Tax Changes – Income Tax, Capital Gains etc

Secret money trail of the tax commissioner

AFR investigation Chris Jordan’s ATO legacy risks being overshadowed by two controversies from his time at KPMG, writes Neil Chenoweth.

It was a week before Christmas in 2000 and KPMG partners were celebrating. They always understood the constant need to network, but more importantly they knew how to party.

Wayne Jones was hosting dinner at his home in Sydney’s Strathfield, so the midnight blue Porsche 911 Targa that had become the tax partner’s after-hours signature was in the garage.

Chris Jordan rolled up in his black Mercedes. The guest of honour, Paul Keating, arrived in a Comcar, and the KPMG partners made a beeline for him.

It was so convivial. Jordan, who headed the firm’s NSW tax and legal division and was about to become chairman for KPMG NSW, crowed that both the current prime minister (John Howard) and the previous prime minister were KPMG clients.

Jones, who seemed equal parts brilliant tax lawyer and party animal, had advised Keating on his marital property settlement. Jordan was not only Howard’s personal tax accountant, he had advised on the introduction of the GST that year, for which he would earn an Order of Australia.

That night in December 2000, the boys culture at KPMG was at its zenith. A seamless mix of professional, social and political power, it would help propel Jordan 12 years later to become Australia’s first tax commissioner appointed from outside the agency, a role he would hold until he stepped down in February.

But Jordan’s legacy at the ATO now risks being overshadowed by two controversies from his time at KPMG: his involvement with Jones in a scheme to transfer more than $3 million from a mystery company in the Isle of Man; and a disastrous investment in a venture to run junkets to bring gamblers to Australian casinos.

An 11-month investigation by The Australian Financial Review has followed a paper trail of documents and transactions across numerous countries and tax jurisdictions. While the claims made about Jordan do not by themselves suggest improper behaviour, for financial regulatory experts they raise important questions.

Is a history of using offshore accounts or controversial investments appropriate for a person holding the ultimate compliance power over taxation? Given government sources tell the Financial Review they were unaware of these matters, should Jordan have disclosed them when he became commissioner?

When treasurer Wayne Swan named him tax commissioner in 2012, he would call Jordan ‘‘my poacher turned gamekeeper’’.

But to understand the sweeping changes which Jordan brought to Tax Office culture and the way it operates in the new digital world, its sometimes difficult relations with big corporates, and the conflicted view senior tax officers took over misbehaviour at big four firms such as PwC, it’s necessary to look at the years – and the wild times – that formed him.

It was the 1990s, and at KPMG Australia, women partners were rare. The men socialised together. They worked hard and they partied hard.

The partying was exemplified by the LLB, the Live a Little Better club, which would attend race days to raise money for charity and hold black-tie dinners for 30 to 40 KPMG partners, each of them with a nickname. Jordan was Hightower, ‘‘because he was so fricking big’’, one former member explained.

Others saw it less favourably. One senior partner called members of the LLB club the Low Life Bastards, a comment reflecting internal politics at KPMG.

Jones never made it into the LLB, but he and his 911 Targa were a regular feature at the KPMG parties.

‘‘I was always quite fond of Wayne – he was highly intelligent, great company. A fun guy,’’ a former colleague says of Jones, who had a master of laws from Cambridge.

‘‘He’s a very, very bright guy. The tax arrangements he came up with were so convoluted you had to be a Rhodes scholar to understand them.’’

Jones was always working on one deal or another. ‘‘He’d try to get you into a deal, his eyes were flashing, he was very convincing,’’ says another former colleague. ‘‘A lot of people got involved.’’

Jordan and Jones had worked together for years, and ‘‘we became friends’’, Jones said in a 2018 affidavit.

Jordan was more into networking than Jones. He was always affable, but his size and imposing figure could give the impression of arrogance.

‘‘I always thought Jordan would work out who the best person in the room was to talk to,’’ a former colleague says. ‘‘He plays the game very well.’’

Another was more dismissive: ‘‘Chris knows how to piss in someone’s pocket, so it just becomes lukewarm.’’

From partying together it was a natural step for KPMG partners to invest together, in ventures ranging from an asset consultancy to a Ceylon tea importer, to plantation projects set up by Rothschild.

And then there were the tax schemes. In July 2021, an anonymous letter was sent to politicians, regulators and the media, with a spray of unsubstantiated accusations against Jordan and Jones and an Isle of Man company called Dinnans Ltd.

Former associates who have fallen out with Jones are sceptical about the anonymous letter’s claims. They believe Jones is the most likely author, though this seems unlikely because he is one of the writer’s main targets.

It’s not known if regulators took any action in response to the letter. Jordan declined to comment but has privately said he regularly received unsubstantiated and baseless claims against him.

However, the Financial Review investigation has confirmed a series of previously undisclosed transactions involving Jones, Jordan and Rothschild Australia executives in the 1990s, and Dinnans.

The letter referred to KPMG inhouse tax schemes called Copper Doctor and Gold Doctor, which it said were trafficking tax losses in mining companies to wipe out much of KPMG partners’ personal tax bills.

In the late 1990s, using creative schemes to minimise tax was all the rage, especially for those using partnerships, tax losses were the way to go.

A former Rothschild executive confirmed to the Financial Review that up to 20 senior figures at KPMG and Rothschild, including Jordan, formed a partnership in the late 1990s to invest in the Horseshoe Lights copper-gold mine 800 kilometres north-east of Perth. The mine had been mothballed in 1994.

One of those involved described the scheme, known as Copper Doctor, as an investment that would have paid off if the copper price recovered. Others say it was a way of accessing the huge tax losses that the mine carried, by directing partners’ income towards the entity carrying losses.

Many accountants channel their partnership income through family trusts. While the details of the Horseshoe Lights arrangement aren’t clear, in such cases the family trust typically makes a distribution of that partner’s income to a third party, like the Horseshoe Lights group. The tax losses would mean Horseshoe Lights didn’t pay any tax, and on paper at least there was no undistributed income left in the family trust, so it didn’t attract any tax either.

But the distribution paid out to Horseshoe Lights was just on paper. By the marvels of accounting, the money would stay in the family trust, but now it was tax-free.

Jones played a leading role setting up the scheme. As a resources tax partner, Jones reported to Jordan, who was then partner in charge of the NSW tax and legal division at KPMG.

Gold Doctor was a similar scheme aimed at KPMG partners and Rothschild executives investing in Pegasus Gold’s failed Mount Todd gold mine 250 kilometres south of Darwin, through a company called Jairo Pty Ltd. While it also promised big tax losses, the deal fell through in early 1999. But Jones had a new plan for Jairo.

What happened next has been pieced together from company filings in Australia, New Zealand, Ireland and the Isle of Man, together with leaked documents, other sources and interviews.

In October 1998, KPMG Isle of Man incorporated a shell company, Dinnans Ltd, with nominee directors and shareholders. Like most shell companies using this secrecy jurisdiction, it was difficult to identify the beneficial owner of Dinnans.

It coincided with a move by a close friend of Jordan’s to relocate to Ireland. The friend had known Jordan since they worked at Arthur Andersen many years before, and Jordan had introduced him to Jones.

Jones had provided conventional tax advice to Jordan’s friend over his move to Ireland, a routine process that other tax advisers had verified. Separately to this, Jordan and Jones asked him to acquire a shell company in the Isle of Man to make some international money transfers. It was Dinnans.

On March 3, 1999, $3.378 million was transferred into Dinnans’ Australian-dollar account at the Royal Bank of Scotland International, from an unknown source.

Jordan’s friend told the Financial Review he was paid $200,000 to acquire and operate Dinnans and to transfer the rest of the funds. ‘‘They offered me 200 grand, and I was happy to do it,’’ he said.

He did not recall the details of the transactions, including the source of the funds or the purpose of the payment. He understood it was part of a legal tax minimisation strategy.

On May 21, 1999, Dinnans transferred exactly two-thirds of the initial deposit, some $2.26 million, to New Zealand. It did this by subscribing for shares in a newly incorporated NZ company called Dunderdale Properties.

Dunderdale’s sole director was a Rothschild Australia executive, and its address for service of notices was Jones’ home in Sydney.

But the money didn’t stay in New Zealand for long.

On May 24, Dunderdale subscribed for one share in Jairo (the company in the failed Gold Doctor scheme) for $989,000; and one share in Nighcal for $642,000. That left Dunderdale still holding $629,000.

Nighcal was owned by a Rothschild executive, while Jones ended up the sole owner of Jairo, which had received the $989,000. Jones had no further contact with Dinnans.

At the end of this process, more than $2 million had been moved from the Isle of Man to New Zealand, and then most of it disbursed in Australia, via entities controlled by KPMG and Rothschild personnel.

Rothschild no longer has a lending business in Australia. It is understood the remaining Australian arm was not aware of the transactions. There is no suggestion that Rothschild acted improperly.

A year later, some of the anonymity that surrounded Dinnans’ administration slipped. In April 2000, KPMG Isle of Man sold its international fiduciary business to British financial services provider Singer & Friedlander for £5,816,250. Singer & Friedlander would make cameo appearances in two great leaks, Panama Papers in 2016 and Pandora Papers in 2021. These, and other leaked documents, and other human sources, provide records of some of those involved in the Dinnans transactions.

The accounts show that more than $900,000 was transferred out of Dinnans’ account from November 1999 to December 2001, when the company applied to be dissolved. The Financial Review has been told that Jordan was the chief beneficiary of these payments.

It’s not clear what the money was for. It’s possible it was repayment of a loan from Jones or another party.

