Who pays company tax?

Update: After I wrote this blog post, I thought that it would be good to see if I could get wider coverage for the ideas in it. There has been a mass of articles about multinationals and taxation in the papers, especially in the NZ Herald, but none touching on the idea of the price of civilization, and none taking on the claim that PAYE and GST “paid” by multinationals is a sufficient contribution to the tax take here in NZ. So I redrafted the post, taking out the more informal language, and it has been published in the NZ Herald: Govt has the means to make multinationals pay.


Enrolment for taxation

Not multinationals, as it turns out.

Top multinationals pay almost no tax in New Zealand.

Multinationals are taking advantage of their ability to charge internal fees, and set royalties, and increase the “cost” of products sold from one part of a company to another (transfer pricing), to shift profits around the world, preferably into jurisdictions with very low corporate tax rates. It’s a comparatively simple thing to do, even when there are robust anti-avoidance laws and intense scrutiny of transfer pricing practices.

I very much hold to the view that taxation is the price of civilization – health, education, welfare, parliamentary democracy, robust rule of law, smoothly functioning institutions, and all those other accoutrements of first world living that the multinationals rely on.

At the same time, I think that as citizens, one of our better avenues for checking the power of government is to give it less money. That means minimising the tax we pay. Of course I am not advising tax evasion, or even aggressive tax avoidance, but if the law permits us to reduce our taxes, then we should go ahead and do say. Pay absolutely all the tax you owe to government, but not a penny more. If government wants to collect more in taxes, then it can do so through changing the law, and thus ensuring that its tax collecting activities are exposed to the full scrutiny of our democratic processes.

So perhaps the way to deal with the problem of multinationals earning large amounts of revenue in New Zealand, but paying very little tax here, is to change the law. My preference would be to look at some form of transaction tax. We already have a tax that is based on adding a certain amount to each transaction in New Zealand, in the form of GST. Perhaps we could add a new transaction tax for companies whose head office is not located in New Zealand. We could even allow them to offset any company tax paid in New Zealand against the total transaction taxes they pay here. That would make the point very clear: either pay a reasonable amount of company tax here, or pay the full quantum of a transaction tax.

Multinationals are of course bleating, and saying that they already make a magnificent contribution to the price of civilization in New Zealand by paying GST and PAYE on their employees wages.

Other companies, notably from the alcohol industry, stress that their total tax payments — including PAYE for local employees, GST and excise taxes on the sale of alcohol — are a better measure of their contribution to New Zealand than income taxes alone.

Source: NZ Herald: The tax gap – where do their profits go? How Apple, Facebook and Google move their earnings overseas

That’s a canard. While companies bear some of the cost of GST, ultimately the full cost of GST is borne by end users. And in the alcohol industry, that’s you and me, the consumers. By and large, companies act as tax collectors for GST, but they don’t by any means bear the full cost themselves.

As for PAYE on their employees wages, again, that’s not the company paying tax. It’s the employee paying tax. All the company is doing is collecting the tax on behalf of government.

So not only are these companies engaging in fairly interesting tax avoidance activities, but they’re also trying claim some kind of social good credit for their employees’ taxes too. “We’re good citizens because our employees pay tax.”

Ahh… no. That would be like you giving some money to an accountant for your taxes, and the accountant paying it over to IRD and claiming it towards her or his own tax.

Not paying company tax, and engaging in cutesy pie non-justifications of their behaviour. Somehow, for me, that makes it all even worse.

Time to get the multinationals to pony up and pay the price of civilization.

Posted in Economics, NZ Politics, Taxation | 2 Comments

That’s not funny

jkcageOur PM has done it again, engaging in jokey-blokey cringe-making stuff on a radio show. This time, it’s a rape joke.

Prime Minister caught up in radio station’s prison rape stunt

The excuses are rolling out already. 1: he was set up for this so it’s Not His Fault and 2: Can’t You Take A Joke?

