tip off

Tips and rumours

MP agrees with Geert (partly). When Tony Abbott was asked about Cory Bernardi’s support for Geert Wilders he said Bernardi was a “lone voice”. Apparently not. It was only noted in passing at the time, but Liberal-National MP George Christensen did what Bernardi sensibly didn’t — actually attended one of Wilders’ speeches in Sydney. We were curious and asked the Dawson representative why he had decided to attend. His spokesperson noted the MP was “surprised” by some of Wilders’ comments. No kidding. We later got a statement:

Mr Wilders, for example, wants to ban the building of mosques, which goes against our values in a free society. We believe in freedom of worship in Australia, and people should be free to build and worship where they like. But Mr Wilders also believes that people of dual citizenship who act in a way that is contrary to the values of this country and engage in extremist violence should have their citizenship stripped and be deported. That’s something I agree with, and a lot of north Queenslanders have expressed that view to me as well.”

Christensen insists he attended Wilders’ speech at his own expense. Good to hear.

Just how rorted is the R&D tax incentive? Since the government announced it was curtailing access by the biggest companies to the research and development tax offset in order to fund its new manufacturing and innovation policy, there’s been a steady chorus of complaints about the government “slashing R&D funding”, and the Greens have found themselves on an unusual unity ticket with the miners. Christine Milne declared it to be “complete madness to be undermining Australia’s research and development culture”, while mining lobbyist Mitch Hooke reflexively invoked sovereign risk: it would “add to concerns of international investors regarding the stability and predictability of Australia’s taxation arrangements”.

But how valuable is Big Capital’s access to R&D incentives? John Kehoe of The Australian Financial Review last year described some of the remarkable rorts engaged in by big firms to access the incentive, and since the policy was announced Crikey has regularly received tips from people in industry about how systematically the incentive has been abused. Here’s another:

I’ve spent most of my working life developing complex telecommunications products generally targetted at export markets and in doing so have worked for several companies which have made use of the R&D tax environment. Invariably these were profitable public companies who used the specialist R&D tax advisers from their big end of town accounting and legal firms to assist — or probably fairer to say, drive — the claims process to reduce their tax bill.  What was included as R&D often left me bemused, and it wasn’t uncommon for internal company documents to be worded to remove any hint that work being undertaken might have a marketing connotation.

From my observation over many years the majority of attendees at AUSIndusty’s R&D tax seminars are those same advisers from the big end of town accounting and legal firms and the main beneficiaries of the scheme are their clients in the big pharma and mining businesses. More recently I’ve been working for a much smaller company, but by the time we’ve taken into account the administrative overhead of planning and documenting and the need to keep meticulous records to apportion an individual’s time between eligible and non-eligible activities and then paid an adviser to check the claim the financial benefit of the R&D tax system can be elusive.

If I recall correctly Meat and Livestock Australia of last year’s live cattle export debacle was a $30 million beneficiary of government R&D tax funds and many years ago when the R&D regime was slightly different I remember being told by one of these R&D tax advisers that much of Alan Bond’s America’s Cup campaigns had been funded by the taxpayer through the scheme operating at the time.”

The decision to shift eligibility for the incentive in favour of small firms is a good start, but it may well be the case that the government has left the cut-off threshold too high. Instead of complaining about the “undermining” of our R&D culture, perhaps the Greens should be pushing for an inquiry into the uses and abuses of the incentive they’re so determined to protect.

Coalition levy on education? From an entirely anonymous source, a believe-it-or-not tip about negotiations over education funding:

I have now heard this from two sources: the Liberal state governments are working on education funding with the federal Coalition that will require any families earning over $150,000 per annum who send their children to a government school to contribute a compulsory levy or it will be levied on their income tax (similar to the Medicare levy). Parents earning under $150,000 will still be invited to make the voluntary contribution. Families with children attending non-government schools are also exempt. Evidently the early modelling and research shows it to be a budget windfall with minimal political damage.”

Club’s hiring policies checked. Gentlemen’s clubs are funny places. Last month we looked at firms with discriminatory hiring policies, and a Crikey reader alerted us to the Adelaide Club and its employment application form, which asks potential employees to disclose their marital status, gender and nationality. GM David Boggins was horrified when we told him and insists we were looking at an old form.

It was up on our employment application website. I’ve taken it down immediately. I’ve reviewed the form. This form was from the early ’80s from before the Act,” he said. The South Australian Equal Opportunity Commission told us it’s not unlawful for an employer to ask questions relating to gender and marital status, but the information used may create grounds for complaints of unlawful discrimination. Lesson learned.

Cricket hacks for desperate fans. Speaking of potentially illegal cricket broadcasts … We told you about Test Match Sofa yesterday, proving a lifeline to cricket fans starved of radio coverage of the Australia v India Test series. Another reader points us to WatchLiveStreaming.net, which seems to stream vision from the TV broadcast. Catch it before it disappears …

4
  • 1
    CML
    Posted Tuesday, 26 February 2013 at 5:01 pm | Permalink

    Re the R&D scams: The greens are far too busy dropping several buckets on the ALP right now. So they no longer have time to be morally superior! Bloo+y typical!!

  • 2
    Posted Tuesday, 26 February 2013 at 5:07 pm | Permalink

    A most interesting tip on the Coalition’s school education levy.

  • 3
    Mark Heydon
    Posted Tuesday, 26 February 2013 at 7:06 pm | Permalink

    Much as I wouldn’t put anything past Abbott and co, I find this tip hard to believe. Firstly it is aimed at those Abbott considers “battlers”. Secondly the amount of revenue would be miniscule given that a large proportion of those on incomes over $150k would either have their kids in private schools already or wouldn’t have kids at school at all.

  • 4
    Posted Wednesday, 27 February 2013 at 8:41 am | Permalink

    @ Mark Heydon

    Your points seem cogent: I hope you’re right.

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