Global firms' Aussie tax bills in spotlight

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Global firms' Aussie tax bills in spotlight

Multinationals operating in Australia may be forced to open the books and reveal exactly how they calculate their local tax bills, with the Federal Government setting its sights on companies engaged in so-called transfer pricing.

One of the government's first moves would be to facilitate easier sharing of financial information between relevant government departments and regulatory bodies.

The call-to-action follows revelations last week consumer giant Apple paid only $40 million in tax last year despite achieving record revenues of $6 billion.

Apple attempted to defend the low tax bill, pointing to an almost 40 percent fall in net profit to $58.5 million. Globally, Apple reported first quarter revenue of $51.6 billion with net income of $12.54 billion.

Assistant Treasurer David Bradbury said Apple's figures highlighted the problem of transfer-pricing; a growing practise amongst multinationals whereby charges and resources are re-allocated to other areas of the business to minimise exposure to higher-taxing countries such as Australia.

Last year, Bradbury announced a specialist reference group to address the tax minimisation strategies of multinational enterprises. 

"Large multinational companies that use complex arrangements and contrived corporate structures to avoid paying their fair share of tax should not be able to hide behind a veil of secrecy," Bradbury said in a statement.

Breaking down silos

The Government said it would look at ways of sharing financial information between the ATO, Foreign Investment Review Board, the Australian Securities and Investments Commission and the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority.

The group will address the need for regulation and government policies to govern the Australian financial practices of multi-national corporations, while considering a threshold test to determine what tax information should be made public and how.

The specialist group will meet in late February. Bradbury said legislative changes later this year were possible. 

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