Yes, the PM was set up for this, but that’s a hollow excuse. This is the man who has horsed around for years, pulling pony tails and doing embarrassing interviews and always doing his damndest to convince people that he’s just one of the blokes. He can hardly complain now if the blokes take him at face value and involve him in yet another jokey-blokey event. He’s even been known to make dubious rape jokes, so he can’t even really complain about the content of this particular “joke”. So yes, a set-up, but the set-up has come as much from the PM as from the radio shock jocks who sprung it on him.  And let’s remember exactly who held the power in that room.  Here’s a hint: it might just have been the man with the bodyguards and the legal power and the constitutional power and the social power to say, “No!” and be believed.

As for the old, old favourite of bullies everywhere: can’t you take a joke? There’s a reason why this is the centre square on anti-feminist bingo. It’s because it’s the excuse that people always retreat to when their obnoxious behaviour is called out.

Good humour is edgy and subversive. It mocks established power groups, and prompts us to think in new ways about the world.

The “humour” from the PM and the radio jocks was the exact reverse of that. It punched down, laughing at victims, and making a joke out of rape. This in the same week that the Law Commission has released a major review of the law around sexual violence, urging us to change our understanding of how the law should operate. And what does the PM do? Make a joke.

Our PM simply doesn’t think that sexual violence is a serious matter. We can see that in the cuts to funding, the refusal to follow through on promises, the “teasing” of vulnerable women, the use of rape-talk as a device to attack the opposition, the refusal to allow women to speak about sexual assault in Parliament.

If the PM wants to engage in blokey cringey behaviour, well, that’s on him. What I really mind is the lack of action around sexual violence, and the trivialising of sexual violence. Joke all you want, Mr Key, but please, do some serious work as well.


I was part of a panel discussion covering some of these points on Newstalk ZB, with Jack Tame and Michelle Boag.

Michelle Boag, Deborah Russell: Is John Key an embarrassment?.

Posted in Feminism, NZ Politics | Tagged , | 1 Comment

An object lesson in silencing women

On Tuesday, the Prime Minister screamed across the House that Labour and the Greens were backing rapists. Several MPs took offence, but the Speaker of the House ruled them out of order.

On Wednesday, women MPs took action. One by one, they stood to ask for an apology. Each of them said, “Mr Speaker, I have been a victim of sexual assault, and I take offence at the Prime Minister’s words.”

That’s what they tried to say. But one by one, the Speaker ruled them out of order, and one by one, they were thrown out of the House.

New Zealand female MPs thrown out of parliament after disclosing sexual assaults

You can watch the proceedings here.

All of it is chilling. A powerful man, presiding over the highest court in the country, silencing women who have been victims of assault, and ruling them out of order.

It’s all horrible, but perhaps the most horrible bit is when the Speaker starts cutting the microphone on women who are talking about being victims of sexual assault. Green MP Catherine Delahunty was only able to say, “Mr Speaker, as a victim of sexual assault…” before her microphone was cut. She was literally silenced.

Rape culture in action in our Parliament, promulgated by the Speaker. There are many reasons for people finding it easy to get away with rape and sexual assault in this country, many reasons for the on-going endorsement of rape culture. And one of them is because the most powerful and senior representatives of the ruling National party have made it possible.

I am filled with admiration for the brave women who stood up and talked about being victims of sexual assault, some of them for the first time ever in public. My eyes filled with tears as I watched women I know personally, women I spoke to just a few days ago, open themselves up to criticism and sniggers and sneers (we all know how rape culture keeps on working), because they will not stomach being told that they support rape.

Kia kaha, brave women from the Labour Party and from the Green Party.

Accusing the Labour Party of backing rapists is the latest tactic that the Speaker of the House is allowing to protect a Prime Minister who simply won’t fight for New Zealanders, who wants to pick and choose who he will act for as New Zealanders, and who is determined to make sure that the only New Zealanders he will look out for are the people who are convenient for him.

This Prime Minister has cut funding for rape and sexual assault services, because it’s a convenient way for him to balance his budget.

This Prime Minister has joked about rape and sexual assault, because it’s a convenient way for him to win votes.

This Prime Minister has used rape and sexual assault as a way to attack the opposition, because it’s a convenient way for him to cover up his inaction over New Zealanders being “detained” in Australian detention centres – jails by any other name.

