to ring my old boss and go back to work. I didn’t sit there thinking what spending I could cut – I actively pursued employment. We were already pretty frugal, living on one income, so cuts would have meant a lowering of our living standard – doable but not my first choice.

Which is why everything this government is doing in the budget seems so wrong to me.

They screamed blue murder about the burden on cost of living imposed by the carbon tax but the cuts they are making take far more away from those least able to afford it than removing the carbon tax will replace. The poor, the sick, the elderly, the unemployed, our students – all will face a substantial reduction in future disposable income.

While we increasingly hear about the lack of affordable housing, and a possible housing price bubble due to low interest rates and a burgeoning investment market sending prices soaring, both parties hasten to say they have no intention of changing the negative gearing tax concessions. Why not?

Negative gearing allows investors to deduct losses made on rental properties from their other income, thereby reducing their overall annual tax liability. The Grattan Institute says it costs the federal government $2.4 billion a year, and there is “little justification for it”.

The Reserve Bank said strong demand by investors meant investor housing loans now accounted for about 40 per cent of all home loans. It said it had become so concerned about Australia’s overheating property markets that it was openly questioning whether bank lending practices were “conservative enough”.

Once again, I find this an odd statement. If the banks’ lending becomes more conservative, the people who will miss out on loans are the first home buyers, not the investors. Why not make it less attractive to investors by removing negative gearing? They are the ones driving up the prices.

Then there is their approach to superannuation.

As Treasury revealed in the budget, the annual cost of superannuation tax concessions is set to surge in coming years, making the current cost — nearly $32 billion — look paltry as it rises to a remarkable $50 billion in 2017-18. At that point the cost of superannuation will exceed the cost of the age pension

Australia’s richest taxpayers will collect over $35.5 billion in tax concessions via the superannuation system over the next five years, and by 2017-18 they will be taking over $8 billion a year.

And far from contributing to the burden of helping repair the deficit, the top 5% of taxpayers will enjoy an increase in tax concessions above current levels of over $2.9 billion dollars by 2017. That increase by itself is almost enough to wipe out the revenue generated by the government’s temporary deficit levy on incomes over $180,000, which is forecast to yield just over $3 billion in that period.

Just curbing the growth between now and 2017-18 could deliver nearly $15 billion to the government, several times more revenue than the temporary tax levy, twice as much as the cuts to foreign aid, and many multiples of savings through punitive cuts to Newstart.

Hockey also removed the legislation to tax retirement incomes at 15% on the excess over $100,000 pa, foregoing over $3 billion in revenue.

At the other end of the scale, the people most likely to qualify for an old age pension are having their superannuation savings slashed by the delay of the superannuation guarantee increase by 7 years and the removal of the low income co-contribution.

And then we have capital gains tax concessions.

The other big costs are the capital gains tax exemption on the family home (estimated to grow to $57 billion over the three years to 2017-18) the 50 per cent discount on capital gains (which could hit $70.5 billion over the same period) and the cost of CGT discounts for individuals and trusts (estimated at $28.3 billion).

Whilst removing the CGT exemption from the family home could have deleterious impacts, a broad-based land tax (preferably in place of stamp duties) would encourage a more efficient use of the housing stock and improve labour mobility, penalise land banking and vagrancy (increasing effective land supply in the process), and help to make infrastructure investments self-funding for governments (since any land value uplift brought about through increased infrastructure investment would be partly captured by the government via increased land tax receipts).

A report released earlier this year by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) estimated that Australia has the highest tax expenditures in the OECD when measured against GDP. These include government revenues foregone as a result of differential, or preferential, treatment of specific sectors, activities, regions, or agents. They can take many forms, including allowances (deductions from the base), exemptions (exclusions from the base), rate relief (lower rates), credits (reductions in liability) and tax deferrals (postponing payments).

There is a strong case to limit superannuation concessions, which have increasingly become a mechanism for richer older people to avoid paying tax, rather than a genuine means for Australians to pay for their own retirement and avoid drawing on the Aged Pension. There are very good reasons to quarantine negative gearing losses, so that they can only be applied against income from the same asset, as well as removing the capital gains tax concession on investments (why should they be taxed at a lower rate than income?). These concessions are skewed towards the wealthy and high income earners, undermining the progressiveness of the tax system.

Mathias Cormann assures us that we have very strict tax avoidance laws.

These “strict” laws allow 75 individuals who made an average of $2.6 million each in 2011-12 to pay no tax at all – no income tax, no Medicare levy and no Medicare surcharge.

These “strict” laws allow almost a third of Australia’s largest companies to pay less than 10¢ in the dollar in corporate tax.

Ernst & Young is the auditor of Westfield Group, James Hardie and 21st Century Fox, all of which pay less than 1 per cent tax, according to the report, Who Pays for Our Common Wealth, produced by the Tax Justice Network and the union United Voice.

It is also the auditor of some of the US multinational tech companies accused of paying minimal tax in Australia, including Google, Apple, Amazon and Facebook.

Accounts show 21st Century Fox spent $US19 million on tax advice from E&Y in 2013.

The G20 assure us that they are talking about how to cut down on tax avoidance. A deal struck at the G20 summit in Cairns will see authorities in more than 40 countries sharing information — including bank balances and income — to identify companies that avoid tax.

But Australia will not begin swapping the financial details until September 2018, one year after countries including Britain, Germany, India, Ireland, The Netherlands and a handful of tax havens.

Why wait? We make our own laws, we could close the loopholes right now if we wanted to. Instead, we are slashing staff at the Australian Tax Office by so much (4,700 over the next few years) that they will not have the personnel to pursue tax cheats.

“Morale is down and 3000 of our most senior staff have recently taken redundancy package,” said one former officer. “There was also an absurd clear out of senior transfer pricing staff about two years ago, so there is very little likelihood of the ATO ‘manning-up’ on multinationals any time soon. The general impression among senior ATO officers is that we are supposed to give the big firms what they want and to usher the revenue out the door. The News decision (not to appeal the $882 rebate to Rupert) is symptomatic of that and a lot of staff were pissed we caved on that case.”

With reports that one in three elderly Australians are living in poverty, despite being among the most highly educated senior citizens in the world, that 17% of our children live in poverty, that making unemployed people under 30 wait six months for income support and raising the eligibility age for the dole to 25 could breach human rights to social services and an adequate standard of living, I would suggest that if Tony Abbott wants to spend hundreds of billions on defence and border security he starts taxing his party donors, beginning with Rupert.

Perhaps you may want to see how the French are approaching their deficit.

Il est evident. Cherchez des revenus, stupide.