Rio Tinto settlement great news for taxpayers - Transcript, 2GB





Subjects: ATO settlement with Rio Tinto, ANZ and SunCorp, foot and mouth disease

BROOKE CORTE, HOST: We've had some breaking news late today of one of Australia's biggest tax settlements. Rio Tinto has settled a $1 billion tax bill with the ATO after agreeing to pay back additional tax between 2010 and 2021. So the company will now have to fork out $613 million to the Tax Office, having already paid $378 million. The Assistant Minister for Competition, Charities and Treasury is Andrew Leigh. He joins us on the line. Minister, a very warm welcome to Money News.



CORTE: Well, it's a fantastic outcome for the tax system, but how's Rio managed to avoid hundreds of billions of dollars of tax in the first place?

LEIGH: This goes to Rio’s use of a Singapore marketing hub, and the $1 billion settlement really is testament to the hard work of Tax Office s in poring through the tax records and not only locking in this billion dollar payment, but also ensuring that Rio pays its fair share of tax going forward. It comes off the back, Brooke, of the 2018 announcement of the Tax Office reaching a settlement with BHP over the use of their Singapore marketing hub. And so the Tax Office is using the resources they have to go after this multinational tax avoidance, and my concern is that we make sure that we're constantly tightening up loopholes. That's why we went to the election with a policy of closing multinational tax loopholes, because it's just not fair on small businesses when large firms are able to use tax arrangements that aren't available to regular Aussie small businesses.

CORTE: Yeah. So it was moving all this iron ore through those marketing hubs you describe, you sell it there at higher prices, and what the ATO was saying was, ‘well, you're artificially lowering the Australian business - you're avoiding paying the tax locally by doing that’. So the dispute is settled with the Tax Office, and you said something important in there. You’re saying it means Rio Tinto also pays more tax in the future?

LEIGH: Yes, that's right. So the additional profits of their Australian owned commodities will be taxed in Australia in the years to come. So that does change the arrangements, and make sure that we're locking in a fair share of tax for Australians. I think it's absolutely vital that we keep on closing these loopholes. This is going to be an issue in the coming budgets for Labor. It's also been an issue on the global stage. We've had a big 130 country agreement, brokered by the G20 and the OECD, and we're going to be looking to implement that so-called Two Pillar Agreement as quickly as possible. Because paying tax shouldn't be an optional extra. Thoughtful business leaders recognise that the reputation of their firm rests on contributing fairly to the public services that all of us use.

CORTE: So when you talk about closing those loopholes, and this is one example of that, I mean is that the low hanging fruit when it comes to cracking down on multinational tax, or is that where the really big wins come from?

LEIGH: Well, nothing in this is simple. Certainly the details of the arrangements that are used can be complicated and have some interesting names: Leprechaun Economics, the Single Malt, the Double Irish With a Dutch sandwich. But the principle, Brooke, is very simple. It's that there ought to be a level playing field when it comes to tax. And that's important for business certainty and for creating a fair, competitive environment among our firms. Labor wants businesses to prosper, but it's pretty tough if you're a small business going up against a firm that's shifting profits off into low or no tax jurisdictions, using tax arrangements that aren't available here.

CORTE: There's probably a lot of small businesses still avoiding a lot of tax. Are they in your sights as well, though?

LEIGH: We're concerned with multinational tax avoidance, and that's been a big priority for countries around the world. A lot of this has been exposed through leaks - the Luxembourg Leaks, Panama Papers, Pandora Papers, the Paradise Papers - and those data dumps have really exposed some of the shenanigans that are going on. Now we've got to make sure that firms are doing the right thing as part of their social licence to operate. And as I said, Brooke, the very best firms are completely on top of this. They recognise that this has to do with the global reputation. There was an incident a while back where Starbucks got into strife in Britain, where it turned out it was paying basically no company tax and ended up making a voluntary tax payment in order to try to restore its reputation. I don't want to see that sort of thing going on here. I think this is great work that the ATO has done, but we've also got to ensure that the Tax Office has the laws in place that lets them crack down on multinational tax avoidance.

