Time for big business to pay its fair share

Jo-anne Schofield is United Voice National Secretary

Last September United Voice with the tax justice network released a report that highlighted rampant tax dodging among ASX 200 companies.

In contrast to tax avoiding companies, United Voice members work long hours, often on low rates of pay, and contribute their fair share in taxes. Yet they have been feeling the impact as state and federal Liberal governments make significant cuts to public services across the country.

United Voice started looking into corporate tax avoidance after conversations with our members about the most important issues they face today.

Through our Real Voices project, we asked 26,000 members about the biggest issues in their lives and their ideas for change. Time and time again our members said they were worried about cuts to essential public services like health, education and pensions.

The results from our research into corporate tax practices are staggering. Australia has a corporate tax rate of 30 percent but most ASX 200 companies paid much less tax – nearly one third had an average effective tax rate of 10 percent or less.

Corporations use a number of means to minimise their tax obligations, including by setting up subsidiaries in secrecy jurisdictions – 57 percent of the ASX 200 disclosed such subsidiaries.

United Voice members are not alone in thinking this is not good enough. Our report sparked a much needed debate about the future viability of our tax base.

And we’ve attracted support from some unusual quarters – including billionaire retailer Gerry Harvey and Wesfarmers managing director Richard Goyder.

Federal Labor has also taken the issue up in earnest. A Senate Committee, chaired by NSW Senator Sam Dastyari, is investigating the issue of corporate tax minimisation and avoidance.

The tax aggressive behaviour of some large companies and high net worth individuals should be of considerable concern for government and civil society alike.

The need for Australia to reduce its debt and balance the budget is repeatedly cited to justify cuts to services that have a disproportionate impact on low and middle income Australians.

Yet the ensuing debate has not devoted sufficient attention to the issue of revenue-raising.

When we accept the austerity narrative of the conservative side of politics, we end up squabbling over an ever-decreasing pool of public revenue.

Our report has been particularly valuable in kickstarting a conversation across the union movement and within the Labor Party about how to make our tax system fairer and our revenue base more sustainable.

This touches on the kind of society, services and support we want for all Australians and how we raise the revenue required to pay for this in an equitable way.

When corporations and wealthy individuals aggressively minimise their tax obligations, we all bear the consequences of reduced services, outdated infrastructure and increasing inequality.

United Voice members, like other Australians, do their share of the heavy lifting – we think it’s time for the big end of town to do theirs too.

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