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November, 2018

ATO isn’t being honest with us about the $2.5b corporate tax gap

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA – MARCH 03: Australian Taxation Office Commissioner of Taxation Chris Jordan speaks at the Tax Institute’s 31st National Convention at the Grand Hyatt Melbourne on March 3, 2016 in Melbourne, Australia. ATO (Photo by Wayne Taylor/Fairfax Media)The Australian Taxation Office was working with the government to ensure that it had the right public “messaging” before releasing its tax gap figures, Freedom of Information documents reveal.
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Correspondence between the ATO and government and Treasury, obtained under FOI, proves that prior to releasing its tax gap figures – it was supposed to be in the ATO’s 2016 annual report – the ATO consulted with them to ensure there was “lead time” to allow the agency “to develop the narrative and messaging”.

The detail of that consultation isn’t included in the FOI material, obtained by staff at Labor MP Andrew Leigh’s office, but it’s clear the ATO and government knew releasing such figures would be controversial and that any figure would be closely scrutinised.

On Wednesday, more than one year after that correspondence was sent, the ATO finally revealed its first-ever tax gap estimates, but only for large companies (it estimates a gap of $2.5 billion in 2014-15 or 5.8 per cent of tax payable). The agency delayed the release of small business and individual tax gaps. I’ll come to why later.

The tax gap is not an actual amount of missing revenue. It’s the theoretical difference, one that’s prone to errors, between the total amount of income tax collected and the amount the ATO estimates would have been collected if every one of those taxpayers was fully compliant.

As experts have noted, $2.5 billion is a conservative estimate. The ATO cannot tax what it does not count or see.

The ATO admits it isn’t counting companies it chooses not to audit. It’s hit several companies with $4 billion worth of tax bills, mainly in relation to transfer pricing issues, but this doesn’t capture all companies that may be dodging tax.

As former ATO employee Martin Lock (he took a redundancy in June 2014 when there were massive ATO staff cuts) had told the Senate inquiry into corporate tax avoidance, the ATO is giving up billions of dollars in revenue and uses an imperfect “risk rating” system to determine who it audits and how aggressively it audits large companies.

The ATO’s annual list of company tax data shows more than a third of large public and private companies paid no tax in 2014-15, with 36 per cent of large firms reporting zero tax payable. (While it is difficult to extrapolate which taxpayers did not pay their fair share of tax from this data, as the ATO reports company losses as “nil tax payable”, it’s unlikely all companies with zero tax made a real “loss”.)

Further, for the ones it has chosen to audit, the variance between tax bills issued and what finally came into the federal revenue chest were massive. The ATO just loves cutting deals with big companies rather than heading to court. It did so with Chevron and Microsoft recently. And it will do so in the coming years.

Not only is the ATO underestimating the amount of possible tax dodging going on by multinationals, it’s also saying they are generally honest. “We find that large corporate groups lodge income tax returns as required and pay the liabilities that are due,” it said upon releasing the tax gap figures.

And this brings me back to the earlier issue of why the ATO didn’t release the tax gap figures for other market segments: highly wealthy individuals, small businesses and individuals – those it suspects are participating in the illegal black economy, or cash economy.

You should expect a figure much higher than $2.5 billion for these segments of taxpayers. Rightly so for the Highly Wealthy Individuals HWI market – not only are they playing with big money, but as we saw in the Panama Papers leaks, some of them engage in tax fraud and evasion and hide behind secret shell companies.

But should the blame fall on the rest of us? Tax Commissioner Chris Jordan and his underlings have been hammering the point for some time now: It’s not the corporates that the ATO need to worry about, it’s you and I. You and I are making too many illegitimate work expense deductions, Mr Jordan has said.

Saying multinationals are good corporate citizens and the rest of us are the problem isn’t being honest. The ATO needs to work on better messaging.

