Giants Must Pay Their Taxes - Op Ed - The Australian

The Australian
3 October 2022

Last year, academics from the University at Albany and the University of Missouri published a research paper arguing that company taxes should be abolished. Part of their argument was that transfer pricing by multinationals has become so widespread that policymakers should give up on corporate taxation altogether.

It’s a stark reminder that when it comes to multinational tax reform, what’s at stake is nothing less than the future of the corporate tax itself. I believe it is good economics to save corporate tax, but it will take deft policymaking and proper tax administration to do so.

Company taxes go back a over a century. The US introduced a corporate tax in 1898, but it was over-ruled by their Supreme Court a year later. In 1913, after they had sorted out their constitutional issues, the US company tax rate was set at a measly 1 percent.

Australia introduced our company tax in 1915. Then Attorney General and future Prime Minister Billy Hughes told parliament that it was “necessary to meet the great and growing liabilities created by the war”. Hughes put the issue bluntly: “I know of no other means whereby we could raise the necessary revenue.”

Today, while the essential purpose of corporate income tax remains the same, the challenges of collecting corporate taxes have grown enormously. Part of that arises because company taxes are simpler in an economy that makes physical products. Agriculture, mining and manufacturing have clear locations of production. But if a company’s output is digital, then it’s easier to artificially shift the location of production to the place with the lowest tax rate.

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Money News with Luke Grant - Transcript, 2GB


LUKE GRANT (HOST): So back to our October budget and the balance between spending and saving. Of course, it's crucial. One man who's been a big part of the budget process unsurprisingly is the Assistant Minister for Competition Charities and Treasurer Andrew Leigh. Minister, welcome back to the show.


GRANT: Nice to talk to you. Firstly, before we get to the budget, the government has just introduced legislation to crackdown on anti competitive behaviour and unfair contract terms. I note that the Small Business Ombudsman, Bruce Billson, has been effusive in his praise of the legislation. Can you take us through what's changing and how that's going to help small businesses operate, Minister?

LEIGH: Well, competition is a bedrock of a fair economy and we need competition to get better prices and more choice for Australian households. The government has been worried that too many big firms are starting to treat competition fines as just a cost of doing business, rather than a real deterrent to bad behaviour. So we're raising the maximum penalty from $10 million up to $50 million to make sure that big businesses do the right thing. And the other thing we're doing for small businesses is making unfair contract terms illegal. These are terms that are lopsided. So, for example, a big business might have a contract with a small supplier that says they can change the prices any time they like or they can get out of the contract anytime they like, although their smaller counterpart can't quit if they want to. So those unfair contract terms will now be illegal. There will be fines for putting those into contracts.

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Afternoon Briefing with Greg Jennett - Transcript, ABC


GREG JENNETT (HOST): Well, we know full well that Australia's got an inflation problem at present, running at just under 7% and expected to sit at around that level for a little while. But we also now have a glimpse at more accurate data that tells us when that peak just might reach or be passed. Now, Competition and Charities Minister Andrew Leigh is responsible for the Bureau of Statistics, amongst other things, and he's with us now. Welcome back, Minister. This is a bit of a revolution, moving to monthly measurement. Why is more frequent measurement of inflation any more accurate or useful to governments, policy makers?

DR ANDREW LEIGH, ASSISTANT MINISTER FOR COMPETITION, CHARITIES AND TREASURY: Greg, it doesn't really matter at a time when inflation is low, as it's been for much of the past decade, but it really does matter at a time like the present, when we're trying to ensure that we get inflation under control. With the government is focusing on supply side reforms and the Reserve Bank focusing on demand side reforms, we really need that frequent updating. Australia has been an outlier in having only quarterly inflation figures. So full credit to David Gruen and his team at the ABS for bringing out these experimental monthly estimates.

JENNETT: So it's timely for the reasons you just outlined. We were going to get there anyway I think it's just that it's landed in a sweet spot. In what sense is it experimental? And how can we be certain that it is, in fact as accurate as the quarterly reporting?

