To be honest I can’t say that I love paying taxes (actually I’m not sure anyone does) …but then again I can see the need to do so.
After all, how else is the government going to pay for those services we consider essential, like education, health, transportation, roads, pensions, etc. As citizens and small business owners we’re expected to pay our fair share, yet huge Multinational Corporations and even some of the biggest local corporations are consistently making headlines for their tax avoidance in Australia.
It is no coincidence that the maze of loopholes, tax havens, and financial derivatives are incredibly complicated. Billions of dollars are spent each year paying expert financiers, accounting firms, not to mention politicians, to keep it that way! It’s estimated that $60 billion is funneled from Australian companies to tax havens annually. The recent Senate inquiry found large multinationals such as Apple, Facebook, Google, News Corp and Microsoft use countries with low tax rates like Singapore, Ireland, and Bermuda to avoid paying taxes on profits made in Australia.
It is ludicrous that companies like Google can sell advertising to Australian companies, viewed by Australians, and then claim the profit through their Singapore affiliate. Likewise, I have experienced firsthand how buying ad space for an Aussie company on Facebook means paying Facebook in Ireland, a popular tax haven.
The Senate also probed into Big Pharma, finding that out of a whopping $8 billion in revenue between the 9 companies, only $85 million was paid in income taxes. In efforts to figure out just how much of this astronomical figure was pure profit, the Senate asked executives from these giants how much the drugs sold in Australia actually cost them to make. They each claimed that they didn’t know! These are top executives and CEO’s we are talking about. Somehow we’re supposed to believe that in managing the companies finances they never came across information as basic as how much the drugs cost to manufacture.
I can assure you, that if you or I tried to claim ignorance or funnel money offshore, we would promptly be jailed or heavily fined. The Australian Tax Office website actually publishes their tax crime prosecution results. It seems that if you cheat the government out of $40,000 you will spend a year in prison, but if it’s $40 million or even $40 billion, you get a “get out of jail free card”. Oh, and you get to keep the money! That seems fair.
In fact, over the past few years as corporate abuse has reached new heights, the Australian Tax Office has been dedicating much of its time to cracking down on small businesses. Pushing many businesses into bankruptcy, some speculate the ATO’s lack of trained administrators is to blame for the thousands of complaints it has received.
This is especially problematic because we need small businesses and alternatives to these unruly monopolies more than ever. We need businesses that are invested in their communities, not corporations that exploit natural resources and cheap labour in poor countries and then sell their products in developed countries, cheating the tax system in both regions. These multinationals are having a devastating effect on Australia, but the effects are far worse for developing countries. Their companies cannot compete and often these offshore accounts are used in political corruption and destabilizing markets.
These companies have threatened if they’re forced to pay their fair share they won’t be able to stay competitive, jobs will be lost, innovation will be stifled, the world will end, etc.
This is simply not true. There’s no way if we make Google or Apple pay their taxes they are going to suddenly disappear from Australia. The truth is they need us more than we need them. The newest excuse is that if corporations have to disclose profits, then their executives will be at risk for kidnapping. Kidnapping. You have to give them points for creativity, but I think that is a minuscule risk most people are willing to take to get their $60 billion a year back. Also, maybe stop ripping off an entire country and you’ll sleep the peaceful sleep of someone not worried an enraged citizen is going to kidnap them in the middle of the night.
So what can we really do about this?
For starters, if you’re pissed off, tell someone. Sign a petition, join an organisation, ring your Senator. The Tax Justice Networkhas excellent suggestions and even has an email ready to be sent to the treasury department, you only need to add your info. Getup! and Their Fair Share also have petitions to crack down on corporate tax dodgers.
Lastly, always be on the lookout for alternatives. Did you know Google isn’t the only search engine? These companies aren’t going to change until their bottom line does, and as consumers we do have the power to affect that.
STOP PRESS: In the media recently it was reported that the biggest retailer of petrol in Australia, Shell Petroleum, had paid $0 in taxes for the past 3 years on total sales of $60 billion! WTF!