The filings offer no clue where the money in Dinnans came from, or why the money was paid. While it could have been structured like this for tax advantages, it also had the effect of making it difficult to trace the source of the funds.

AKPMG Australia spokeswoman said an internal review and an external law firm were examining the matters raised in the anonymous letter, as well as other unrelated historical allegations involving former KPMG partners. KPMG had no record of the Isle of Man transactions.

‘‘We are investigating allegations to the best of our ability, noting that the majority date back two or three decades, with some raised anonymously,’’ she said. ‘‘To date, we have no evidence of any wrongdoing. While the historic nature of the allegations makes corroboration particularly challenging, KPMG is treating these matters seriously.’’

Even before Dinnans was wound up, Jones was onto other deals. From 2000, he partnered with a property developer, Antonio Maiolo, to put together property development projects funded by Rothschild Australia at Petersham and Fairfield, in NSW, which KPMG partners bought into.

But then it all went wrong.

Jones described what happened in an affidavit he lodged with the Supreme Court in September 2018. While Jones had a wife and three children, he says from 2000 he had been in a relationship with a Thai woman, Veena Kaha, with whom he had a child in September 2004.

Soon after, he said, Kaha convinced him to back her in a scheme to run junkets for high rollers visiting Australian casinos, through a company called Citadel Business Loans.

Kaha told him casinos would pay junket operators a commission on turnover, but that they required a large deposit. Jones turned to close associates and business contacts for money.

One of these was Jordan. In December 2004, Jordan deposited $80,000 with Citadel as an undocumented loan at 15 per cent interest, Jones said in his affidavit. It’s a large enough sum to raise eyebrows at the familiarity and trust which it suggests between the two men.

The following month, Jones left KPMG, but Jordan’s readiness to invest in Citadel continued. Jones claimed in his affidavit that Jordan invested a total of $415,000 in the casino junkets, though by 2007 repayments had reduced this to $334,000.

Given the reported links between some junket operators and money laundering, it is awkward optics for the man who was chairman of KPMG NSW, and who would be appointed tax commissioner five years later.

To be fair, other lenders to Citadel have said they were unaware what the loans, on which Jones was offering up to 30 per cent interest, were for. Yet, Jordan made the last two deposits totalling $50,000 in December 2005 and July 2007 directly into Kaha’s bank account, Jones said.

But it turned out there was no money laundering, and in fact no junket operations.

According to Jones’ affidavit, on April 28, 2008, he confronted Kaha over a shortage of funds, and she told him there never was a junkets business, that it was a Ponzi scheme, and she had forged all the documentation and gambled away millions of dollars.

Jones describes angry exchanges with his investors, including Jordan, whose debt had already been paid down to $215,000.

Jones moved quickly. Days later, he was involved in share transactions which clarified that a string of apartments left over from his Fairfield property development were held by a newly incorporated company owned by his wife, Michelle Jones, with whom he was now reconciled.

Wayne Jones granted Jordan a third mortgage on the Pyrmont apartment where Kaha and their young son were living, but when this was sold in September 2008 for $970,000, nothing was left to pay out Jordan’s third mortgage.

Chris Kinsella, a former KPMG colleague who was then a tax partner at PwC, took Jones to court over unpaid loans. On May 18, 2009, Kinsella was awarded $946,000 against Jones in the NSW Supreme Court.

As creditors’ complaints escalated, Jones in his affidavit says he talked to Jordan. On May 26, 2009, a week after the court judgment, Jones says he made an agreement with Jordan about an apartment in Spencer Street, Fair-field, which was part of the property development Jones had done there, funded by Rothschild. The apartment was owned by a company for which Jones was sole director but which was owned by his wife, Michelle.

Jones says in his affidavit: ‘‘I agreed with Mr Jordan that the company would transfer that property to his [Jordan’s] wife, whose maiden name is Hailey-Jayne [sic] Braban, as satisfaction of the loan of $215,000, which was still outstanding and owed by me to Mr Jordan being the money that he had loaned me for the casino venture. No purchase money was paid by Mrs Jordan under the contract.’’

Property records show that on June 22, the property was transferred to Hayley Jayne Braban for $215,000 under a sale contracted on May 26.

On June 25, Kinsella registered a creditor’s position to bankrupt Jones. But Jones forestalled Kinsella by installing his own controlling trustee, Steven Nicols, of Nicols & Brien, under section 188 of the Bankruptcy Act.

When Nicols called a meeting of creditors, Jones says in his affidavit that Jordan registered a claim against him: ‘‘On 12 August 2009, Jordan signed a statement of claim and proxy form in which he asserted that he was a creditor of mine for a sum of $264,250, being the loan of $215,000 plus interest.’’

On Jones’ account in the affidavit, Jordan was making a creditor’s claim for a debt that had already been paid. Of course, there may have been other debts or obligations between the two men beyond the casino junket loans, which Jordan was claiming.

Braban had put the Fairfield apartment on the market in mid-July and it was sold on August 17 for $175,000, a loss of $40,000 on the purchase price. Jordan signed the transfer document as a witness when the sale was settled on October 14.

‘‘I personally would not attach any credibility to Mr Jones’ claims,’’ says a former associate who loaned money to Jones, and who asked not to be named. ‘‘In my experience, Mr Jones is highly unreliable, particularly when it comes to matters involving money. Mr Jordan I have observed to be a decent and honorable man. The assertions made by Mr Jones should not be relied upon.’’

A spokeswoman for Mr Jordan said in January that the former commissioner ‘‘cannot comment on matters either before the court or on the tax affairs of any individual or entity due to obligations of confidentiality and privacy under the law’’.

Jordan’s career went from strength to strength. He was chairman of the Board of Taxation from 2011, he chaired the Business Tax Working Group that then-treasurer Swan set up that same year, then in 2012 was named tax commissioner.

Swan told the Financial Review that Jordan’s practical experience was invaluable. His Liberal Party links ‘‘didn’t matter to me’’, Swan said last year. ‘‘He got the job done that wasn’t being done. I always referred to him as my poacher turned gamekeeper.’’

As commissioner, Mr Jordan won kudos for running a multinational investigation into how tech giants sidestepped tax. He led the world in 2016 with the response to the Panama Papers, some 11.6 million documents from Panama firm Mossack Fonseca, proposing the most ambitious international investigation in history, with more than 30 countries working together to hunt down tax evaders identified in the leak.

But Jordan’s history with Jones would resurface in the NSW Supreme Court.

In 2009, Jones settled with many of his creditors, and by September had put the bankruptcy bids behind him. By 2012, he was fending off new attempts to bankrupt him by the Tax Office, and he has faced regular court battles since then.

By 2018, Jones was battling a $5.6 million tax bill on undeclared personal income; the ATO was flagging a possible further $17 million from an ongoing audit into one of his companies.

Jones filed an affidavit setting out his defence – that losses from the failed casino junket scheme had wiped out his taxable income, which he said the tax commissioner (Jordan) was aware of because he had been an investor.

Jones’ claims about Jordan received short shrift in the Supreme Court, where Justice Peter Johnson ruled in December 2018 that ‘‘the defendant’s evidence, at its highest, indicated that Mr Jordan lent some money to the defendant in a private capacity years before he became commissioner of taxation’’.

‘‘There was no evidence that Mr Jordan had played any part in the decision-making concerning the bringing of the recovery proceedings and the application for summary judgment,’’ Justice Johnson found.

He confirmed the Tax Office’s position that Jones’ evidence about the casino junket loans ‘‘was irrelevant to the issues to be considered on the present application and, in any event, went nowhere’’.

Governance experts saw potential red flags in the casino junket loans and the funds transferred from the Isle of Man, a secrecy jurisdiction.

‘‘For our highest tax officers, they need to be well beyond any question over their integrity and ethics, and especially their own tax dealings,’’ barrister Geoffrey Watson, SC, who is a former counsel assisting the NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption, and a director of the Centre for Public Integrity. ‘‘The curious nature of some of these transactions were such that I would have expected an appropriate appointment process to pick them up, and I would have expected that they would have been matters that Jordan would have revealed.’’

Associate Professor Andrew Schmulow, an expert on financial regulatory architecture who lectures at the University of Wollongong, said: ‘‘If these allegations are true, then it reinforces the need for arms-length, rigorous, nonpartisan and forensic oversight and control over the appointment of leaders of the most important Commonwealth authorities in the land.’’

KPMG now puts tight restrictions on partners investing together.

‘‘In 2016, KPMG strengthened its policies on partners investing as a group to strongly discourage partners from investing together outside of the firm,’’ the spokeswoman said.

‘‘In addition, in 2016 a personal commercial activities policy came into effect, formalising a strict approval process for any such activities. Annually, partners are required to confirm compliance with the policies.’’

The ATO is currently pursuing investors in AgriWealth forestry schemes that Jones acquired from Rothschild in 2005. The investors, including some former KPMG partners, are contesting new Tax Office assessments. AgriWealth Capital also faced court action last year from the Australian Financial Complaints Authority, which alleges it overcharged investors.

Last year, in an appeal before the Administrative Appeals Tribunal that revisited the casino junket claims, deputy president Bernard McCabe was scathing about the way Jones conducted his business ‘‘by the seat of his pants’’, with Jones conceding ‘‘there’s money going everywhere’’.

McCabe confirmed a finding of evasion against Jones, for withholding information from the Tax Office and failing to report fee income in his ‘‘idiosyncratic approach to his finances’’.

And then there’s his driving record. When Jones appeared in Manly Court last July after conducting a U-turn across double lines on Military Road in Neutral Bay, the magistrate marvelled at his record of traffic offences, which stretched over seven pages. His barrister’s plea that Jones needed to be able to drive to run his business interests across the state went down badly.