LEIGH: Well, unlike other figures that the Bureau of Statistics brings out, the inflation number isn't revised, and that's because it's often locked into contracts, it has an immediate flow through to government payments and to business. And so all of those indexation measures will still continue to be based on the quarterly numbers for the time being. The Bureau needs to make sure that it's got those monthly figures right. But, Greg, it does show some interesting patterns across sectors. Over the last year, you've seen the price of new dwelling construction up 21%, fresh fruit and vegetables up 19%. Anyone who's been to the supermarket lately will know that one. And then you've got areas like communications, where prices are only up less than 2% over the last year. So some real divergence right across the economy.

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Address to the OECD Tax Administration Forum - 29 September 2022

Speech To The OECD Forum On Tax Administration
Thursday 29 September 2022 

Good morning, my name is Andrew Leigh and as Assistant Minister responsible for multinational tax, I am very pleased to have the opportunity to speak to you at this important forum.

I will begin by acknowledging the traditional owners of the land on which I am making my remarks from in Canberra, the Ngunnawal people, as well as where you are meeting today on the lands of the Gadigal people of the Eora Nation. I pay my respects to their elders past, present and emerging.

It’s a pleasure to be a part of this event supporting the Forum on Tax Administration’s work. The work of tax administrators is a crucial element of ensuring a well-functioning economy and a fair society.

As an Economics Professor, a lot of my work was in public finance, particularly at the intersection of taxation and inequality. I learned a great deal from my co-author Tony Atkinson, who worked across a large number of countries, drawing insights on big questions from looking at different nations. That’s one of the great strengths of the OECD: sharing ideas across countries in the interests of improving policies everywhere. If Tony Atkinson was still alive, I reckon he’d love to be joining your conference today, as he did with many other OECD events.

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Chiko Rolls and Foreign Investment

House of Representatives
28 September 2022

In 1951, Frank McEncroe, a boilermaker from Bendigo, invented the Chiko Roll. He'd been impressed by chicken rolls that were sold at Richmond games, but he decided that it wasn't an item that you could hold in one hand. And the genius of the Chiko Roll, Deputy Speaker Chesters, as you'll know so well, is that it is an item which is so deep fried that you can hold it in one hand without it collapsing. It doesn't, in fact, contain any chicken, so his initial name of the 'chicken roll' was changed to the 'Chiko Roll'. It's largely cabbage, barley and a little bit of beef, but it is also the genesis of the foreign investment scheme in Australia.

The remarkable story told by David Uren in his book Takeover on foreign investment goes to 1972, when some 40 million Chiko Rolls were being sold annually in Australia and the US conglomerate IT&T made a bid to buy the company. The notion of an iconic Aussie product such as the Chiko Roll being sold to the Americans caused a backlash in the press and in parliament. As one commentator noted:

The cabinet meeting over the Chiko Roll … was the beginning of the regulation of foreign investment in Australia.

Foreign investment remains critical to Australia's prosperity. Our sugar production industry was kickstarted in 1855 by Colonial Sugar Refinery, now known as CSR. When Schweppes opened a bottling facility in 1877, that was a spur to Australian manufacturing. When Kodak set up its first film plant in 1908, when Heinz began canning baked beans in 1935 and when 3M started producing in 1951, those foreign investments provided not only capital but know-how to the Australian economy. Australia benefits from defence firms such as Lockheed Martin, from investments in quantum computing and from investments in important infrastructure projects. Indeed, infrastructure expenditure in Australia would be smaller if it were not for foreign investment.

This bill deals with both immigration and foreign investment, and it's apt that it does so, because there's a tie between the two. To the extent that migration impacts on wages, it does so as a result of lowering the ratio of capital to labour. Conversely, when we take in foreign investment, we increase the ratio of capital to labour. The capital-to-labour ratio really matters. It's one of the reasons why wages in Australia, at the end of the 1800s, were among the highest in the world. So, for those of us who care about sustaining well-paid jobs in Australia, foreign investment plays a part in that. And foreign investment and migration can go together, ensuring that the ratio of capital to labour remains unchanged. If we didn't have foreign investments, then production, employment and household income in Australia would all be lower.

