It’s a post-Christmas feast. We are serving up the Top 40 Tax Dodgers, the crème de la crème of Australia’s biggest and meanest tax tricksters. Callum Foote reports.
We have eight years of Tax Office transparency data compiled, a damn good sample size. No more excuses of “market cycles” or “good years and bad years”. Once again, we find fossil fuels multinationals are the biggest culprits, indeed multinationals in general, and once again, coming home with the gong is US oil and gas giant Exxon.
Yes, ExxonMobil Australia has racked up $82.4bn over 8 years drilling our soils and seabeds and exporting fossil fuels without paying 1c in corporate income tax in Australia. They pay in Papua New Guinea, but not here.
The methodology has been tweaked slightly from previous years but it is largely the same, designed to show which companies are most aggressive both in paying little or no tax on their profits (or more precisely: taxable income) but also in deliberately wiping out their profits in Australia (offshoring it to low tax jurisdictions) because, if you don’t make a profit in Australia, you don’t pay tax in Australia.
How do they do it? They make their profits elsewhere, siphon out the cash from their Australian businesses in company loans from entities overseas, in IP and service payments, in returns of capital, and other assorted charges.
There are a few notable inclusions in the latest Top 40 charts due to a change of methodology, notably the property development giant Lendlease. Lendlease has made a total of $68.1 billion in total income since 2014 when the ATO’s public records begin and posted just $8 million in tax payable in 2021.
Having been outed here for its $300m retirement village tax scam, the big developer sups large on government contracts largesse but has paid more tax in other countries over the past 8 years than it has in Australia. Profit margin, prima facie, is just 0.85%.
The schism between corporate rich and working poor has never been so deep. On the average teacher’s salary, for instance, at $85,000 a year as a PAYG taxpayer, you can expect to pay 23.3% tax on your income or $19,792. That’s $19,792 more than Exxon paid on its staggering sales of $82bn in oil and gas.
The average Australian can’t set up hundreds of foreign companies to sell things to themselves, things like loans. We only have one rule, pay tax at the designated rate. No loopholes, no dubious expenses to offshore profits to a tax haven.
This is Exxon’s fifth chart-topping performance on the Michael West Media Top 40 Tax Dodgers stakes, since it knocked Glencore off the perch; and they are in infamous fossil fuel company once again.
We have Santos which has made $31 billion since the Australian Tax Office (ATO) began its corporate tax transparency register in 2014 paying just $3.4m in tax. To be fair, they have racked up billions in bona fide losses.
Packaging giant Amcor, having chucked in its Australian domicile for Switzerland, again paid no tax, now on $34bn in revenues for the 8 years.
Toll Holdings Limited hits the charts for the first time. The Toll Group is now a Japanese owned logistics company which has earned $44.3 billion in Australian revenue over the last eight years. On this revenue, Toll has posted $372m in profit at a margin of just 0.84% and paid $92 million in tax.
While Toll’s tax payments blows the rest of the Top 40 out of the water, the groups ability to reduce the percentage of their revenue which is translated into profit to less than 1% earns them number 3 on our 2022 leaderboard.
Good old Virgin Australia rocks in at #4, maintaining its deviously proud track record of never paying corporate income tax in this country. What more would you expect from a company whose founder Sir Richard Branson owns his own island in the notorious tax haven of the British Virgin Islands? And what more could you expect from an airline too. They rack up massive losses.
Also featuring in the top 10 is another British immigrant Vodafone which wails loudly at being called a tax cheat but which is famously just that, supposedly they are still feasting on the massive tax losses of a “start-up”, a very old start up now.
It is apposite too that the LNG exporters keep creeping up the list, making as they do now incredibly large profits now thanks to the invasion of Ukraine.
AP LNG – owned by Origin, ConocoPhillips and Sinopec – is right up there with almost $30bn in income and no tax, as is Shell’s BG International. Coal companies Yancoal and Peabody make the charts again, Whitehaven has dropped off due to paying a spot of tax.
Similar to previous years, we have aggregated the corporate tax transparency data provided by the ATO to show to total amount of income, taxable income and tax payable for the largest companies operating in Australia.
From this, we have selected companies which have managed to produce taxable income (pre-tax profit) that is less than 1% of their total income.