Jones has spent his life in the fast lane. Now, the magistrate advised kindly, ‘‘perhaps your client needs to discover public transport’’. AFR

Secret money trail of the tax commissioner2024-06-06T16:49:51+10:00

Tax rise ‘last nail in the coffin’: agent

Property manager Carmen Littley says she has lost 52 investor clients since the Victorian government targeted landowners with extra levies in its budget last year, which she describes as the ‘‘final nail in the coffin’’ for many owners.

She warned that property investors leaving the market would further hit rental stock because owner-occupiers tend to have fewer people in a house than renters, which could potentially further increase asking rents.

Land tax increases piled up alongside the fastest interest rate rising cycle in a generation and local government rate rises, said the agent, who is based in the western suburb of Werribee.

‘‘There’s no incentive to invest in property in Victoria,’’ Ms Littley said. ‘‘Landlords have been targeted to pay off the state’s debt, so it’s a no-brainer. The land tax increases were the final nail in the coffin.’’

Victorian Treasurer Tim Pallas last year said the COVID-19 debt levy would hit ‘‘those most able to pay’’, extracting $4.7 billion from property investors over the next four years, along with $3.9 billion from businesses with payrolls above $10 million.

Landowners would pay an average of $1300 in extra land tax, although tax experts said the change equated to a $1675 increase on land worth $1 million. Family homes are exempt. Economic research organisation e61 released a report this year showing Melburnians face the highest stamp duty in Australia.

The tax slug, which hit 380,000 additional landowners, will raise $4.74 billion over the forward estimates by cutting the tax-free threshold for land tax from $300,000 to $50,000, imposing new yearly flat fees and increasing the rate of tax payable on properties over $300,000 by 0.1 percentage point.

One of Ms Littley’s clients, Marcel-line Parker, moved to sell her two-bedroom investment unit in Werribee this week after receiving a land tax bill for $975 on her property which had total taxable value of land of $112,000.

‘‘The land tax was the final blow. Just because you have an investment property, it doesn’t mean you’re loaded,’’ the office administration worker said.

‘‘The state government has us by the you-know-what. It’s not worth it.’’

Geoff White, a real estate agent for Barry Plant with a focus on apartments at Melbourne’s Docklands, estimated that half of investors selling out were doing so because of ‘‘unsustainable’’ costs including land taxes and owners’ corporation fees.

CoreLogic research director Tim Lawless said 31.7 per cent of new mortgages written in December in Victoria were for investors, which was below NSW at 40.7 per cent, and the national average of 36.2 per cent.

In addition to higher land taxes in Victoria, other cities such as Perth and Brisbane offered higher yield, better growth and lower buy-in prices for investors than Melbourne, he said.

‘‘There is absolutely a risk of flight from Victoria,’’ he said.

Property Investments Professionals of Australia director Richard Crabb said the industry body’s annual investor sentiment survey released in September showed Victoria was the least attractive state for investors in the nation. It also found that 25 per cent of respondents sold at least one investment property in Melbourne in the 12 months to August last year — the worst of any capital city.

Tax rise ‘last nail in the coffin’: agent2024-03-08T16:17:18+11:00

Scandal-ridden finale for ATO boss Jordan

Taxing times PwC scandals and GST frauds are casting a long shadow, but the commissioner points to his successes, writes Jennifer Hewett.

Chris Jordan leaves his high-profile role as tax commissioner dodging another hail of political brickbats but confident he has delivered much better service and a digital revolution at the ATO – as well as forcing multinational companies to pay billions more in tax.

That’s despite the finale of his 11 years dominated by the politics of the PwC tax scandal and, just this week, criticism from the auditor-general of the ATO’s response to a giant GST fraud scheme that went viral on TikTok.

Not only were 12 officials working at the Tax Office and around 140 other former ATO contractors and employees among the tens of thousands of Australians investigated or charged, the auditor-general also found the agency’s internal risk framework was lacking.

This requires Jordan to belatedly acknowledge the failure of the ATO’s systems when ‘‘57,000 people trying it on meant the GST scam got out of control’’. Banks suspicious about their customers’ behaviour finally raised the issue with the Reserve Bank.

But as Australia’s 12th tax commissioner prepared for his last personal grilling at Senate estimates on Wednesday afternoon, he sounded his typically forthright self.

As evidence of the positive change at the ATO, he cites the Public Service Commission’s annual report measuring trust in Australian public services. This shows the chief revenue raising body in the country had one of the highest ratings of any government department or agency last year – equal third with Parks Australia.

‘‘And we’re the ones that take money from people,’’ he says happily. ‘‘The ones that give money out are way down the scale.’’

He still has to concede the response to the GST scam could have been better, insisting it will be, ‘‘now that we know the appetite of the community to do such large-scale fraud’’.

The ATO has established a new fraud and criminal behaviour unit to combat the new normal in a digital world, including surging industrialised identity theft.

For Jordan, it’s also about the ‘‘tension that exists between providing client service and putting grittiness in the system to stop fraud’’.

That service element included the requirement on the ATO to repay GST refund claims within 14 days, for example, making it more difficult to investigate potential fraud until after the money had been paid.

That’s particularly fraught in an agency which he maintains ‘‘falls over backwards’’ trying to help small businesses, including with timely registrations for Australian business numbers and GST refunds.

He still appreciates that the auditor general’s report and the continuing PwC fallout will overshadow, at least temporarily, one of his proudest achievements – ‘‘the cultural transformation’’ of the ATO.

In his office overlooking Barangaroo in Sydney, Jordan brings up the ATO app on his mobile to demonstrate the ATO’s ‘‘contemporary’’ approach under his leadership. It’s a spectacularly slick, easy-to-use comparison to the struggling, inadequate efforts by other departments to digitise federal government services, including via the clunky myGov app.

‘‘I think not having grown up with the rules and regulations of the public service enabled me to challenge things that I just thought were silly or unnecessary,’’ Jordan says.

‘‘A lot of senior public servants have what I call passive resignation to the

status quo . . . they don’t seem to have a passionate desire to get rid of unnecessary complexity in their own organisation.’’ What will happen at the ATO from now on is less clear.

Jordan came to the Tax Office from KPMG: the first private sector player to become Australia’s tax commissioner; the first to live in Sydney rather than Canberra; the first to engage so enthusiastically in vigorous public debate about the need to firmly combat behaviour and corporate structures designed to avoid tax.

Will he be the last of his type?

Treasurer Jim Chalmers, for example, has restored the ATO tradition of appointing a senior, long-term public servant to the role, naming Rob Heferen as Jordan’s replacement from March 1. Heferen was chosen over deputy commissioner Jeremy Hirschhorn – whom Jordan had also brought over to the ATO from KPMG and had been widely expected to become his replacement.

Chalmers’ choice followed months of revelations in The Australian Financial Review about PwC’s activities turning into fiery political theatre in the Senate. Greens and Labor senators probed – with dramatic effect – the extent of PwC’s betrayal of its obligations and how aggressively the ATO had pursued this over several years.

Jordan and Hirschhorn found themselves in the political firing line even as they insisted that their jobs required them to obey the draconian secrecy provisions of the Tax Act.

The tax commissioner certainly believes the reaction – which intensified Labor’s pre-election commitment to curb the use of consultants – affected Hirschhorn’s chances of appointment to the role of tax commissioner.

‘‘Obviously, the Treasurer knew Rob Heferen because he was working in Wayne Swan’s office when Rob was head of the revenue unit at Treasury,’’ he says cautiously. ‘‘But I have no doubt it (the PwC issue) would not have helped Jeremy because he had been widely seen as the frontrunner.’’

He also argues the increasingly personal nature of some of the political attacks will make the idea of transferring between the private and public sectors less appealing to other senior business figures.

But Jordan himself has always understood the vicissitudes of the political world extremely well due to decades of working closely with politicians on both sides.

After starting his working life as a young copper, Jordan shifted to study accounting. His CV ever since is a microcosm of the circles within circles in Australia’s leadership positions.

Originally drafted from KPMG to work on tax policy in then-leader of the opposition John Howard’s office in the 1980s, Jordan became an advisor to governments on issues ranging from implementation of the GST to becoming chair of the Business Working Tax Group and later chair of the Board of Taxation. He had also become chair of KPMG in NSW.

Approached about the commissioner’s job by the then-Treasury secretary Martin Parkinson, Jordan was appointed on January 1, 2013 by then-Labor Treasurer Wayne Swan, whose chief of staff at the time was one Jim Chalmers. ‘‘I had a bit of impostor syndrome,’’ Jordan says with a laugh.

‘‘I thought, ‘why me? I couldn’t do that. It’s ridiculous’. And then I thought, ‘Well, why not me? I would like to do that and actually make change’.

‘‘That’s because it was obvious to me that the reputation of the Tax Office had shifted a bit from being the top of its class to being more rigid. I was incredibly impressed with the way they did that huge implementation of the GST and all of that, but they seemed to have drifted off a bit after 2000.’’

Jordan says his clear mandate was to try to make the ATO more connected to the community and more aware of community needs and expectations.

‘‘I was firmly of the view that you needed to make staff as satisfied as they can be at work to be able to deliver a satisfactory service for people. If you are all bound up in bureaucracy and process, that’s what you will do to clients whether external or internal.’’

Yet, he is noticeably frustrated that strict secrecy laws governing the ATO have made it harder for the agency to simultaneously demonstrate its commitment to greater transparency and accountability. The unravelling at PwC has sharpened all those contradictions.

