As the government pushes legislation for a huge tax cut for multinationals to a vote in the Senate and prominent business leaders wander through Parliament House demanding support, the US Congressional Budget Office has demolished claims that Australia’s company tax rates are uncompetitive.

The non-partisan CBO earlier this month released a report International Comparisons of Corporate Income Tax Rates, with the Trump administration flagging its intention to seek cuts to US corporate tax rates. The report examines headline, average and effective tax rates in G20 countries. The report shows that, in the comparison year 2012, Australia had the fourth-lowest average company tax rate in the G20, at 17%. The average rate is calculated “as the total amount of corporate income taxes that companies pay relative to their income”. According to the report, “the advantage of using the average corporate tax rate to evaluate investment incentives is that it can capture features of the tax code that are missed both by the top statutory corporate tax rate and by the effective marginal corporate tax rate”.

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Since 2012, the UK, which has the lowest average rate, has moved to reduce corporate taxes further (offset, the report notes, by tightening of some deduction rules) while some Canadian provincial governments have increased company taxes after discovering the purported benefits of lowering them didn’t materialise.

The report also used modelling to calculate effective corporate tax rates, the tax burden on marginal investments, which shows Australia ranked just below the middle of the G20 pack.

In Canberra, a Business Council-led delegation of senior business figures arrived yesterday to lobby Labor and the Senate crossbench to back a tax cut for many of the world’s biggest corporations, with the government facing defeat on its tax cut bill.

BCA director and Wesfarmers CEO Richard Goyder used the battering North Queensland had taken from Cyclone Debbie to demand the tax cut. “I can tell you today that businesses that I am responsible for, and others around here, will be up in north Queensland providing generators, tarpaulins, food and services to all the work that’s going on in north Australia [sic]. So there’s a big expectation that big companies do what they should do in the community — and we do. Our expectation is we get treated like other companies with a fair tax system.”

The Business Council refused repeated requests to endorse Goyder’s linking of the storm and tax cuts. A study of tax data shows less than a quarter of BCA members pay the current headline 30% company tax rate and more than 50 of its members paid no company tax at all in 2015. 

Peter Fray

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