CORTE: Yeah, well, may there be many more wins in the future. I'm sure I speak for most of my listeners when I say that. Minister, while I've got you, we had this week ANZ launch a bid to buy SunCorp’s banking business. Now I know that you have said preventing excessive market concentration is a key focus of your role, because if you can prevent excessive market concentration, that will benefit workers and consumers. Now we had the ANZ boss Shayne Elliott on this show on Monday night, and he is arguing that if he as a big four bank can get bigger by swallowing up one of the regional banks, it's got to be positive for competition. I just want to remind my listeners of how Shayne Elliott explained that the show on Monday. Here he is.

SHAYNE ELLIOTT, ANZ: We will move a step ahead. We'll go from 13 per cent share to 15. That'll actually make us a better competitor. Our job is to get out there and put our case forward why this is better for consumers, why it will be better for competition, and really importantly, better for Queensland.

CORTE: Minister Andrew Leigh, are you buying what Elliott’s selling there?

LEIGH: Brooke, I certainly don't fault Shayne for making the strongest case possible for the merger. But it's under active consideration by the Treasurer and by the ACCC. There's two hurdles that needs to go through. So I'm sure you'll forgive me for not signalling ahead of time what the government's decision is going to be on that merger.

CORTE: No, I wouldn't want you to pre-empt the ACCC or the government decision, that's for sure. But, you know, it was a week ago in The Guardian you were saying you like to play a barbecue game where you kind of name all the industries where there's more than just a couple of dominant players. And I'll quote you - you said, you said whether it's banking or baby food or beer, the Australian economy is characterised by a few firms dominating the market. So I'm just asking you if you were standing with me at the barbecue, and we're throwing a few shrimps on there right now and playing that game you like about competition, would you say a big four bank buying another bank and becoming bigger is a good thing?

LEIGH: Brooke, I can't comment on any specific transaction. But I reckon we need a more dynamic economy. I reckon we need an economy that has more scrappy start-ups diving into the game. I think that's great for consumers, and I think that's important for workers as well. So I'd certainly like to see a whole host of additional start-ups, more firms competing. I think that's great for the whole economy.

CORTE: Well, you’ve got to loosen up for the next barbecue, Andrew Leigh, because there are going to be a lot of questions about banks I reckon for you coming up. Thank you very much.

LEIGH: Absolutely. Hot topic at all the best barbies.

CORTE: Laughter Actually, I will ask you one more thing. I hope you’ve got one more minute. On Foot and Mouth, because we’ve got a lot of concern mounting today about foot and mouth disease. Fragments found on luggage and goods brought into Australia from Indonesia and China. A lot of people are saying your government is not doing enough. Can you reassure Australians about the measures you are taking to prevent this biological disaster from decimating huge swathes of the agricultural economy? We're talking $80 billion worth here.

LEIGH: Yeah, look, it's certainly been a significant concern for us. We’ve had the Agriculture Minister Murray Watt engaging very directly with his Indonesian counterpart, providing them with the assistance that they need. But it's vital that everyone does their bit. If you’re travelling, then you need to make sure you're abiding by all those appropriate quarantine rules. Because the impact of Foot and Mouth, which we've seen in the past, is very significant to the Australian agricultural sector.


What do we think about banning - it's coming in on Chinese meat products. I know it's only part of the picture, but we would consider banning Chinese meat products coming here to protect ourselves? I mean, the Chinese were so quick to ban our products for no other reason than just sheer petulance. So they already don't buy our wine and our coal and our timber and our lobsters. They probably couldn't do much in retaliation if we said we're not taking your meat.

LEIGH: China is an important trading partner for Australia. It’s our biggest destination for exports, biggest source of imports. So it's an important partner and we will always operate on a principles basis. Our quarantine laws don't discriminate based on nationality. They're focused only on the risks that’s imposed there. And certainly the relationship with China is one that I think we ought to be looking to improve creatively through quiet diplomacy. I don't think throwing the fuel on the fire makes sense.

CORTE: Thanks so much. Andrew Leigh, Assistant Minister for Competition, Charities and Treasury. Generous with your time. We appreciate the chat. Thank you.

LEIGH: Thanks so much, Brooke.

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Cnr Gungahlin Pl and Efkarpidis Street, Gungahlin ACT 2912 | 02 6247 4396 | [email protected] | Authorised by A. Leigh MP, Australian Labor Party (ACT Branch), Canberra.