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Westpac dumped ‘risky’ intelligent ATMs

Westpac conducted a trial of “intelligent deposit machines” capable of accepting large cash deposits, which are at the heart of the Commonwealth Bank’s money laundering scandal, but dumped them for “risk and operational reasons”.
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Facing questions over how banks dealt with money laundering risks through their ATM networks, Westpac chief executive Brian Hartzer on Wednesday said the bank had trialled a small number of IDMs.

The Commonwealth Bank’s IDMs, capable of accepting cash deposits of up to $20,000, were allegedly used by criminal gangs to launder millions of dollars, according to the financial intelligence agency Austrac.

“We did experiment with some of those machines. We’ve since removed them all,” Mr Hartzer said before the House of Representatives economics committee in Canberra.

“I think we had seven of those machines which we experimented with. We put them all inside our branches and gave extra training to our people specifically be on the lookout for potential money-laundering and so on.”

“For operational and risk reasons, we came to the conclusion that we didn’t want to use those machines and that our $4000 limit on the existing smart machines was appropriate.”

Mr Hartzer and ANZ Bank chief executive Shayne Elliott were quizzed about the commercial objectives banks face in setting limits on ATM cash transactions. The executives acknowledged the main customers to make large cash deposits were small business owners.

Both said they were complying with ant-money laundering laws, and they had settled on lower limits than CBA for risk and other reasons.

During the wide-ranging hearing, the bank executives were also quizzed about concerns the boom in contactless payments is costing some retailers more in fees, because tap and go debit card transactions are sent through the networks owned by Visa and Mastercard.

In a first for a major bank, Mr Elliott said ANZ would be willing to send debit card transactions through the eftpos network, which on average involves significantly lower costs. Mr Elliott said only one merchant customer had asked for this change so far.

The chief executive of the Australian Retailers’ Association, Russell Zimmerman, welcomed the move and predicted “a whole lot more” merchants would seek to have their tap and go payments processed through eftpos systems instead of the international card schemes.

Mr Hartzer said banks received a higher fee when payments were processed through the Visa or Mastercard networks, but said this higher cost to merchants was an “unintended consequence” of the high popularity of contactless payments.

He said the higher fees were because customers received different benefits when debit card payments were made on a card through the Visa and Mastercard system, and played down the importance of these fees to banks.

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.

Myer chairman Paul McClintock opts for quick clearance

mcj090922Solomon Lew inside Just Jeans in Melbourne Central.The Age/News/Business, Picture Michael Clayton-JonesUnlike chief executives, chairmen – and women – tend to depart on their own terms.
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It gets a bit trickier, of course, when you’ve got a billionaire like Solomon Lew breathing down your neck.

So what possessed Myer chairman Paul McClintock to tempt fate by announcing in September that he won’t be stepping down before next month’s shareholder meeting? This is what he promised at last year’s AGM.

He announced instead that he would seek re-election and hang around for a vaguely defined handover period to chairman-elect and former Spotless chairman, Gary Hounsell.

Six days later, an exasperated Lew torched Myer. It wasn’t the fact that he had blown tens of millions of dollars on the Myer stake he acquired earlier this year, so much as the fact that McClintock could not find the time to meet with his largest shareholder.

Eight days later Solly asked Myer for a copy of its shareholder register.

And now. Just 22 days later. Facing the prospect of a massive vote against his re-election at the AGM. McClintock announced he will step down after the November 24 AGM and hand the big seat to Hounsell, after all.

“I specifically referenced the board’s intention to appoint a successor for my role as chairman and today’s announcement reflects that work,” said McClintock in a heroic effort to spin the about-face.

The laughter you can hear in the background is former Myer boss Bernie Brookes, who was unceremoniously dumped by McClintock in 2015 – in favour of Richard Umbers – barely a year after McClintock asked him to reconsider his retirement plans and stay as the boss.

“The board considers that Bernie’s passion for Myer and his strong leadership will ensure the business is well-placed to achieve its potential,” said McClintock in Myer’s 2014 annual report. Months later, Brookes was gone.

