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Introduction

Who are the real villains when it comes to tax — short-sighted governments or greedy corporations? Will cutting company taxes increase wages, or merely line the pockets of an idle rich? Are all company bosses baby-eating imperialists, or are the vast majority honest Australians doing their best to get by? All these questions and more will be answered in the new Crikey series “Beating the bandits: who’s robbing whom in the great corporate tax heist?”

Part One

Swan: Australia's great corporate tax heist

Once again Labor’s 2013 tax transparency legislation has proven that sunlight is the best disinfectant. Last week the ATO revealed that one in three public corporations paid no corporate tax in the 2015-16 financial year, echoing the results from the previous year and exposing the maliciousness of companies that engage in corporate tax evasion.

While there are legitimate reasons for some companies to pay no tax – operating at a loss, for instance – when companies like Chevron, Exxonmobil and Shell record a combined $13 billion in revenue but contribute precisely $0 in tax, it is clear that the Turnbull government is not interested in walking the talk on corporate tax responsibility.

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Part Two

Australia shouldn't follow the US on company tax cuts

The Business Council of Australia (BCA), and its proxies in parliament, currently find themselves closely aligned with US President Donald Trump in making the case for massive tax cuts: US$2.4 trillion over 10 years in the case of Trump, and over $60 billion over 10 years under the Turnbull government’s tax-cut plan. Neither are funded, although the Republicans are looking for tax breaks to close down to provide some offsetting savings.

Both Trump and the Turnbull-big business alliance here insist that the benefit of the cuts will primarily flow to workers through growing wages, stronger employment and higher economic growth. That’s despite real-world evidence that, to the contrary, corporate tax cuts mainly benefit shareholders and corporate executives. The Trump tax-cut agenda has prompted some key institutions and highest-profile economists to challenge the claims being made by Trump and the White House about the claimed benefits of massive tax cuts for the world’s biggest companies. Here’s a sample of how the US debate has proceeded in recent months.

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Part Three

Three ways to cut company tax while improving welfare

The US Congress recently passed tax bills through the House of Representatives and the Senate that cut the US headline company tax rate from 35%, the highest rate in the world, to 20%.

The US Internal Revenue Service collects very little revenue from its current company tax. The system is broken, with a high rate, narrow base, and loopholes that permit its largest multinational enterprises – Google, Apple, Amazon and big pharmaceutical companies – to keep trillions of dollars offshore, out of the tax base. Half of US domestic business investment now goes through “pass-through vehicles”, like limited partnerships, which avoid company tax.

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Part Four

Not every CEO is a fat cat, child-eating imperialist

Eyes seem to roll when business and business groups like the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (ACCI) call for tax cuts — which is a pity. It’s not like many (or any really) of Australia’s 2 million-plus businesses are fat cat imperialists who like nothing more than to exploit workers and eat small children.

There is bad behaviour certainly. Unethical and illegal behaviour, and our society — the media and other businesses — rightly calls them out. We should continue to work together to weed out these individuals.

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Part Six

Company tax cuts won’t work in the US, and they won’t work here

So, the Republican majority in the US Congress have passed a massively regressive package of tax cuts, with a cut in the rate of company tax as its central feature. Unsurprisingly, this news has produced a revival of the Turnbull government’s proposal to offer similar cuts here.

The primary claim put forward in support of company tax cuts is that they will lead to an increase in investment, or at least prevent the loss of foreign investors to the lower-tax regime being proposed by Trump and the US Republicans. According to Treasurer Scott Morrison, quoting research from the Commonwealth Treasury, if we fail to follow the US lead we will be a less competitive destination for foreign investment.

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