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Second Reading Speech - Treasury Laws Amendment (More Competition, Better Prices) - House of Representatives, 28 September 2022

Second Reading Speech
House of Representatives
28 September 2022
Treasury Laws Amendment (More Competition, Better Prices)

This bill will deliver on the government's election commitment to help ease the cost of living by increasing penalties for breaches of competition and consumer laws and to provide greater protections for small businesses from unfair contract terms.

Schedule 1 to the bill will increase the maximum penalty for anti-competitive behaviour under the Competition and Consumer Act 2010(CCA) as well as breaches of the Australian Consumer Law (ACL)to ensure the price of misconduct is high enough to deter unfair activity and to ensure consumers retain a robust level of protection.

In 2018, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development found that the average and maximum competition penalties in Australia are substantially lower than those in comparable international jurisdictions. As a result, there is a risk that a breach of the existing competition law could be seen as an acceptable cost of doing business by some large firms.

The amendments will increase the severity of Australia's penalty regime to be more comparable with international jurisdictions. As a result of this bill, we expect that, in some cases, courts will impose higher penalties for wrongdoing. We want courts to be able to ask themselves, 'Will this penalty deter lawbreaking by this company and others like it?

By strengthening penalties, Australia will be promoting competition and better corporate behaviour. Greater competition means better prices and more choice for Australian households. No business that complies with the law will face any additional compliance burden as a result of this increase in penalties.

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More Competition and Better Prices - Media Release

Joint media release with 
The Hon Stephen Jones MP
Assistant Treasurer and Minister for Financial Services

The Albanese Government is introducing legislation to protect Australian households and ease the cost of living by increasing penalties for breaches of competition and consumer law.

Competition plays a vital role in driving down prices and changes to the law are necessary to ensure a level playing field and stop big companies from using their size to dominate markets. 

That’s why Labor is moving to increase penalties for corporations engaging in anti‑competitive behaviour from $10 million to $50 million, ensuring the price for misconduct is high enough to deter unfair activity.

The current turnover‑based penalty will also be increased from 10 per cent of annual turnover to 30 per cent of turnover for the period the breach took place, and penalties for individuals will increase from $500,000 to $2.5 million. This ensures those who perpetuated the wrongdoing, either individually or on behalf of the company, are held accountable.

The Government is conscious of the close ties between the consumer law and the consumer protection provisions of the financial services law. Treasury will soon consult publicly on the desirability of increasing maximum penalties for these provisions, to ensure the law continues to provide robust and effective protection of consumer interests across all sectors of the economy.

The amendments will facilitate the imposition of penalties that are more comparable with those in other countries.

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Labor’s making our contract law fairer - Media Release

Joint media release with
The Hon Julie Collins MP
Minister for Small Business


Small businesses and the hard-working Australians they employ will soon have greater protections as the Albanese Labor Government delivers on its election commitment to outlaw unfair contract terms.

Small businesses and consumers often lack the resources and bargaining power to effectively review and negotiate terms in standard form contracts. Existing laws haven’t been strong enough to stop the use of unfair terms, which remain prevalent in standard form contracts.

The Bill being introduced to Parliament today, will strengthen protections for consumers and small businesses by making unfair contract terms illegal. This will stop the use of unfair terms, such as those are where one party has the right to unilaterally vary the contract or terminate without cause and demand damages.

The amendments introduce civil penalty provisions prohibiting the use of, and reliance on, unfair terms in standard form contracts. This will enable a regulator to seek a civil penalty from a court.

Additionally, a larger number of small business contracts will now be afforded protection. This will occur by increasing the small business eligibility threshold for the protections from less than 20 employees to less than 100 employees, and introducing an annual turnover threshold of less than $10 million as an alternative threshold for determining eligibility.

