New Zealand Milk (Australasia) Pty Ltd
“Making a positive difference is what we stand for”, claims Fonterra, the public face of New Zealand Milk (Australasia) Pty Ltd.
The $20 billion a year Kiwi milk juggernaut has hardly made a difference on the tax front in Australia though, shooting up the Top 40 Tax Dodgers charts from #35 last year, despite its sharply rising profits.
Its latest accounts show the group made a profit before interest of tax of $146 million in Australia in 2017, and provided for tax expense of $37 million. Thanks to tax losses, actual tax paid in that year was just $887,000. Tax paid last year in 2018 was just $543,000 although revenues spiked from $1.8 billion to $2 billion and profit came in at $50 million.
Tax losses from the dairy price discounting war and a global milk glut in the earlier years provided Fonterra a bona fide reason for paying no tax but the $566 million in related party financing arrangements disclosed in its accounts would appear to deliver ample scope to avoid tax in Australia.
In a statement, the company said the ATO had “rated Fonterra’s overall level of assurance as “High” and confirmed that Fonterra has paid the correct amount of tax”.
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We are counting down the Top 40 Tax Dodgers. There are now four years of tax transparency data published by the Tax Office and we have used this data to work out which large companies operating in Australia have paid the least tax, or no tax.
Notable new economy players such as Google, eBay, Booking.com, Expedia are not near the top of the ATO list. That’s because they don’t (yet) recognise all income earned here; instead, they book Australian revenue directly to their associates offshore. They will be ranked in due course.
For other large corporations, and in particular, multinationals, the main steps in avoiding tax are made by reducing their taxable as much as they can; usually by sending it offshore in interest on loans, “service” fees or other payments to foreign associates. So, we have set a threshold. We have included only those companies which managed to wipe out 99.5 per cent or more of their taxable income over four years.
Qantas, therefore, is not on this list, although it has enormous income and has paid no income tax in Australia for many years. It misses the cut-off due to it not eliminating more than 99.5 per cent of its total income.
The airline had made large losses which were offset against profits. Many large corporations which have paid zero tax in ATO data, have legitimately made losses and have therefore built up “tax-loss shelter”.
Further explanation of methodology can be found here.
Many others however, such as ExxonMobil and EnergyAustralia, are on the list as they managed to eliminate all or most of their taxable income by “debt-loading” or other means of aggressive tax avoidance.
In this, the second iteration of michaelwest.com.au corporate tax rankings, we have ranked companies purely on the Tax Office data. We will also publish a list of Australia’s better corporate taxpayers, those companies who contribute most to the country in which they operate.
The Tax Office data is not a perfect guide. It does not record refunds, only tax payable and is often at odds with disclosures made for accounting purposes. In some cases, there are multiple entities with the same ultimate offshore parent reporting. One entity may pay zero tax, another may pay at the statutory 30 per cent rate (even if on low taxable income). We endeavour to be fair in our reporting to recognise these issues.
The data also recognises trusts as well as companies. For trusts, it is the members (investors) rather than the trusts who are ordinarily required to pay the tax. In many cases however it is fair to recognise trust structures for what they are, as tax is often the main reason these vehicles have been structured as trusts.
Companies are welcome to debate their rankings or to touch base to clarify or defend their tax practices. We will append or link these submissions.
Hydrox has been taken off the list as it never made a profit.