The good news is that Brookes finishes up with South African retail, Edcon, early next year and will head home to look for some boardroom gigs. Say, isn’t Lew agitating for some more retail experience on the Myer board? Food Bank

Commonwealth Bank boss, Ian Narev, is not due to be grilled by the parliamentary banking inquiry until next week.

So he was free on Monday to join his chairwoman, Catherine Livingstone, at a very swish soiree for the bank’s best customers at Sydney’s State Theatre.

CBD is told that Melbourne celebrity chef, Darren Purchese, was flown up for the occasion and put on a ‘food as theatre’ show with some pretty amazing pea lollipops. I guess you had to be there.

CBD’s spy says the award for decadence went to the sealed preserve jar of salmon that gave you the aroma of the smoke when you opened the lid – kind of like opening your financial portfolio after one of the bank’s financial planners have been through it.

But your columnist thinks the fact that each table had its own Commonwealth Bank director must rank a pretty close second in terms of wow factor.

And who was the lucky guest who got to put the question to new boy Rob Whitfield: Why didn’t you scarper when the Austrac scandal surfaced?

Meanwhile, back in Canberrrrra, Westpac boss Brian Hartzer, revealed all sorts of things during his Senate inquiry grilling.

This includes the fact that he spends up to five days preparing for his big appearance, and he is well aware of the sensitivities of sharing consumer data as his mum was one of the victims of the Equifax data hacking scandal in July.

“This is a really live visceral issue for me because a couple of weeks ago I had a very long conversation with my mother in the US, who is 75-years-old, and whose personal details were compromised in the Equifax breach,” he said.

“I was on the phone with her for a very long time trying to explain to her what the consequences of having her data stolen in that way were.” Troubled waters

The Gina Rinehart-backed unconventional gas explorer, Lakes Oil, is trying a more conventional approach to dealing with belligerent state governments.

Last year it tried suing the Victorian government over its ban on onshore gas exploration in the state.

But now it has Malcolm Turnbull and the minister for Kooyong, the environment and energy, Josh Frydenberg, playing bad cop over state government frack bans. So Lakes Oil chairman, Chris Tonkin, has decided it is time to be a bit more conciliatory.

In a release to the ASX on Wednesday, the company said it had made a formal offer to the government to work cooperatively “to address the exploration ban currently in place”.

This potentially includes an “at cost loan” from the government and a commitment to supply gas to Victorian customers as a first priority.

“This is an exceptional opportunity for Victoria to seek to address the gas supply problems that are affecting the state, and to resolve the current litigation proceedings,” said Tonkin.

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Myer chairman pulls pin earlier than planned

Tuesday 19th December 2006 AFR Photo ESTELLE JUDAH 0403178677 Portrait of Garry Hounsell, Chairman of emitch Ltd, as he announces acquisition of Mitchell & Partners. egz061219.001.007 SPECIALX 59695 The Age, Business, 11/10/2017, Photo by Justin McManus. New Myer Chairman Garry Hounsell.
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Myer’s new chairman Garry Hounsell has stopped short of backing the department store’s controversial approach to discounting even as he backed management’s broader strategy to revive its fortunes.

Myer announced on Wednesday that Mr Hounsell would take over as chairman from Paul McClintock at the company’s annual general meeting in November.

Mr Hounsell immediately endorsed the New Myer strategy being pushed by chief executive Richard Umbers but which has faced criticism for failing to improve sales and for still being overly reliant on discounting.

“I believe in the New Myer strategy which is helping the business to compete in a challenging retail environment,” he said. “We are all united in our focus to deliver the New Myer strategy.”

But Mr Hounsell said “it was too early to make a call” on whether Myer’s discounting strategy, which is a key plank of the New Myer strategy, was working as it should.

“It is very embryonic for me to cast a view on that and I haven’t been here very long,” he said.

Mr Hounsell said every retailer in the world had to discount for various reasons and that the discounting floors Myer had introduced were working well.

