- The Green Party quotes Margaret Thatcher with approval
- The Australian Tax Office’s latest corporate tax transparency report
- The latest from the OECD on the carbon pricing of greenhouse gas emissions
Last week, the Green Party released a discussion document on what it’s called an excess profits tax. This is part of its “commitment to a progressive and fair taxation system.” What it is saying is that an excess profits tax or windfall tax is required to level the playing field so that, “big businesses are not able to profit to excess when so many people are struggling”.
The proposal comes on the back of data showing that in the 2021 financial year, corporate profits reached $103 billion, up $24.5 billion on the previous year. And you’ll recall that the corporate tax take for the year to June 2022 was almost $20 billion. The Green Party are saying we’ve got several matters going on at the moment. It believes there are excess profits being earned at a time of hardship. There’s also a need to address the impact of the unprecedented transfer of wealth that happened in response to the COVID 19 pandemic.
The discussion document points out that windfall taxes are common in other countries. It notes that the EU is implementing an excess profit tax in the energy sector. Spain has an excess profit tax on the energy sector and banks. Interestingly, the paper then uses the example of Britain under Margaret Thatcher in 1981, when the Conservative government introduced a windfall tax on banks. This was raised the equivalent of about £3 billion in today’s money and represented about a fifth of the profits banks were pocketing at the time.
That obviously attracted quite a lot of controversy back in 1981. The 1981 British budget is one of the most controversial I can recall in my time. But Thatcher was unrepentant about what she did. In her memoirs The Downing Street Years, she responded
“Naturally, the banks strongly opposed this, but the fact remained that they had made their large profits as a result of our policy of high interest rates rather than because of increased efficiency or better service to the customer.”
So, I guess we live in strange times when the Green Party is quoting Margaret Thatcher with approval, but that is a fair point. And bear in mind ANZ reported a net profit of $2 billion for the first time.
So, windfall taxes are not uncommon elsewhere in the world. They are uncommon under the New Zealand tax framework and haven’t really been used for a very long time. They were used during both world wars but apparently, they weren’t entirely successful.
It’s good to get this discussion going because sometimes I feel that the tax debate in New Zealand is very narrowly circumscribed. We’re living in unusual times so is a windfall tax something that could be done? Even if it was, in my view it would have to be a one-off, such taxes shouldn’t be part of the regular tax take. Incidentally, this is a point I’ve seen discussed elsewhere notably in Ireland following the release of a report about its tax system.
The Green’s proposal suggests a windfall tax could have some retrospective effect. This would be highly unpopular and rightly so, for companies, because it would mean there’s no certainty around their planning. Companies might budget for a 28% tax rate but then suddenly find that in fact it’s been increased to 33%. So businesses would find that hard to deal with, but if they knew there was a possibility it would be interesting to see how pricing might play out.
Overall it’s good to see this discussion going on and no doubt it’ll attract a lot of controversy and you can make your own submission on the idea to the Greens. Next year is an election year so who knows what’s going to happen afterwards? But as I said, windfall taxes are used elsewhere in the world. And if they were good enough for Margaret Thatcher, well, who knows?
Moving on, over in Australia, the Australian Tax Office, (the ATO) has just published its eighth annual report on corporate tax transparency. What this does is look at the amount of tax paid by large corporates for the year to June 2021. According to the report, the over A$68 billion paid during that year by large corporates is the highest since reporting started. It’s up A$11 billion or 19.8% on the previous, COVID-19 affected year. Apparently, rising commodity prices were a key driver for the increase in corporate tax.
The report notes that Australia has some of the highest levels of tax compliance of large businesses in the world, with 93% of tax paid voluntarily. This rises to 96% after the ATO has asked a few questions.
The ATO has been running what it calls the Tax Avoidance Taskforce for some time. According to the report since 2016, the ATO has raised tax liabilities of $29 billion and Tax Avoidance Taskforce funding being responsible for $17.2 billion of that amount. (It’s worth remembering “raised liabilities” doesn’t necessarily mean that they’ve been collected). In last week’s Australian Budget there’s an extra $200 million per annum to help expand the focus of the Tax Avoidance Taskforce. This brings the total funding for the Tax Avoidance Taskforce to A$1.1 billion over the next four years.
