At a headline level, the 2015 Federal Budget forecasts a budget deficit of $35.1 billion, without any sign of immediate recovery, largely as a result of lower iron ore prices and the consequent impact on tax revenues.
Following recent hearings into corporate tax avoidance by the Senate Economics Committee, the centrepiece of Joe Hockey’s 2015 budget from a taxation perspective is the twin “tax integrity” measures directly aimed at foreign multinationals selling goods and services to customers in Australia. Under the first measure, Australia will seek to impose tax and penalties on large foreign multinationals, with turnover exceeding AUD1 billion, which enter into schemes for the principal purpose of avoiding a taxable presence in Australia and channel their Australian related sales revenue through a “tax haven”. The second measure – the so-called “Netflix tax” – will apply GST to supplies of digital products and services (eg. movies, games and e-books) made by foreign companies to Australian customers. Both present some implementation challenges.
Apart from those measures, the budget really only tinkers at the edges for domestic business, although pleasingly a range of tax concessions are being introduced for small business, including a corporate income tax cut and a temporary increase in the threshold for immediate deductions for plant and equipment. The only negative domestic tax measure is the curtailment of the fringe benefits tax (FBT) exemption for meal entertainment and similar benefits provided to employees of hospitals and charities. However, the budget steers clear of more contentious matters, with issues such as the scope and rate of GST, negative gearing and the imputation system being left for another – more politically palatable – day.
Coming into budget season, the Treasurer promised a “boring” budget. It transpires that, while this is true in terms of addressing the structure of the Australian tax system, it’s a budget that is anything but boring if your head office happens to be outside Australia.