“I think [discounting] will always be a part of retailing and the New Myer strategy is to get away from that in terms of big bang sales,” he said.

He hoped to be able to point to improved profitability as a marker of success of his first year as chairman.

“Patience will be required. Having said that I am an impatient person,” he said. “This is a big job and you can’t just make things happen overnight, there are lots and lots of changes that need to happen and it takes time.”

Asked to nominate an area where Myer was succeeding, Mr Hounsell nominated online sales as a “star”.

The switch of chairman is quicker than previously flagged and comes as Mr McClintock has been under pressure from the company’s biggest shareholder, billionaire retailer Solomon Lew, over Myer’s performance and engagement with shareholders.

Mr Lew is Myer’s largest single shareholder with a 10.8 per cent take through his Premier Investments vehicle.

When Mr Hounsell’s appointment was announced in September Myer said more detail on the transition would be provided at the AGM.

Mr Hounsell denied though that the timing had altered saying the decision was taken at a board meeting.

“The board asked me if I was ready and to take over and I said yes I was,” he said.

Asked if a shareholder with a 10 per cent stake should automatically be able to command a board seat, Mr Hounsell said: “My general view is 10 per cent is on the low side.”

Mr Hounsell added that he also knew of many companies where shareholders with a 10 per cent stake had been given a seat on the board.

He declined to say whether he had talked with Mr Lew as he had been talking to shareholders but he said the conversations had been “cordial”.

“The overall message is that shareholders are impatient and would like change to happen more quickly,” he said.

Mr Hounsell’s appointment will need to be ratified at the November shareholder meeting. Premier has sought a register of Myer shareholders ahead of that meeting sparking suggestions Mr Lew could make a move on the board.

A spokeswoman for Premier declined to comment.

Myer will hold a strategy day on November 1. Myer shares closed down 1.34 per cent at 74 cents.

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.

Inside suburb’s ‘first luxury residential subdivision’

In Brisbane’s inner city suburb of Paddington, locally owned and operated developer Lilleybuild has unveiled its latest project to hit the market: the first in a row of six luxury homes.
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Director James Lilley is labelling the project a first for the affluent suburb and said his company had pulled together the largest development site in the suburb yet.

“It was five blocks of land, which are being subdivided into six blocks. There’s 3300 square metres of land in total,” he said. “Each block is being sold freehold.”

The estate will be called the Norfolk Estate for the big norfolk pines dotted around the site, which are intentionally being left standing to form part of the development.

In a bold move, the Lilleybuild and its business partner P and R Lee Builders, consciously opted to build six houses instead of units even though it was technically possible.

“The land we have is actually zoned for residential units,” Mr Lilley said. “We chose to build six luxury homes because we thought it was much more sympathetic to the area and sympathetic to the neighbourhood.”

The land sizes vary from 480 square metres up to 760 and each house is designed to fit the block with a unique design, but they share similar features.

“The common thread with these homes is that they all have at least four bedrooms, three bathrooms, two large living areas, two-car garages, outdoor decks, and lovely flat backyards with beautiful swimmings pools,” Mr Lilley said. Related: Chinese property buyers not deterred by higher taxesRelated: Build-to-rent developers targeting MillennialsRelated: Hamptons in Hawthorne luring buyers

The first, 8 Croydon Road, will hit the market Saturday for a four-week auction campaign, with the rest not far behind.

“They’re being built progressively,” Mr Lilley said. “We have two under construction and the fourth about to commence next week.”

It’s a four-bedroom, three-bathroom home on a 504-square-metre block. Lilleybuild used quality fittings throughout and used the original facade for the front of the home, though it would be hard to tell.

The home’s killer features are a master suite at the front of the house and a huge living area on the top floor.

Space Property’s Judi O’Dea will sell the property when it hits the market on Friday.

“I live and breath Paddington, and for us to bring products like this to the market??? They’re what families in Paddington are desperate for,” she said. “The spaces aren’t just well designed, they flow sensibly.”

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.