Apple Australia’s tiny tax bill “staggering”: Husic



blog If you were reading Delimiter yesterday instead of enjoying your well-earned public holiday rest break (spare a thought for those of us who were slogging away over a hot iMac), you will have caught the news that Apple released its Australian financial results late last week. They show the company continues to pull incredible amounts of revenues out of Australia ($6 billion last year) but continues to pay only minimal amounts of tax ($40 million last year). Well, crusading Labor MP Ed Husic isn’t happy with the situation, as he tells the Financial Review this morning (we recommend you click here for the full article):

“It’s simply staggering to see Apple make more money but manage to pay less tax in Australia,” he said. “When you consider the massive overcharging that has occurred with some of their products, it seems both Australian consumers and taxpayers are shouldering a heavy load to fund Apple’s bottom line.”

We agree. Apple made more than a billion dollars more revenue from Australia over the year to the end of September 2012, but it paid (according to its financial statements) about $54 million less tax. The amount of profit Apple discloses in Australia is significantly less as a proportion of revenue than the profit it discloses in its home country of the US, and we’d love to see the Australian Taxation Office investigate this situation. It appears that this is precisely the kind of situation Australia’s new transfer pricing legislation is designed for. We hope to see Apple paying more Australian tax on its gargantuan Australian revenue in 2013.


        • It is hard to change law without support for that change.

          So it is understandable for him to talk a lot about it, as he has to drum up support. But ultimately, actions speak a lot louder than words.

          Let’s see some action.

        • The first step in changing such laws would to bring it into public awareness….. enter Husic.

          If more people got upset that a company was paying tax rate of less than 1% of net revenue.

          No doubt that there are still benefits of the such companies having a presence in Australia, ie employment, however I believe there is a case to say that the laws should change to charge a fair level of tax on these multi-billion dollar companies.

          • Little perspective here. Tax of 1% of net revenue isnt uncommon. Would it surprise you that Woolies pays around that?

            Woolies net revenue for 2012 FY was $57b, with a net profit of $1.8b. Tax of 30% of that is $540m, or less than 1% of net revenue.

            Its a number tossed out there to make the problem seem worse than it is. Tax is on profit, NOT revenue, and the difference between the two can be huge. Usually is actually.

            The low percentages are often financial FUD, and cause just as many problems as any other sort of FUD.

          • That supermarket example isn’t exactly comparing apples with Apples. Technology companies have very different business models and easily run higher profit margins than supermarkets.

          • Gongav,

            I admittedly have made a few assumptions based on a spattering of reports on similar topics, the foremost being that the corporations paying such taxes is not a new phenomenon, but rather the big end of town habitually employ tactics to drastically minimize their tax obligations. Now I understand that this is their right, and no matter what system is in place, I understand they will continue to do so. However if companies are able to continually pay an effective tax rate of 1% of revenue their is something wrong.

            Sure there will be exceptions where 1% would be ok, such as the company shifting revenues to minimise tax for a given period, or if there was a large write off of assets or extreme capital expenditure… and so on. But these companies are generating massive amounts of wealth, little of which remains in Australia, and are singing all the way to the bank.

            I also acknowledge your point of gross revenues being a poor measure to make judgement calls on amount of tax paid. Not trying to use that figure as FUD, probably more so laziness. It does not provide a whole picture, but does make discussing the problems in corporate tax laws a little easier for the lay person….. me.

          • Thats fine jasmcd. I’m trying to point out that they arent paying 1% tax.

            Its FUD to throw gross revenue in to make a point about taxation, and thats whats happening. Again, (to use rounded numbers) it would be like saying Woolies only pays $500m out of $50b. Woolies doesnt make $50b profit, they make $2b.

            Apple had $6b in turnover, not $6b in profit. There is a HUGE difference. It doesnt change the problem, but it does try to show the problem isnt as significant as Husic is trying to make it.

            $40m in tax means about $120m in profit. Out of $6b turnover, thats not out of the realms of possibility. Its not likely (definitely not likely), but its not impossible. Woolies is in that ballpark.

          • “Its FUD to throw gross revenue in to make a point about taxation,”

            Not really, because it’s one of the few metrics you can use. Sure, it would be more useful to know what their profits are… but that’s exactly what they are likely to be obfuscating!

          • “it’s one of the few metrics you can use” — true NPSF3000, but again, it artificially inflates the problem. Turnover and profit are two VERY different metrics and are generally VERY far apart.

            No business (at least in that magnitude) has zero costs, so there is quite a big amount of that turnover that instantly disappears as costs. After that, its usually a lot closer to what the final profit is going to be.

            So lets break Apple down a little. $700 for an iPad on the shelf. $600 to Apple USA instantly (import costs, etc), leaving $100 for the local store to pay the staff, electricity, advertising, etc etc. Leaving about $20 profit. Out of a $700 price tag. The tax on that $20 is about $6. Or around 1% of the price tag.

            If the numbers are off, its not by a huge amount. Even if they made $100 profit, they’d still only be paying around 4-5% of the retail price as tax which would still be used to make the same point.

            I’m not saying there isnt a problem, there is. I’m saying the numbers being thrown out there are ALWAYS going to make this problem seem incredibly bad when in reality its not as bad as it seems.

            The main money going overseas is the initial kick for the product, which gets sourced through the parent company. And that’s usually going to be the case. The product isnt made here, so that hefty initial cost is going to become profit somewhere else.