The savage criticism has included why the Tax Office did not reveal its suspicions about former PwC partner Peter Collins, leaking sensitive material – including by Jordan informing the Secretary of the Treasury.

‘‘It’s a difficult and fine line to walk but I believe there are very sound reasons to change the secrecy provisions to provide better opportunity for the Tax Office to share information, particularly with other government departments,’’ Jordan says. ‘‘It’s a bit odd that I can’t tell the Secretary of the Treasury certain things.

‘‘There is a review being done by Attorney General’s of all the secrecy provisions, but I would like some specific changes made to our secrecy provisions to enable us to be more effective and efficient.’’

That, according to the tax commissioner, should also include greater ability for the ATO to undertake criminal investigations itself rather than relying on the Australian Federal Police, and to broaden its scope from merely making tax assessments to allow closer examination of potential fraud.

‘‘This is the whole problem that we had with the PwC Peter Collins issue – that we didn’t have the power to ask PwC for certain information because it wasn’t to do with the making of an assessment to tax,’’ Jordan says.

He believes the outcry will lead to an overdue focus on the regulatory governance of partnerships and whether they should become subject to ASIC’s normal corporate governance requirements. ‘‘I personally think that would be well worth looking at.’’

Yet, the ATO’s adherence to the tax secrecy laws also led to a turf war with the Tax Practitioners Board after the ATO had referred Collins to it.

The Financial Review’s story on the board’s decision to deregister Collins as a tax agent triggered the detonation of PwC’s reputation. The ripple effects are still spreading through the big four consultancies and their previously highly lucrative government services businesses.

The TPB’s subsequent decision to also access the ATO’s confidential files of its agreements with 24 international companies without prior notice or permission created considerable friction between the two agencies, coming to a head at a meeting in September 2021, also revealed by the Financial Review.

‘‘They came into our systems without telling us and took a number of highly confidential settlements,’’ Jordan says now.

‘‘This thing about shouting and all, that didn’t happen. But I was very direct and very clear that this was not the way to have a good relationship.’’

Some of these files, he says, also had nothing to do with the PwC matter.

‘‘We simply asked, why did they need those documents? We never heard back and now we are labelled as obstructionist.’’

That’s unlikely to accord with the TPB’s version of events

But what can’t be disputed is that Jordan, from the time he started at the ATO, has been far more effective in his dogged pursuit of multinational companies, including the new generation of tech giants such as Apple, Google and Microsoft. He argued they were using all sorts of accounting techniques to unfairly reduce the amount of tax paid locally, despite the revenue made from selling their products here.

This notion of profit shifting or transfer pricing was hardly new or limited to Australia. Many national governments have found it hard to establish appropriately taxable sources of revenue due to slippery notions of intellectual property rights deliberately allocated to low-tax jurisdictions.

Years of OECD efforts to establish global rules on ‘‘base erosion and profit shifting’’ are still dogged by disagreements, despite Australia’s leading role in encouraging greater international co-operation between national tax authorities.

Ironically, Jordan’s strong support for Australia’s own version of multinational anti-avoidance legislation under the Coalition government led indirectly to the inferno at PwC.

Then PwC partner Collins used his confidential consultations on the legislation with Treasury to brief dozens of his partners ahead of it coming into effect on January 1, 2016. PwC then used this material with potential international clients to immediately promote tax strategies to bypass the legislation – inadvertently alerting the ATO to investigate how the countermeasures could have been adopted so quickly.

Nor were the biggest and more traditional resources companies immune from the ATO’s targeting as it separately successfully challenged companies such as BHP and Rio over their use of assigning big profits to marketing hubs in low-taxing Singapore.

Similarly, the ATO won a hard-fought, crucial court case in 2017 over Chevron providing an artificially high interest-rate loan to its Australian arm which reduced stated profits and thus tax liabilities.

Jordan describes this as one of carefully structured ‘‘debt dumping’’ schemes – advised by none other than PwC – and it took the ATO $10 million and several years to win the fight.

According to Jordan, the court judgment meant oil and gas companies forfeited an estimated $40 billion in interest deductions that would have been carried forward – resulting in $12 billion of additional tax being paid in Australia. He says he is now ‘‘very satisfied’’ with the tax arrangements for multinationals.

‘‘We (the ATO) used to be intimidated by firms coming in and dropping a big report on the table and saying it had been done by world experts. Who are you to question the results,’’ he says.

‘‘I said, ‘Don’t go through each page and tick it as being correct and therefore the result is correct. Stand back and look at what has been done and if it doesn’t make sense economically, you should not just accept it’s correct technically. Really challenge it’.

‘‘We might have disagreements still. But we know what they are doing and they know if and when they will have a disagreement with us.’’

That includes lengthy court battles with Coca-Cola and PepsiCo over the ATO’s application of a ‘‘diverted profits tax’’ with Pepsi currently appealing a federal court judgment in the ATO’s favour last December.

The result, according to Jordan, is that there’s ‘‘not a lot of tax left’’ in what the ATO used to think of as a large corporate tax gap.

But Jordan’s optimistic view that most people now think large companies are paying their share of tax is likely to be tested given the ATO’s focus on extending its focus on the ‘‘tax gap’’ to more small businesses and individuals.

The ATO’s leniency towards many small businesses during the COVID-19 era is now gone. Over the five years to 2023, the ATO’s uncollected debt almost doubled to over $50 billion.

‘‘The small business area debt has grown very significantly,’’ Jordan says. ‘‘A number of small businesses have been living off money that was never theirs . . . if, for whatever reason, the business is not viable, they need to understand that.’’

As for Australia’s extremely heavy reliance on income tax for revenue, Jordan notes that’s ‘‘policy with a capital P’’ which prevents him commenting. But he points out that most countries have shifted to taxes on property and consumption. ‘‘We seem to have this problem that you can’t raise an issue without it being shut down before it’s actually talked about.’’

He also cites the fact that Australians are big users of workplace expense deductions, making individual tax returns far more complicated.

New Zealand, he says banned workplace expense deductions while also dropping the top marginal tax rate to 30 per cent. Due to that simplicity, most New Zealanders get their returns simply pushed to them due to forms being ‘‘pre-filled’’ with the necessary information.

‘‘We will find it hard to get to that situation because of work-related expenses,’’ he says.

Jordan’s last public outing as tax commissioner before he exits on February 29 will be at the National Press Club next week. He will wait until midyear to decide what comes next.

‘‘I have no particular plans,’’ he says. For about the first time in his life. AFR

Scandal-ridden finale for ATO boss Jordan2024-02-20T13:49:57+11:00

Tribunal rejects bank statements as basis for deductions

A businessman’s attempt to claim $48,000 in tax deductions for expenses including airfares, meals and overseas accommodation by relying on bank and credit card statements has been roundly rejected.

Brisbane-based William Smith took the matter before the Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT) earlier this year after the Australian Tax Office rejected all his expense deductions for financial year 2020.

From the outset, AAT member Lee Benjamin, who previously led complex tax litigation for the government solicitor and worked as a tax specialist for law firm Gadens, suggested Mr Smith was in trouble. ‘‘A taxpayer who does not obtain and retain appropriate records of his deductible expenditure faces an uphill battle to discharge their onus,’’ Mr Benjamin said. ‘‘There is little mystery or magic to it.

‘‘The substantiation rules are one of the few areas of the income tax law that is easily understandable and well understood by most taxpayers – obtaining and retaining written evidence of work-related expenses, typically in the form a receipt, is a primary requirement for seeking to claim a deduction.’’

Across hundreds of individual transactions, Mr Smith, an executive from the energy sector, claimed $12,700 for transport, $12,300 for meals and drinks, $13,300 for accommodation in Singapore and Melbourne, and $4500 for phone and internet expenses.

The ATO said Mr Smith’s furnishing of bank and credit card statements, diary entries and an accompanying spreadsheet explaining each expense did not satisfy substantiation requirements under Australia’s tax laws.

‘‘At best, the statements only show payments were made to certain payees on the dates recorded and not the nature of the goods or services purchased,’’ the ATO said in submissions.

‘‘For example, a payment to ‘Coles’ does not suggest that food was bought, given supermarkets sell a variety of goods (e.g. cat food, laundry detergent).

‘‘Similarly, a payment to Officeworks says nothing about the nature of the items purchased (e.g., school supplies, arts and craft supplies, IT items). Likewise, a payment to an airline like Tiger Airways says nothing about the flight details (origin, destination or dates of the flights).’’

Under examination, Mr Smith was asked about an expense for $275 at Aburiya Boat Quay, with counsel for the ATO Joshua Sproule asking if that was a restaurant.

‘‘Boat Quay is the area in Singapore. Aburiya must be the restaurant,’’ Mr Smith responded. He went on to say the meal was probably with shareholders and likely involved alcohol. ‘‘I can’t recall, but I imagine so,’’ he said.

Asked about other claims at the Shangri-La Hotel, Mr Smith appeared defensive.

‘‘I really can’t recall. This is, you know, we’re talking four years ago. I can’t recall every restaurant I went to and who I was with and whether I had alcohol,’’ he said. ‘‘I’m assuming that I – if it’s an evening meal . . . not if it was lunch – if it was an evening meal, I would’ve had a glass of wine. But I just can’t recall who I was with at these meetings four years ago.’’

Mr Benjamin was unpersuaded.

‘‘Without wanting to labour the point, the absence of receipts means that, again, the tribunal is unable to verify that the goods and services were purchased on the dates that are mentioned in the bank statements,’’ he said.

Tribunal rejects bank statements as basis for deductions2023-10-26T16:45:46+11:00

Tax change could stifle business travel, tourism

Moves that could classify tourists and business travellers who spend more than 45 days in Australia as tax residents risk stifling economic activity by discouraging visitors, the Albanese government has been warned.