Via the Speaker of the House, this Prime Minister has silenced women who have talked about being victims of sexual assault, because it’s convenient for him not to take any responsibility for his words and actions.

Everything because it’s convenient, and easy, and a quick way out. Too bad if there’s a principle that the Prime Minister might stand up for, something where he might finally take a stand. If it’s not easy, he won’t do it. He has all the moral fibre of blancmange.

Sure, he might be a nice bloke to have a beer with, but you wouldn’t want him beside you in the trenches, would you?

Posted in Feminism, NZ Politics | Tagged , | 9 Comments

Standing up for New Zealanders. Even the ones we might not like.

John Key is sending us a chilling message. From now on, we can’t be sure that if we somehow get into trouble overseas, the New Zealand government will help.

New Zealanders are being detained in Australia.

Kiwis held on Christmas Island as visas revoked

Christmas_Island_Immigration_Detention_Centre_and_the_Lilac_compound_(5775019842)“Detained” is a polite word for what’s happening: they’re being separated from families and friends, flown to a distant speck of land, and incarcerated there in a structure that looks very much like a prison, and functions very much like a prison. Our Prime Minister certainly thinks it’s a prison. That can be the only reason for comparing it to Paremoremo.

Mr Key would not be speaking to Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull about the issue, saying he would not expect an approach from his counterpart if Australians were caught up in a riot at Paremoremo Prison.

Christmas Island… it has such a pretty name, and yet it is such a nasty place.

For the most part, the people detained on Christmas Island are not what we might call law abiding citizens.  Some of the New Zealanders that have been imprisoned are there for low level civic offences, such as repeated driving offences, but others are there because they have been convicted of much more serious crimes.

They’re being held there pending deportation back to New Zealand. Many of them are people who have lived in Australia as long as they can remember, under what used to be the very easy-going immigration rules between New Zealand and Australia. They were taken there as kids, grew up there, were formed by and in Australia, and in respect of everything that matters, they are Australians. The one thing they don’t have is Australian citizenship, because they’ve never needed it. So now, because they have served more than one year in prison, the Australian government intends to ship them back here, to a country that they don’t know at all. Because they won’t just leave, the Australian government is “detaining” them, in what can only be described as hostile conditions.

Of course, they have the “choice” to leave at any time, should they “choose” to leave their families, their homes, their entire life in Australia.

Some choice. It’s a choice so loaded with negative consequences for them that of course they are fighting to stay in Australia.

Ordinarily, when New Zealanders are in trouble overseas, the New Zealand government does its best to help. It checks on prisoners’ well-being, it makes representations on their behalf, it uses its contacts in the foreign country’s government to advocate for better treatment.

But not this time round. John Key and his mate Malcolm Turnbull had a nice little chat last time Malcolm visited us, and they were full of just what good mates they were. But not good enough it seems. John Key just doesn’t want to do anything for the detainees on Christmas Island, except demonise them.

That’s a chilling message that Key is sending. We should all take notice, and be very frightened. From now on, we can’t be sure that if we somehow get into trouble overseas, the New Zealand government will help. We no longer know that we can turn to our embassies and contact our diplomats to help get us out of a tight spot. If we’re too politically inconvenient, it just won’t happen. We are at the whim of a capricious government that wants to pick and choose which New Zealanders matter, and which New Zealanders deserve help.

Christmas_Island_on_the_globe_(Southeast_Asia_centered).svgJohn Key and his government have turned their backs on the New Zealanders in the Christmas Island Detention Centre. And there they remain, trapped on a tiny island thousands of kilometres from any place they could call home. And the government of the only country that they’re allowed to call home won’t help them. That’s an utter disgrace.

Posted in Constitution, NZ Politics | Tagged , , | 3 Comments

Midwives and pay equity: actually, it *is* sexism.

In the news over the weekend: midwives are taking a pay equity case.

Midwives drop bombshell with court action over pay discrimination

College chief executive Karen Guilliland said discrimination against midwives had actually worsened. “This claim has been almost 20 years in the making. The legal action will have global ramifications.”

