Monday, June 13, 2016

Apple tax disclosure: 2016 will be a defining moment for ending the multinational tax rort

Just because you spent a fortune on setting up overseas tax ministration structure does not mean that you won't end up paying it. Aivars Lode

By Heath Aston

Apple is one of many tech companies accused of shifting its Australian profits to places such as Ireland. 
Imagine the extra cream left in the jug of the household budget if we all paid an income tax rate of one cent in the dollar.
So how does Apple justify such a laughably low profit margin in Australia? 
Holidays on luxury yachts would no longer be the preserve of rap stars, investment bankers and the founders of Silicon Valley start-ups.
Chief executives and their advisers will tell you that understanding a multinational company's tax bill is far too complex for mere mortals.
It is not. And the numbers don't lie.
Apple's offering to the Australian tax man in 2015 was $85 million. In the same year, the company notched local sales of $8 billion. Of course, company tax is paid on profit not sales. Apple announced an Australian profit on those $8 billion of sales of just $123 million.
If you believe that is Apple's actual profit margin on products sold in Australia, step this way and start queuing for the iPhone 7. It washes the dishes and walks the dog and I can get you one cheap.
On Wednesday morning, Apple released its global profit statement. It was a far more plausible $US18.4 billion net profit on sales of $US75.9 billion.
So how does Apple justify such a laughably low profit margin in Australia?
With the same excuse used by all the big multinational companies, from its rival Google to the big pharmaceutical groups and the oil and gas giants: related party transactions.
These can include loans from a separate division of the company based in a low-tax country that come with punishing interest rates. They can also be steeply-priced intellectual property charges that the Australian arm is asked to pay another division.
In Apple's and Google's cases the process has been referred to as the "double Irish Dutch sandwich" but, whatever the means, the end result is a flow of funds out of Australia, severely limiting the profit that is left behind to be taxed. It is not rocket science.
The next 12 months will be the defining moment in forcing multinationals to at last pay a fair share in Australia.
The Coalition's multinational tax-avoidance law took effect on January 1 and will target 1000 companies with global sales of $1 billion or more.
Under the law, companies can be slapped with double tax, plus interest, if found to be illegally shifting profits offshore.
The carrot effect in encouraging companies to sit down and negotiate a more reasonable tax contribution is already working, according to Tax Commissioner Chris Jordan.
In Britain, the first OECD country to introduce a diverted profits law, Google this week offered $265 million in back-taxes as a token contribution to signify its acceptance of the new playing field there.
But if anyone thinks all 1000 multinationals will meekly start paying 30¢ in the dollar, you might also want to buy my iPhone 7.
Even after their humiliating grilling by the Senate's tax avoidance committee, the tech companies have maintained their implausibly low profit margins in Australia this year.
Those companies are known for the kind of agility lauded by Malcolm Turnbull.
Unfortunately, it is their agile approach to tax minimisation that is putting pressure on the Prime Minister's budget bottom line and making it more likely we will all be paying a higher GST on everything - including the next model of iPhone.


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