The government is consulting about plans in the 2021 federal budget to dramatically simplify outdated and clunky individual tax residency rules that govern who has to pay tax and lodge annual returns with the Tax Office.

Included is a new primary ‘‘bright line’’ test that would result in individuals treated as Australian tax residents if they are in the country for 183 days in a year.

But moves to update residency rules designed in the 1930s risk catching tourists and business travellers who spend more than 45 days in Australia, under a proposed secondary test.

Institute of Public Accountants general manager for technical policy Tony Greco said it could act as a disincentive for some foreign workers, tourists and other short-term travellers, potentially hurting economic activity.

Other factors to be considered as part of tax residency rulings include the right to reside permanently in the country, close family ties here, access to accommodation, and Australian economic interests.

Mr Greco said it would also breach the principle of adhesive residency, which provides that it should be harder to stop being an Australian tax resident than to become one.

The 45-day test was recommended because it is longer than the traditional annual leave period of four weeks. The median stay in Australia for tourists and other short-term visitors is 11 days and all but a few short-term visitors stay for less than two months.

IPA has recommended a 90-day secondary test. In New Zealand, individuals cease to be a tax resident if they spend less than 40 days in the country. Britain uses a 46-day test.

‘‘We say 45 days is too low a threshold because then it reverts you back into those subjective tests that we’re currently having trouble with,’’ Mr Greco said.

‘‘Maybe the bar is too low. It is going to suck in too many players if you strike at 45 days. You’re quickly back into the complexity of the old scheme.’’

He said the case for change was strong, describing the current tax residency rules for individuals as outdated and incompatible with the modern world, where increased global mobility, advances in technology and changing social norms had shifted the goal posts.

‘‘What we do know is private binding rulings for residency are going through the roof because it’s so subjective and it’s litigated. The definitions that are used are quite subjective and you have to do a fact-based analysis to actually come up with an arguable position.’’

Treasury said the 45-day proposal predated the COVID-19 pandemic and could be revised. It argues a strict day count ‘‘ensures that residency outcomes are clear, the rules are administrable, and disputes are avoided’’.

When first announced, the then Coalition government estimated the new rules would deliver regulatory savings of about $110 million a year.

BDO’s national tax leader, Lance Cunningham, said 90 days would better accommodate skilled workers and Australians working abroad.

‘‘Where individuals flying in and out of Australia for business purposes may be subject to the commencing residency rules, this may prove unattractive to businesses overseas in sending skilled workers to Australia for special projects or short-term employment,’’ he said. ‘‘As an example, mergers and acquisitions, change management, global expansions and specific short-term projects might exceed the 45-day period.

‘‘For example, an ex-Aussie resident who may be ideally skilled to return to Australia for a short-term project but is reluctant due to fears of being deemed a resident due to satisfaction of the 45-day requirement along with two other factors, such as right to reside, legacy Australian economic interests.

‘‘Increasing the 45-day period to 90 days will provide an incentive for business travellers and holidaymakers to stay in Australia for longer without fear of compromising their tax residency status. Longer stays may result in an increased economic contribution to the Australian economy, particularly tourism expenditure.’’

Tax change could stifle business travel, tourism2023-10-26T16:44:01+11:00

Tax, loan interest to take bigger bite of income

Australians will devote almost one in every four dollars of their earnings to paying income tax and loan interest by the middle of next year, as hundreds of billions of dollars of fixed-rate mortgages roll off and workers lose wage gains to bracket creep.

Households spent a record 21 per cent of their gross income on home loan interest and income tax in the three months to June, and economists predict the drain on their budgets will increase even further without action.

This includes reform to address the growing reliance of the federal government’s revenue base on income tax, which former Treasury secretary Ken Henry last month labelled an ‘‘intergenerational tragedy’’. A near-record 16.2 per cent of household incomes were lost to income tax in June, according to AFR Weekend analysis of the latest national accounts.

That figure has risen sharply over the past year, and is well above the income tax burden faced by workers a decade ago, when income tax consumed about 12 per cent of household income.

Jarden chief economist Carlos Cacho said the recent increase in the tax burden came down to bracket creep.

‘‘It’s the gift that keeps on giving for the government budget,’’ Mr Cacho said.

‘‘We’ve had compensation for employees, which is the broadest measure of earnings, growing at almost 10 per cent . . . and that means that people are moving into higher tax brackets and paying more tax.’’

Because tax brackets are not indexed to inflation, increases in nominal wages lead to increases in average taxes because a greater proportion of a worker’s pay is pushed into the highest bracket applicable to them. Economists call this bracket creep.

The stage three tax cuts, which come into effect on July 1 next year, would slice about 1 percentage point off the income tax burden, Mr Cacho said, but the effect would only be temporary.

The tax cuts will consolidate the 32.5 cent and 37 cent tax brackets into a single 30 per cent bracket applying to incomes between $45,000 and $200,000.

UNSW Business School professor of economics Richard Holden said the increased share of income going to tax and loan repayments highlighted the urgency of calls for tax reform.

‘‘Given that roughly two-thirds of GDP comes from household consumption and that tax and interest are the two largest and most obvious first claims on income, it means it is going to put obvious downward pressure on consumption and therefore GDP growth,’’ he said.

‘‘Against that backdrop, it’s not too surprising that per capita GDP is going backwards.

‘‘We’re taxing incomes more and more and we’re out of step with other advanced economies in terms of the amount we tax income, relative to the amount we tax consumption,’’ he said.

Compounding pressure on household budgets is the rapid rise in interest rates, which has resulted in the share of gross income consumed by mortgage interest increase to 4.8 per cent from 2.5 per cent over the past year.

Mr Cacho said this figure would increase even further, because only two-thirds of the RBA’s interest rate rises had flowed through to borrowers due to the roll off of pandemic-era fixed-rate loans.

‘‘We’re currently at the peak pace of fixed rates rolling off onto variable of about $30 billion a month. As we move through this year, even if there are no further RBA hikes, we’re going to continue to see those interest payments increase,’’ he said.

Combined with interest on consumer debt such as credit cards and the cost of owner-operator business debt, Mr Cacho said almost one-quarter of gross household income nationally would be lost to income tax and interest.

Wentworth MP Allegra Spender, who is leading a push to review tax, said fixing the reliance on income tax remained ‘‘one of the most neglected but important issues facing the country’’.

‘‘It’s an issue that we find very hard to talk about but it’s an issue too important to ignore,’’ she said.

Tax, loan interest to take bigger bite of income2023-09-13T16:58:17+10:00

RBA change is coming, like it or not

More people, more input, more cooks in the kitchen. That’s ultimately the price the Reserve Bank of Australia will pay for a couple of years of bad or miscalculated calls, made in response to the pandemic.

Ironically, the review was conceived in the pre-COVID days when the RBA was criticised because inflation was running below its 2 to 3 per cent target range. All the attention is on what has happened since.

When money was flooding into the financial system and the economy, it is now clear the RBA board was too slow to apply the handbrake. The result is the highest level of inflation since the 1990s and an unprecedented 10 straight rate rises that were never going to be popular with ordinary Australians or politicians. No one seems to care that the unemployment rate is around its lowest level in nearly 50 years.

Right or wrong RBA governor Philip Lowe wears the blame. He will be all over the newspapers and nightly television news bulletins, even though markets (equities, bonds, currency) barely blinked. Mr Market saw the review coming, and now says the changes are some way off.

From the market’s perspective, next month’s budget is more material. Treasurer Jim Chalmers needs to set up the books for the next few years, which means finding more money. The economy is finely poised: it would be tempting to throw money around to ease cost of living pressures, although money’s tight and the inflation doesn’t need stoking.

In the meantime, old-head RBA watchers said it was a significant day. The fact that the central bank, which has such a great impact on Australians’ daily life, was subject to such scrutiny made it a historic day.

Lowe and the RBA will be hauled over the coals for what happened a few years ago, even though it was just as much the government stoking the fire that continues to burn today. The critics argue he should be accountable for the combination of low rates, forward guidance, yield curve control, quantitative easing and the term funding facility, which combined to whipsaw the economy and may yet cause a recession.

Of course, Lowe’s monetary policy is just one tool.

Once the commotion passes, we should all still be worried about the rising cost of rent and energy and how both can be addressed. The review doesn’t change that.

The review prompted plenty of thinking about the RBA, its corporate governance, board composition and decision-making. It recognised that in more normal times, the RBA had done well to keep inflation around the midpoint of its 2 to 3 per cent range for the past 30 years.

However, it is the past few years, a wartime for central bankers when no one escaped with a goldilocks path out the other side, that will now shape the direction of Australia’s monetary policy system.

What’s the answer to it all? Get more people involved in the decision-making. A specialist monetary policy board, fewer board meetings and more outsiders sitting around the table.

Reading between the lines, there seemed to be concern about how insular the RBA either is, or has become. Lowe is a perfect example; he’s got a great temperament for the governor’s job, is clearly smart and well regarded by colleagues and peers globally, but he is an RBA lifer and ingrained in current-day practice.

The creation of a new nine-person Monetary Policy Board, widely tipped by pundits, is about getting more rigorous thinking into rates decisions.

The nine people would include the RBA governor, deputy governor, Treasury secretary and six outsiders. The review recommends that ‘‘external members should be able to make a significant contribution to monetary policy setting through expertise in areas such as open economy macroeconomics, the financial system, labour markets, or the supply side of the economy, and in the context of decision-making under uncertainty’’.