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Matter of Public Importance Debate - House of Representatives - Cost of living, 27 September 2022

Cost of Living
Matter of Public Importance
House of Representatives
27 September 2022

It is a true pleasure to rise on this matter of public importance. If you need any evidence of the ‘agility’ of those opposite, consider what happened at noon today. At noon today, the education minister was at this dispatch box announcing the government's Family Assistance Legislation Amendment (Cheaper Child Care) Bill. That bill would cut childcare costs for more than a million families. We've seen childcare costs go up 41 per cent in the last eight years. For a family on $80,000 with a child in care three days a week, the government support would be $14,000 a year as a result of the bill announced today. And what was the shadow treasurer doing at the very same time? He was tabling a matter of public importance claiming that the government didn't have a plan for cost of living. As you might say—or as he said himself—'Fantastic. Great move. Well done Angus.'

We on this side of the House are always happy to have a debate on cost of living. Under the coalition, we saw wages stagnate as a ‘deliberate design feature’ of their economic architecture. Under us, the very first decision of the Albanese cabinet was to urge a Fair Work decision giving a 5.2 per cent pay rise to minimum wage workers. We've also backed in a pay rise for aged-care workers and made clear the government would pay our fair share. Under them, we had scare campaigns about electric vehicles and claims that electric vehicles would end the weekend. Under us, we're cutting the tax rate on electric vehicles. You'd think that side of parliament would like a tax cut for electric vehicles—but no. They're voting against it, despite the fact that for every 10 kilometres you drive an electric vehicle you save a dollar, compared with driving a petrol vehicle. Under them, we had a renewables strike. Under us, we've just seen the climate change minister sign a key agreement with John Kerry which will unlock up to $2.9 billion of new renewables investment.

Under the Coalition, we saw the economy stagnate. We saw the start-up rate go down. We saw the rate of people starting new jobs go down. We saw market concentration go up. We saw mark-ups go up. Under us, we're taking those issues of economic dynamism and competition seriously. I'm going to be introducing a bill in this place tomorrow that, if passed, will raise the penalties on firms that engage in anticompetitive conduct and ban unfair contract terms—the sorts of contract terms that currently let large businesses get away with clauses such as unilateral termination or unilateral price increases. We on this side of the House stand on the side of small businesses and consumers.

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Canberra and Electric Cars - Op Ed - Canberra Times

Among Australian economists, few public servants are as revered as Roland Wilson, who ran the Treasury, the Australian Bureau of Statistics and the Department of Labour, serving both sides of politics.

Yet Wilson wasn’t just a great public servant, he was also one of Canberra’s first electric vehicle owners. As Tim the Yowie Man reported on these pages, Wilson built his own three-wheeled electric vehicle using parts collected from junk shops and rubbish tips. During the 1940s, he drove it from his home in Forrest to his office in the Parliamentary Triangle. The car had a top speed of 20 km/h and a range of up to 64 km. Its twelve batteries charged overnight at Wilson’s home.

Earlier this year, I became one of the first Canberra politicians to switch to an electric vehicle, swapping my Honda Jazz for a Tesla 3. I’ve never been much of a car nut, but the Tesla is a joy to drive. It’s got enough range to get to Sydney, enough space to hold a family of five, and more than enough zip when you put your foot down. There’s also something fun about a car with automatic door locks, headlights and windscreen wipers. Where Roland Wilson had to sacrifice performance for environmentalism, today’s drivers can have both.

Yet while Teslas are fun, they’re not cheap. And that goes for other electric vehicles too. As Climate Change and Energy Minister Chris Bowen has pointed out, consumers in the United Kingdom can choose from 26 low-emission vehicles under A$60,000. In Australia, that number is only eight. That’s a key reason why electric vehicles comprise 15 per cent of UK car sales, compared with just 2 per cent of Australian new car sales. While Teslas currently account for around 60 per cent of new Australian electric vehicles, they may soon be outsold by cheaper alternatives.

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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.