Self-employed midwives typically look after about 50 expectant mums a year and are paid about $100,000 annually by the ministry, but earn an average of $53,000 before tax because of various expenses they have to cover as a business, and their wages do not increase to match their experience.

That’s a low salary. The starting rate for graduates coming out with shiny new business degrees is around $42,000. That’s for people who have little to no experience, and who are working standard business hours.

The College of Midwives has developed this set of comparisons (source – pdf 450kb).

Comparative incomes

Comparative incomes

It’s not just that midwives aren’t paid well. Their pay rates haven’t risen significantly for years and years. Since 2007, their pay has gone up about 2.5%. In that time, inflation has been around 17.5%.

Here’s a comparison with pay increases for other health professionals over that time.

Pay increases for midwives

Pay increases for midwives

No matter which way you cut, slice and dice it, midwives are underpaid.

Why does this happen? Well, I’m guessing that it’s like so many other female dominated professions: midwives are underpaid because they are women. It’s a classic pay equity case. The evidence is even reasonably clear. Back when medical doctors commonly provided maternity and delivery care, the pay rates weren’t too bad. But in 1993, midwives started to be paid the same as medical doctors for maternity and delivery care. More midwives entered the profession, medical doctors left, and pay rates stagnated (data available here: pdf 450kb). To me, that says that as men left the profession, it was possible to pay less and less and less, because women are paid less. That’s all there is to it.

Anyone who disputes the claim that women are paid less might want to take a look at some of Professor Marilyn Waring’s work. I especially recommend Counting for Nothing.

But what has our Prime Minister got to say about it?

Apparently it’s not sexism. It’s just that:

One of the arguments is, well at least the case that people put up, is is it because they are women that the pay is slightly less or is it because that’s what the job pays. It depends on which perspective you take,” Mr Key said.

So… women are paid less because that’s what they’re paid.

Expanding on that a little, he also said:

And it depends on which perspective that you take – so some professions which are dominated by men will have higher pay, and the argument is, is it because that’s what’s demanded of that particular job?

I’m finding it a little hard to work out exactly what he means,* but what I think he’s getting at is that jobs dominated by men are paid more because the job demands more.

But that’s exactly the point of the pay equity exercise. Midwives’ jobs are tough and demanding, but somehow, the job is not as well paid as other tough and demanding jobs that are typically done by men. Hence the need for a pay equity case.

And if that’s not sexism, I don’t know what is. I understand that Mr Key can’t admit that on air, but it would be good if he could at least demonstrate that he understands the nature of the claim that midwives are making.

On the positive side, he’s waiting for the court process to come up with an answer. So are we all.

Further reading:
New Zealand College of Midwives media release and supporting information
What do midwives get paid? at OHbaby

*NB: it’s challenging to come up with perfectly formed sentences live on air.

Posted in Economics, Employment | Tagged , , | 9 Comments

I hope IRD is looking at this

State houses at Arapuni. Source: Wikimedia Commons

State houses at Arapuni. Source: Wikimedia Commons

Reported in the New Zealand Herald this morning, a house which has changed hands changed hands four times in three months, and made money every time.

Sold four times in three months – price jumps $84,000

We don’t know how much money was involved on the last transaction. But here’s the transaction history.

First sale: Mrs SW sells her home for $475,000. She bought it in 2012, for $291,500. The gain on sale is $184,500.

Second sale: Mr XZ sells the house for $522,500, two days after he bought it. The gain on sale is $47,500.

Third sale: A trust sells the house for $559,000, four days after buying it. The gain on sale is $36,500.

Fourth sale: The property is sold again, for an undisclosed amount.

So are any of these transactions subject to tax? As a general rule, capital gains are not taxable in New Zealand, except that if something is bought with the intention of resale, then any gains are taxable.

The first sale is clearly not subject to tax. Mrs SW bought the house and lived in it for three years. So in as much as we can judge her intentions from her actions, it seems very clear that she didn’t buy the house with the intention of resale, so it isn’t caught by our current tax rules. Even if we had a full capital gains tax in New Zealand, instead of our current half-pie measures, it’s highly likely that family homes would be excluded from the tax. This is a standard feature of capitals gains taxes worldwide: family homes don’t get caught, or if they are caught, then they also get some very big discounts. So Mrs SW gets a tax free capital gains. NB: before anyone thinks that’s unreasonable, remember that she still has to live somewhere, and chances are she’ll be buying another house. She may come out ahead, but she may not.