So, this specific rate-setting board should mean more challenge and debate to the house view, which appears to have become more entrenched. At the same time the review calls for RBA’s operatives to spend more time with board members, making it a bit of an each-way bet but a good use of what is a big and expensive research team. (The need to spare a day a week or so in the RBA’s offices surely tilts the external board positions towards academics.)

The undertones were that the board wasn’t functioning properly, either because it didn’t have the right people or the right information. Lowe defended his board at a press conference yesterday, saying discussion around the boardroom table was robust and not dominated by himself.

It’s all well and good to have more people in the room on rates decision day, but it does not mean the board will function more efficiently or come to better decisions.

But big boards do not necessarily mean better outcomes. Corporate Australia is littered with poor boards and ‘‘jobs for the directors club’’ type attitudes that ruin what can be otherwise good businesses.

Often the bigger the board, the more constipated the decision-making process. The other scourge is chairmen roping in old mates and colleagues from other boards.

Ultimately, whether a separate and bigger Monetary Policy Board works will depend on who is on it. It was a logical and welcomed decision to create the separate board, and clear rate-setters of the governance-type matters that tend to dominate board meetings.

The review recommended a transparent appointment process, starting with advertised expressions of interest. External members would be appointed for five years, and up to another year depending on the circumstances.

There would also be fewer board meetings; eight not 11. And the governor would have to front the press following each meeting to explain the board’s decision, with more emphasis on the expected path of inflation and the labour market. That shouldn’t prove too onerous. External board members would also be required to make one public address each year.

The idea of more communication is conceptually good, although post-meeting press conferences can be a double-edged sword. We’ve seen Federal Reserve chairman Jay Powell mix his messages in a live setting, which can leave the market with more questions than answers.

Fewer meetings mean more time between rates decisions and arguably more punting and reading the crystal ball for fixed income investors. There could be more focus on monthly/quarterly economic data, to fill the information void between meetings.

Market economists liked that there could be more briefings, as it should (in theory) help them with their forecasts. They also probably like that there would be an unattributed published vote after each policy decision.

Other parts of the review said RBA should work more closely with the government/ Treasury, although it remains to be seen how. The review said fiscal and monetary policy should be set separately, however the RBA and Treasury needed to ‘‘have a good understanding of the intentions of the other and informs better policy choices’’. The two institutions are already close, but the review said their co-operation should include increased information sharing on risks, scenarios and policy constraints, and some joint scenario analysis.

Lowe was gracious at his press conference, although it was clear he did not love all the recommendations. For example, he bristled at any notion rates decisions were his alone and thinks it’s important to be careful with the number of public messages out of the RBA to ensure consistency and stability.

Lowe said he would leave his reappointment to the RBA top job in the Treasurer’s hands. He said he would be happy to go around for another term if asked. If not, he said he would find another way to contribute to society.

The fact that the RBA was subject to a 294-page review and there were 51 recommendations suggests change is on the cards.

Next week’s CPI reading could be material to the situation. Economists are tipping a number just shy of 7 per cent.

For all the focus on Lowe, in the near term the real attention should be on Chalmers and the budget. That’s the real showstopper for the economy.

a.macdonald@afr.com 

RBA change is coming, like it or not2023-04-24T16:53:10+10:00

Financial Planning Message – December 2022

As 2022 draws to a close we are reminded of the recent period of intense volatility in capital markets and the reality that a global recession is likely next year.

 

Markets are pricing in a lower probability of a recession in Australia.

 

This in turn will depress corporate earnings and valuations across all asset classes and significantly increase default rates among high-risk borrowers.

 

The correction to valuations is likely to be more severe during this economic cycle due to valuations starting from elevated levels compared to previous corrections.

 

We are also yet to experience a high number of fixed loans move from fixed interest rates of sub 2% to levels of 5%+ prevailing rates, something in the order of $500bn are due to mature in mid to late 2023.

 

This will no doubt impact the already depressed property market in Australia.

 

All the major banks and APRA are keeping a close eye on this development as we progress into 2023.

 

As inflationary pressures persist ( highest in 40 years ), geopolitical tensions and tight labour supply, the  central banks are forced to aggressively press on with higher interest rates and keep for much longer.

 

The RBA has so far moved the cash rate from .1% in March 2022 to now 3.1%, markets are now pricing in another two .25% increases in early 2023 before a potential pause to evaluate the impact on inflation.

 

The Federal Reserve was pricing in a rate increase of just 1% in December 2021, it is remarkable that their view now is that it is likely to peak at approximately 5.25%.

 

Consequently, 2023 is poised to exert added stress to highly leveraged borrowers, specifically those that have acquired property / equities in 2021 / 2022, are now in nil or negative equity positions.

 

It is worth noting that during this business cycle, we have had an explosion of companies that have become addicted to cheap debt, on the other hand, these same companies are not generating sufficient cashflow to support increased interest payments.

 

Clearly, there will be consolidation particularly in property related businesses in 2023.

 

There are no doubt significant headwinds for Australian households and the economy in general as we enter 2023.

 

Accordingly, extreme caution and sound strategies need to be implemented for the year ahead, including but not limited to :-

  • Be clear on what and who matters given the many conflicting sources of information and ‘investment opportunities’ across the media.
  • Understand your portfolio and position appropriately taking into account your forward plans and risk / return / management costs.
  • Review cashflows and eliminate unnecessary lifestyle costs in light of higher interest rates in 2023.
  • Let’s not forget managing your tax position, this is always relevant be it during your working life, in retirement ( with respect to investments) or as part of your estate plan.
  • Focus on what can be controlled / influenced as opposed to factors over which we have no control or influence.
  • Make incremental ‘dollar cost savings’ as opposed to taking a significant position when investing.
  • Diversification and history are our best friends, reflect and actively rebalance asset allocations.
  • Consider Dividend Reinvestment Plan ( DRP) in light of the attractive valuations.
  • Confirm borrowing / refinancing options well before due dates and explore potential savings across relevant lenders – competition appears to be intensifying across the major lenders.
  • Insurance is always important, however potentially critical during extreme business cycles as are likely to unfold in 2023. It is not desirable to execute forced sales at depressed values.

 

In closing, we would like to take this opportunity and thank you for placing trust in AMCO since inception 26 years ago and making our Integrated Wealth Management practice what it is today.

 

We are aware of the challenges you are facing during these uncertain times and are there to advise and navigate all matters with professional care and promptness.

 

It is vital that fundamental mistakes are prevented during these critical periods, hence the need for sound advice.

 

From the team at AMCO, we wish you and your loved ones good health, peace of mind and prosperity in the year ahead.

 

Merry Christmas.

 

 

Danny D. Mazevski 

Chartered Tax & Financial Adviser

FIPA   CTA  FTMA  MBA (Un.NSW/SYD)  Dip.FS   JP

Financial Planning Message – December 20222022-12-22T08:01:23+11:00

Tax Office teams delve into dealings of the super rich

Audits Experts believe asset stripping, offshore wealth transfers and governance are top of the hit lists for investigators, writes Duncan Hughes.

About 940 of the nation’s super rich are the target of deep-dive audits into their finances by the Australian Taxation Office due to suspected tax avoidance or non-compliance.

An ATO spokesman says additional funding announced in the federal budget and the development of a specialist group to target wealthy individuals and their associated private groups ‘‘allows us to have more visibility of, and apply scrutiny to, more of the largest and wealthiest private taxpayer groups than ever’’.

Clint Harding, a partner with leading commercial law firm Arnold Bloch Leibler, says: ‘‘Many taxpayers do not appreciate that the onus of proof is on them to prove [their returns] are correct. They can no longer just sit back and hope they’ll stay off the ATO’s radar, which has very sophisticated analytical and data capabilities to monitor tax affairs.’’

Paul Huggins, a director of investment group Hamilton Chase, says the government will also be seeking more tax receipts after billions of dollars in handouts during COVID-19. He adds: ‘‘There has never been a better time for the government to repair its balance sheet.’’

The ATO launches an audit when issues and concerns that are not resolved during a compliance review are escalated for deeper examination. More than 4700 audits have been undertaken in the past six years, which can involve ATO officers visiting a taxpayer’s premises and undertaking more intensive and longer reviews.

Offshore money payments, distributions from trusts and the ‘‘black economy’’ (estimated to be worth $30 billion and costing the nation about $2.5 billion in foregone tax revenue a year) are expected to be among the ATO’s prime targets, say tax experts.

Simultaneous probes are being undertaken into the nation’s wealthiest 500 (who with their associates, trusts, partnerships and super funds control assets worth more than $500 million) and the ‘‘Next 5000’’ privately wealthy, who have more than $50 million. The wealthiest 500 annually pay more than $4.4 billion in income tax and over $2.3 billion in net GST, according to ATO analysis.

In the federal budget the government allocated the ATO an additional $652 million to extend the tax avoidance taskforce by another two years and increase tax receipts from the nation’s richest by $2.1 billion.

Mark Molesworth, tax partner at global consultancy BDO, says the top 500 involves ongoing, one-to-one engagements with the nation’s wealthiest.

The Next 5000 program uses a ‘‘justified trust approach’’, in which it attempts to obtain an understanding of a taxpayer’s governance and risk management practices. ‘‘The ATO is giving the taxpayer an opportunity to prove that its trust in them is justified,’’ says Molesworth.

The ATO is likely to continue probing the use of trusts for unlawful cash distributions and tax-saving arrangements under the guise of family business, according to Arnold Bloch Leibler’s Harding.

Family trusts are required to detail distributions to beneficiaries, including adult children, to ensure they comply with rules on family dealings.