Now, this report covered 2,468 corporate entities, more than half of which were foreign owned with income of A$100 Million or more. 529 or about 20% were Australian owned private companies with an income of $200 million or more, which is an indication of the size and scale of the Australian economy. Interestingly, there’s a note that the percentage of entities which pay no income tax was 32%.
It’s interesting to see what other jurisdictions do with their tax data. I feel Inland Revenue should do a lot more in this space with the data it receives, but it’s very reluctant to do so at this point. It’s currently not part of its brief, but such a report and other statistics gives us a better understanding of the scale of the economy and what’s happening in it. I would like to see Inland Revenue produce something similar.
Energy, taxation and carbon pricing
Finally, this week, overnight the OECD released its latest report on pricing greenhouse gas emissions. This looks at how carbon prices, energy prices and subsidies have evolved between 2018 and 2021. This is part of a database the OECD is developing to track what’s happening on energy, taxation and carbon pricing.
This report covers 71 countries (including New Zealand) which together account for approximately 80% of global greenhouse gas emissions and energy use. There’s a summary report by country as well. Overall, more than 40% of greenhouse gas emissions in 2021 were covered by carbon prices and that’s up from 32% in 2018. And the average carbon price from emissions trading system schemes and carbon taxes more than doubled to reach €4 per tonne of CO2 equivalent.
And obviously the report goes into what’s happening across the across the globe. There’s been a rise in the amount of greenhouse gas emissions now covered, and that is as a result of the introduction or extension of explicit carbon pricing mechanisms notably in Canada, China and Germany.
What’s termed carbon net prices are rising further in 2021 as have permit prices under emission trading schemes. There’s steady changes in carbon taxes, with new carbon taxes introduced, together with increases in carbon tax rates or the phasing out of carbon tax exemptions.
As for New Zealand, 44.1% of all greenhouse gas emissions are now subject to a positive ‘Net Effective Carbon Rate’ which has not changed since 2018. The report also notes that fuel excise taxes, which are described as an implicit form of carbon pricing cover 23.8% of emissions. Again, that’s unchanged since 2018. So, looking at this, we appear to be stalling a bit on this and I do wonder whether next year’s report might show that because of the cut in fuel excise duty, we’ve gone backwards. However, other countries have also been cutting fuel taxes because of the high inflation in the wake of the war in Ukraine.
Although the level of coverage of greenhouse gases covered by carbon pricing hasn’t changed since 2018, the average carbon price has risen. For example, fuel excise taxes in 2021 amount to €19.73 per tonne of CO2 equivalent. That’s up by +9.4% relative to 2018, which is probably below inflation, though. However, once adjusted for inflation the average Net Effective Carbon Rate on greenhouse gas emissions has increased by +39% since 2018
There’s a lot to consider in this report, more than I’ve had a chance to go through right now. But again, it reflects a constant theme of this podcast about the increasing role of environmental taxation and the scope for opportunities in this space.
What we do with those funds is the other side of the equation. It’s one thing to say we need more taxation. What isn’t always debates is what we do with those taxes. I’ll repeat my longstanding view that funds coming out of environmental taxation in the form of new taxes or the existing emission trading scheme should be used to mitigate the impact of climate change.
There was a report earlier this week identifying 44 communities in great risk of environment impact from climate change which are unprepared for the flood risk. No doubt they will be looking for assistance. In the meantime, Nick Smith, Nelson’s new mayor (and former Environment Minister) has requested government assistance with dealing with the impact of the recent flooding. No doubt there will be plenty more to come on this topic.
And on that note, that’s all for this week. I’m Terry Baucher and you can find this podcast on my website www.baucher.tax or wherever you get your podcasts. Thank you for listening and please send me your feedback and tell your friends and clients.
Until next time kia pai te wiki, have a great week!