But what about the second sale? Mr XZ has said that he bought the house for his in-laws, but they changed their minds. They didn’t like the area anymore because it had too many state houses in it.

Perhaps that is the case. He would need to provide evidence of that, because on surface, his actions indicate that he bought the house with the intention of resale. That’s the usual inference to be drawn when something is bought and sold so quickly.

So on the face of it, I think that second transaction is taxable. If Mr XZ has no oother income at all (unlikely, but let’s run with that), then using the standard tax scales, he will pay 10.5% tax on the first $14,000 profit, and 17.5% tax on the second $33,500, or a total of $7,332.50.

The third transaction will come under much the same scrutiny. Buying something, then selling it four days later? Again that’s a very, very prompt sale, and it looks very much as though the property was bought with the intention of resale.

The tax rate for trusts is 33%. The effective rate can vary, depending on how much income is distributed from the trust and to whom, but we don’t know anything about what has happened within that trust. So I’m going to run with 33%, which makes the tax on the second transaction something like $12,045.

So I think there’s something like $20,000 or so of tax to be collected from these transactions. Possibly. Depending on whether or not IRD can prove intent, or the vendors can prove that they just happened to have to sell the properties. One thing is for sure: it will certainly be worth investigating, especially now that it has been splashed all over the NZ Herald.

Posted in Taxation | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Another tax increase, but it won’t be happening any time soon

Enrolment for taxation

Enrolment for taxation

Goods and Services Tax is a tax on consumption in New Zealand. It ought to be imposed on all goods and services as they cross the border, but in practice, it’s not, because often the cost of collecting the tax is higher than the amount of tax that would be collected. So government sets a collection threshold, of $60. If customs duties and GST amount to more than $60, then they’ll charge you, but if it’s less, then you get away scot free.

The government is looking at changing that threshold. And in effect, that means a tax increase. For example, say that the threshold is decreased to $10 of GST and customs duties. Currently if you import books to the value of say, $200, you pay no GST or customs duties at the border. Under the reduced threshold, you would be required to pay over $30 GST before you got your books ($200 x 15% = $30). Your tax has gone from nothing, to $30.

That’s quite a tax increase. And you have to wonder why it has suddenly become a priority for our government. After all, the problem has been known about for years, and retailers have been complaining about it for years, saying that it’s unfair that they have to charge GST, but overseas suppliers don’t, creating yet more barriers to running a successful retail business in New Zealand.

It’s the money. In their discussion document released today, GST: Cross-border services, intangibles and goods, the government estimates that it’s losing about $140million a year in GST on imported goods. And that figure is set to grow by about 10% a year. That’s a lot of government revenue, especially when that long promised surplus is looking more and more like a mirage.

The thing is, it’s not going to happen any time soon. It’s expensive collecting duties and GST at the border, and Customs’ systems are not set up to deal with lots of low value goods. So here’s what government is going to do: it’s going to do some more consultation.

Changes to the de minimis threshold
3.22 …Customs has been asked to look at options for simplifying and changing the level of the threshold, with a report to Ministers later in the year. This is anticipated to be followed by public consultation.

Well, that’s certainly being on the cusp of something special. Next year. Maybe. Or the year after. Or sometime, we hope. Possibly.

The thing is, I agree that we ought to be doing something about this loophole in our GST law. When we charge 15% GST on every cheap paperback bought in a store in the country, but we don’t charge GST on books imported from overseas, unless they cost $400 or more, then there’s an inherent unfairness in the system. And we need to do something to address it. But it would be good to see some concrete plans for action, instead of yet more consultation.

In the meantime, if you’re planning to get the latest must-have nerd-joy toy from thinkgeek.com for a friend for Christmas, then you should be fine. It looks like there won’t be any extra GST at the border for quite some time yet.

Posted in NZ Politics, Taxation | Tagged , | 1 Comment