The ATO is expected to continue targeting trust stripping and reimbursement arrangements, which can happen when trustees distribute money to individuals or entities with low or zero tax obligations which is then repaid by the beneficiary back to the trust or another family member for the purposes of tax minimisation.

Undeclared international money transfers of more than $10,000 are another primary target. Transfers of money into and out of Australia are monitored by AUSTRAC and data is shared with the ATO. The combined value of cash in local or foreign currency needs to be declared if it is equivalent to $10,000 or more.

The types of international money transfers likely to be relevant to an individual’s tax returns in Australia are:

Any payments received from rental properties or property sale;

Income generated from an overseas business or sale of a business;

Money earned as an employee overseas; and

Funds received as an overseas pension or superannuation.

The ATO will seek to prevent private companies being used as a tax-free personal piggy bank for owners and their associates. This happens when owners, or associates, receive tax-free benefits from companies, such as cheap or unpaid loans.

Loans are deemed to be a dividend payment to the recipient and assessable. They are ordinarily ‘‘unfranked’’, which means the recipient does not get a franking credit that would reduce tax liability.

Hamilton Chase’s Huggins says cryptocurrency transactions will also be closely monitored. The ATO says it will target users’ record-keeping to ensure expenses claimed for using cryptocurrencies, such as software, commission or brokerage costs, are accurate.

BDO’s Molesworth says: ‘‘In this case, the ATO is not looking at specific transactions but at the systems and processes in place to get the tax payments right.’’

Publicly listed companies typically have well-defined structures of control, such as audit committees, to ensure everything should be done by the book. ‘‘For many private groups this process is not as well documented,’’ Molesworth says.

Issues likely to attract the ATO’s attention include tax payments or financial performance that is unusual when compared to other businesses, low transparency and large one-off or unusual transactions, such as the transfer or shifting of wealth.

Other red flags include aggressive tax planning and extravagant lifestyles that are not supported by after-tax income.

Tax Office teams delve into dealings of the super rich2022-04-26T11:58:18+10:00

What It Means For Your Money

There are numerous opportunities for astute investors and consumers to take advantage of. Aleks Vickovich and our expert writers break it down.

As expected, the Morrison government’s pre-election budget had plenty of sweeteners. The 2022-23 budget documents revealed total expenditure of $628.5 billion, of which social security and welfare ($221.7 billion) made up the lion’s share, alongside funding for health ($105.8 billion), education ($44.8 billion), defence ($38.3 billion) and transport and communications ($18.9 billion).

Included was a one-off, $8.6 billion package of short-term handouts described by The Australian Financial Review as a ‘‘shameless voter bribe’’.

Whether the cash splash is effective remains to be seen, with voters to go to the polls in May. But the budget’s short- and long-term measures contain a range of opportunities that astute investors and consumers may seek to take advantage of.

Here’s what you need to know.

Women

Australian women remain on track to earn $2 million less than their male counterparts due to what economists and critics deem a lacklustre, pre-election federal budget.

While it included $9 million in funding to support emerging female entrepreneurs and $58 million in funding for endometriosis, experts warn the measures do not go far enough to promote women’s earnings capacity and – in the case of the paid parental leave changes – may even backfire.

The government’s paid parental leave scheme will now be 20 weeks shared at the couple’s discretion at the minimum wage. Previously, primary carers – who tended to be mothers – were eligible for 18 weeks, while partners were eligible for two weeks. The income test will be changed to a household limit of $350,000 each year rather than the individual test.

‘‘It’s done under the guise of flexibility and allowing more leave sharing between partners,’’ says Grattan Institute CEO Danielle Wood. ‘‘That’s great in the small percentage of households that want to do that, but my theory is it will actually lead to more gendered norms around who cares [for children] in the early years.’’

That policy, coupled with no movement on childcare, confirms Grattan modelling that finds the average mother will earn $2 million less over her lifetime compared to the average father, says Wood.

‘‘[The budget] was a missed opportunity to address some of the disincentives to women’s workforce participation, particularly the higher cost of childcare,’’ she adds.

Industry groups also characterised the budget as lacking for women.

Tax Institute analysis of childcare costs and subsidies found the secondary earner, who is often the mother, faces a steep disincentive to return to full-time paid work.

‘‘If they’re back to a full-time schedule, the secondary earner is only gaining $6 extra for the tenth day of work in a fortnight. By the time they’ve commuted to work and bought a morning coffee, they’re paying to go to work that day,’’ says Tax Institute tax policy and advocacy general manager Scott Treatt.

‘‘The secondary earner in a family can be taxed at an effective rate, including net childcare costs, of more than double the top personal marginal tax rate. This makes returning to work financially impossible for many parents who might otherwise like to.’’

LUCY DEAN

Retirees

In a measure foreshadowed by the Financial Review in March, the government committed to extending its changes to the superannuation minimum drawdown requirement for another year. ‘‘The government has extended the 50 per cent reduction of the superannuation minimum drawdown requirement for account-based pensions and similar products for a further year to June 30, 2023,’’ the budget documents said.

‘‘The minimum drawdown requirements determine the minimum amount of a pension that a retiree has to draw from their superannuation in order to qualify for tax concessions.’’

Drawdown rates range from 4 per cent to 14 per cent, depending on age. The extension of the halved rate would drop the rate from 7 per cent to 3.5 per cent for someone aged between 80 and 84.

While the budget billed this measure as ‘‘supporting retirees’’, experts say it would really only benefit retirees who have already accumulated substantial wealth outside super.

Peter Burgess, deputy chief executive of the SMSF Association, says the extension allows individuals who have access to outside funds to withdraw less than they would ordinarily have to under the normal policy conditions.

‘‘This means they can retain more in their super pension account – which is tax-free – for longer,’’ he says.

The tax benefits of keeping more money in a super environment are clear, says Lisa Papachristoforos, a partner at accounting firm Hughes O’Dea Corredig.

Wealth held in a super fund in pension mode incurs no tax on income and capital gains, she points out – as opposed to income held in an individual’s name, which is taxed at marginal rates.

But tax advantages are not the only potential benefit. The extension of the minimum drawdown also provides ‘‘continued flexibility’’ on how much retirees need to withdraw to fund standard of living, Papachristoforos adds.

Aside from tax efficiencies, leaving more money in super means more can be invested, generating further returns.

Plus, while the policy may be aimed at retirees, all super fund members may profit from the extension regardless of their age or distance from retirement.

‘‘Super funds are potentially faced with an additional year of lower minimum pension withdrawals paid to their members, allowing them to utilise that forgone withdrawal at a pooled level for investment purposes,’’ Papachristoforos says.

‘‘As such, extending the minimum drawdown rule could positively affect all superannuants, not just those drawing an income stream from their account, and the investment managers of super money will have more funds to invest.’’

Certified financial planner Josh Dalton, of Dalton Financial Planners, agrees there are potential tax minimisation benefits from the extended minimum drawdown policy, as well as the prospect of opening up more money to be invested in markets.

But he warns the measure is not suitable for all retirees. ‘‘Retirees need to estimate their annual expenditure and get a good grasp on how much income they can live on comfortably,’’ he suggests.

‘‘They can then decide to reduce their pension payments in line with their budget estimate and conserve more of their account-based pension capital if it suits.’’

ALEKS VICKOVICH

Home buyers

Borrowers planning to apply for the expanded Home Guarantee Scheme should start preparing their applications soon because competition is expected to be fierce, say lenders.

First home-loan applications surged when previous allocations were announced to allow first home buyers and single parents to get into the property market with a deposit of between 2 per cent and 5 per cent without needing to pay for expensive lenders mortgage insurance.

Applicants need to choose a loan from a lender on the scheme’s list that offers the rates, terms and conditions best suited to their needs. It has to be a principal and interest loan. Investors are not eligible.

Prospective borrowers should gain pre-approval for their loan from the lender, which will involve providing identification, age, proof of income, a prior property ownership test, proof of deposit and intention to be an owner-occupier.

Applicants also need to ensure their loan application is within the price caps set for each city. For example, it is capped at $800,000 for Sydney’s central business district and $500,000 for Ballarat in regional Victoria.

The First Home Guarantee, which supports eligible first home buyers to build or purchase a new or existing home with a 5 per cent deposit, has been increased from 10,000 offers to 35,000 a year from July 1. It is capped at $125,000 annual income for individuals and $200,000 for a couple.

There are also 5000 places for the Family Home Guarantee, which enables eligible single parents with dependents to enter or re-enter the housing market with a deposit from 2 per cent.

Mortgage broker Elodie Blamey says single mothers and fathers can earn up to $125,000 – excluding childcare support – to be eligible. ‘‘Unlike the Home Guarantee Scheme, it is not being used nearly enough,’’ she says. Many single parents might not be aware of the scheme and its conditions, or consider themselves eligible.

Merinda Brooks, a single parent with a three-year-old son, says: ‘‘It has absolutely changed my life.’’

The speech pathologist says it would have been challenging to save a 10 per cent deposit. ‘‘I was working really hard but unsure about how I could have otherwise got a deposit together,’’ she adds.

There are also another 10,000 places a year under the Regional Home Guarantee scheme for anyone who has not owned a property for five years, on the condition they purchase a newly built home or build.

Lenders are awaiting additional details from the government before advising potential borrowers.

DUNCAN HUGHES

Patients

Government changes to the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme safety net thresholds, making medicines more affordable, is good news for many self-funded retirees, according to a leading super specialist.

Lower safety net thresholds for the PBS mean potential savings for retirees, and may create an opportunity for others who have ‘‘grandfathered’’ account-based super pensions.

