Apple, Google Likely To Face The Senate Over Alleged Tax Dodging

Accountants and lawyers at the Australian offices of Google, Apple and Amazon had better dust off their best suits: soon enough they’re going to be dragged in front of a Senate inquiry into alleged tax avoidance activities.

Money picture from Shutterstock

That’s right: a formal Senate inquiry into tax minimisation from big multinational corporations operating in Australia has been slated for next year.

Greens leader, Senator Christine Milne, today moved a motion that tax minimisation regimes operated by large multinational corporations be examined by the Senate Economics References Committee to “deter tax avoidance and provide assurance that all companies are complying fully with Australia‘s tax laws”.

The Greens party has told Gizmodo Australia that it expects to call witnesses including Google, Amazon and Apple to give evidence on their tax minimisation activities in Australia, after multiple reports of alleged tax dodging in the last few reporting periods.

Here are the full terms of reference laid out by Senator Milne today:

“I move that the following matter be referred to the Economics References Committee for inquiry and report by the first sitting day of June 2015:

Tax avoidance and aggressive minimisation by corporations registered in Australia and multinational corporations operating in Australia, with specific reference to:

• the adequacy of Australia‘s current laws;
• any need for greater transparency to deter tax avoidance and provide assurance that all companies are complying fully with Australia‘s tax laws;
• The broader economic impacts of this behaviour,
• beyond the direct effect on government revenue;
• the opportunities to collaborate internationally and/or act unilaterally to address the problem;
• the performance and capability of the Australian Taxation Office (ATO) to investigate and launch litigation, in the wake of drastic budget cuts to staffing numbers;
• the role and performance of the Australian Securities and Investments Commission in working with corporations and supporting the ATO to protect public revenue;
• any relevant recommendations or issues arising from the Government‘s White Paper process on the ‘Reform of Australia‘s Tax System‘;

and any other related matters.

As mentioned in the terms of reference, the inquiry will kick off in the Senate in June next year.

While the Greens doesn’t have a senator on the Economics References Committee, it has indicated to Gizmodo Australia in a statement this afternoon that its members will come on as participating members as required.

The last time these big tech companies were compelled to appear before MPs and Senators was during the IT Pricing Inquiry chaired by backbencher Nick Champion.

Apple, Adobe and Microsoft were all compelled to give evidence at the IT Pricing Inquiry, and were quizzed on why the trio thought it was appropriate to charge more for goods, services and entertainment products in Australia versus those prices paid by overseas consumers.

The spiritual successor of the IT Pricing Inquiry was a parliamentary discussion on the tax liability of large companies, with federal IT crusader and Member for Chifley, Ed Husic MP, raising the issue of Apple’s tax minimisation activities in parliament as far back as February 2013.

The ATO has been pursuing companies like Google and Apple over the practise of tax minimisation and transfer pricing since mid-last year. In another vector of the attack, Treasurer Joe Hockey has formally pledged to address the issue of multinational tax minimisation from large companies with his G20 counterparts.

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