From July 1, the PBS safety net thresholds will be reduced from $326.40 to $244.80 for concession patients, and from $1542.10 to $1457.10 for general patients, which means fewer scripts before the safety net is reached.

Patients will also reach the safety net sooner with 12 fewer scripts for concession patients and two fewer scripts for general patients.

‘‘This is good news for self-funded retirees who do not hold a Commonwealth Seniors Health Card,’’ says Colin Lewis, head of strategic advice for Fitzpatricks Private Wealth.

‘‘There may also be the opportunity for advisers to consider clients who have an underperforming ‘grandfathered’ account-based pension but feel trapped for fear of losing the card if they move.’’

Many CSHC holders have account-based pensions that are ‘‘grandfathered’’ after the income test rule change on January 1, 2015. Account-based pensions started after that date are deemed under the card’s income test, whereas nothing counted with existing pensions. For this reason, many are reluctant to switch pensions or super funds for fear of losing their CSHC.

‘‘It is a matter of doing the numbers.’’ says Lewis. ‘‘Deemed income from a new pension may not push a cardholder over the CSHC income threshold but, where it does, the cost of losing the card is now reduced with a lower safety net, and the potential return from a new pension may well exceed this cost.’’

The same concern may contribute to some self-funded retirees maintaining self-managed super funds rather than switching to a possibly better-performing and cheaper retail or industry fund.

DUNCAN HUGHES

Small business owners

Improving workforce skills, incentives for employing apprentices and increasing investment in technology and digitisation are among the opportunities. Small and medium businesses with a turnover of up to $50 million are getting an additional 20 per cent deduction for the cost of external training provided to employees.

That means a business will be able to deduct $120 for every $100 spent on a course.

As an example, a business needs to train 10 employees in administrative skills to manage jobs. The company enrols them at a cost of $430 per employee. In addition to the $4300 deduction, the company can claim an additional $860 deduction, being 20 per cent of the expense.

There is also $2.8 billion over five years to increase apprenticeships, including $5000 payments to apprentices over the first two years of their apprenticeships, and $15,000 to qualifying employers paid as 10 per cent for first- and second-year apprentices and 5 per cent for third-year workers.

For example, a business employing an apprentice for $40,000 a year will receive $1250 every six months for two years to help with the cost of training. The company can apply for payments of $4000 in the first and second years, and $2000 in the third year.

The calculations were provided by financial adviser Cameron Harrison.

Businesses are also eligible for another 20 per cent deduction for expenses on digital upgrades, such as cyber security systems or subscriptions to cloud-based services, up to $100,000. Installation has to be completed by June 30, 2023 to be eligible.

‘‘This is a no-brainer,’’ says Greg Travers, a director of William Buck. ‘‘Businesses know they need to digitise, and now the government is giving them an incentive to do it. The benefit is not huge . . . but it helps.’’

Digitisation means more pre-filling, data-matching and data-sharing for the Australian Taxation Office.

‘‘The measures are designed to reduce compliance costs for businesses, but also make it easier for the ATO and other revenue authorities to data-match and share information,’’ Travers says. These measures include using real-time data to calculate PAYG tax instalments.

Sam Pratt, chief executive of Render Networks, which develops broadband connectivity, says while it was a good budget for infrastructure, there needs to be more support for the digital economy to keep it competitive with the US and Europe.

Changes to the taxation of employee share schemes will help smaller companies, particularly technology start-ups, attract and retain skilled workers. Limits on the value of shares an employer can issue to employees has been increased from $5000 to $30,000, which puts it in line with international standards.

DUNCAN HUGHES

Aged care residents

With medication management long regarded as the bane of residential aged care, funding to link care facilities with community pharmacists and onsite pharmacists should bring some comfort to residents and nurses.

The delivery of wrong and/or excessive medication has long been an issue waiting to be addressed.

However, at the heart of this and other positive reforms flagged for the aged care sector in the federal budget lies a major problem – recruiting and retaining qualified staff.

Notably absent from the spendathon was any mention of the wage increase for existing or future aged care workers that is so desperately needed to deliver the existing services, let alone promised ones.

Pharmacists are as desperate for the implementation of a workforce plan as the aged care sector, putting a huge question mark over the success of a potentially good idea before it is even rolled out.

The ongoing release of 80,000 home care packages in 2021-2023 – taking the total to about 275,600 people by June next year – is welcome confirmation of intentions to assist older Australians to remain living independently at home.

But the delivery of the packages and other at-home support is also dependent on attracting a suitably skilled workforce to meet the demand.

It is the same for the 8500 new respite services also announced previously as part of an $18.8 billion, five-year reform program following the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety.

On that front, the $48.5 million for 15,000 additional aged care training places for new and existing personal care workers, to a total of 48,800 places, is a positive move.

More money for more training is always welcome, says Sean Rooney, chief executive of Leading Age Services Australia and representative of the Australian Aged Care Collaboration. But he says the budget failed to address the key fundamental deficiencies identified in the royal commission – wages and the viability of aged care homes.

Sticking with the commitment to reform the residential aged funding model through the introduction of the Australian National Aged Care Classification Transition Fund, the budget included an additional $34.60 per bed per day.

The proposed residential aged care funding model, scheduled to begin on October 1, is designed to align residential aged care funding to the care needs of each resident.

The starting price is $216.80 a day per resident for standard care – with more for dementia-related care – compared to about $180 a day per resident under the old funding model.

Council on the Ageing chief executive Ian Yates will be looking to see that the additional money is spent on increasing the number of care minutes with residents as intended by the royal commission, which recommended care homes have a target of 200 minutes per resident per day.

Exactly how that will be measured is yet to be worked out. But Yates wants the government to commit to publishing how many minutes of care each residential facility is being funded to deliver, compared to the number of minutes actually delivered, as part of its new star rating system.

With an election on the way, there is still hope for further announcements that will directly benefit older Australians and those who deliver the care they deserve.

Unlike the government, the opposition has centred its budget promises on fixing the aged care workforce with a $2.5 billion pledge for measures, including a wage rise.

BINA BROWN

Young Australians

Successive budgets chasing the ‘‘grey vote’’ have allowed structural flaws in Australia’s economy to form, with younger generations and economists now calling for bold conversations to help strike out the unwieldy debt bill.

The budget features a projected $78 billion deficit for 2022-23. The deficit is expected to linger for the next 10 years, with gross debt peaking in 2025.

While a deficit isn’t necessarily a problem if the debt brings sustained productivity or lifestyle improvements, Australia’s ability to wind back high levels of spending will be the key issue for younger generations, says the Grattan Institute’s Wood. ‘‘We shouldn’t be so fixated on the deficit per se, especially coming out of COVID-19; it partly reflects that we did need to spend a lot to respond, and that it was appropriate to do so,’’ she says.

‘‘But we should think about the structural budget deficit over time, and that does look a bit concerning.’’

Wood says Australia’s spending appears to be fixed at a higher level after COVID-19, with more money flowing through to defence, aged care and the National Disability Insurance Scheme.

‘‘We haven’t really talked about how we’re going to pay for that over time,’’ she says. ‘‘The risk is if we don’t do anything about that and debt continues to creep up as a share of the economy – that’s the concern that young people, quite rightly, might have.

‘‘It’s that longer-term picture and the lack of clarity around how we’re going to square those numbers.’’

The co-founder of intergenerational fairness advocacy group Think Forward, Sonia Arakkal, agrees government debt is a complex issue, but is concerned that the budget puts older generations’ needs before younger generations’ current and future needs.

‘‘Young people have a sophisticated understanding of the economy – we’re a very highly educated generation . . . we want policymakers to take into account our interests,’’ she says.

‘‘So, if they are accruing debt in our name, it should be debt that is invested in climate change or infrastructure – not pork-barrelling in particular marginal seats or particular states.’’

Faced with baked-in higher spending, an ageing population and a need to decarbonise, Arakkal – who is leading calls for a parliamentary inquiry into intergenerational fairness – is calling for Australia’s political class to engage in more difficult conversations about equality.

‘‘We have a system that is overly reliant on income taxes and doesn’t treat asset taxes in the same way, and we shouldn’t be punishing people for working. We should be looking at taxes that are inefficient, like capital gains tax, or how we tax superannuation,’’ she says.

‘‘We need to be having those conversations to set the younger generation up for success.“

There are two options for tackling the deficit, says Wood.

The first is to find ways to make the economy grow faster, as a faster-growing economy will essentially ‘‘fritter away’’ the debt burden.

‘‘Looking at policies which actually promote productivity and growth is important, so that could be tax reform, reforming cities, and how we do planning and zoning regulation?’’ she says.

Supporting more women to return to the paid workforce after having children is also a key way to uncap economic potential, Wood says, expressing disappointment at the budget’s muted changes in that area.

‘‘Over time, I think taxes will have to rise, even if we do tick some boxes on the growth front,’’ she says.

‘‘It’s inevitable that as government has increased as a share of the economy, that there will have to be an increase in taxes to pay for that. That has to be done carefully. What we shouldn’t do is just rely on income tax to do all the heavy lifting, which is what we’ve done historically.’’

LUCY DEAN

Households

Those earning up to $126,000 will be eligible for an additional one-off $420 that will be paid when their 2022 tax return is lodged. There’s also a one-off cost of living payment of $250 to eligible income support recipients and certain concession cardholders. Fuel excise (a federal tax imposed on each litre of petrol) will be halved, intended to reduce the cost of fuel by 22¢ a litre. In addition, costs of taking a COVID-19 test to attend work are tax deductible from July 1.SI

DUNCAN HUGHES

What It Means For Your Money2023-04-21T14:15:56+10:00