          • The issue is the US Apple selling it to AU Apple for 600 when they are essentially the same company, and the structure only exists to dodge Australian and other nations Taxes.

          • It’s still money that’s leaving the country. It’s not like Apple has a large operation here like Woolies do, almost all their revenue goes into the US economy.

  1. Ed Husic has to sell the notion of increasing commercial and business taxes, whilst the rest of the world (and we to a lesser extent) continue to grapple with the impact of the Financial Crisis.

    Good luck with that Ed, I’m pretty sure the Coalition will be enthusiastic supporters of that.

    And this is why it’s a lot of hot-air and posturing. No-one can sell tax changes of the sort required to supposedly fix this.

  2. Renai,

    The ATO can’t make the company pay more, if it’s already complying with the current Tax laws; that would require legislation changes.

    Ed is spouting off, yet I don’t see any legislation. Why is that, Ed?

  3. At the end of the day, these companies are following the law. Is it morally wrong to follow the law? Morally wrong to maximise the return to your shareholders?

    There are loopholes in play here that are being exploited by some of the largest companies in the world. They are also exploited by much smaller companies as well, companies that would fold if the loopholes are closed. Is it morally wrong to force them out of business, just to make the big companies find another loophole?

    Its not an easy thing to solve. I dont like whats going on, but there are no laws being broken.

    Having said that, the Netherlands are apparently looking into how they can close their part of the loophole. It wont stop things completely, but it will make them pay more than they are.

  4. To all those who claim Apple is following the law here, I would point you to the following paragraphs from our story yesterday. In this vein, I suggest that the law in this area is being changed to tackle this kind of issue and that I hope the ATO enforces the new rules strictly.

    The Government has announced measures specifically designed to tackle the issue of Australian subsidiaries such as Apple Australia from dealing unfairly with their US parents – such as in the financial accounting of the cost of goods imported by the local subsidiary but manufactured overseas by its global parent.

    Last year, Communications Minister Stephen Conroy said in a said new so-called ‘transfer pricing’ legislation would be introduced by the Federal Government shortly to deal with this kind of behaviour by multinationals operating in Australia. The text of the Tax Laws Amendment (Cross-Border Transfer Pricing) Bill (No. 1) 2012 (PDF here) states that the object of the legislation is to ensure that profits would be brought within reach of the Australian taxation system which would have accrued to an Australian entity if it had not been dealing at proper arm’s length terms with its foreign associated entity.

    In addition, a statement by Assistant Treasurer Bill Shorten in November last year stated: “Transfer pricing refers to the prices charged when one part of a multinational group buys or sells products or services from another part of the same group in a different country. The prices charged will impact their level of profits, and therefore the amount of tax they have to pay, in the respective countries. These rules require multinational firms to price intra-group goods and services to properly reflect the economic contribution of their Australian operations.”

    • What they’re doing isnt always transfer pricing Renai. When you sign an agreement with Google for example, its not with Google Australia, but with Google Ireland. So no transfer pricing.

      For Apple, I’m not quite sure how it works, but I expect its transfer pricing as you’re buying real products, not services. These tricks have been going on for decades, and its only because the global economy is struggling that its getting headlines today.

      As for the ATO, make no mistake, if it becomes illegal, they will investigate. But its not illegal yet and at the end of the day, there are still other loopholes out there to be used, which these companies pay a LOT of money to find.

      What happens if they bounce the money through NZ for example? We have some specific tax breaks when dealing with them, and THEY might not put anything in place for transfer pricing. Then the money just goes back into the same process, only with 1 extra step.

      • Google Australia is a sales agent for Google Ireland, and are “paid” commissions by the Irish entity on sales made. Because no physical goods are moved, it’s easy to do this (and avoid virtually all local taxation).

        Apple has to move physical products for (about half?) its revenues, and thus is open to a lot more scrutiny with regards to taxation on import of goods, which shows in the tax bill each paid at the end of the day; $74,000 for Google, $34,000,000 for Apple. Still peanuts on both companies revenues of $1bn and $6bn respectively.

        As far as I am aware the new bill is designed to tackle both the ‘import’ of services and physical goods, but it will also be required to tackle royalties and other licensing fees* to really make sure the dollars raised in Australia are taxed in Australia.

        * Big name brands charge local operations a fee to be the “licensed” brand operator in a country (despite often owning 100% of the shares in a local operation) then charge a percentage royalty on all revenues earned under that brand in the local market. The license and royalty payments usually go to offshored holding companies registered in tax havens such as the Cayman islands. For more information, read about the Double Irish

        • Better explanation than mine, thanks Dan. I might debate a couple of finer points, but there’s nothing to be gained – good summary.

          I was also pointing out that if they try to do something, then they need to be closing other loopholes down as well. And that will include a lot of our fair trade arrangements with New Zealand.

          This is how these loopholes operate. We can shut down transfer pricing issues between here and. say. Ireland, but our separate agreements with New Zealand still allow those loopholes to exist. Their economy is inextricably tied to ours, so most of their companies are treated the same as Australian companies.

          So buy something from Apple Australia, who “internally” transfers gross profit to New Zealand where their laws take over, the effect may be the same as the double irish arrangement.

          They just need to move it from NZ to Ireland from that point.

          This is what I was getting at earlier. These laws cant just be shut down with a change in legislation, there are foreign tax agreements to consider, mutual beneficiary clauses in place, and things like that. And all these companies need to do is get the money out of Australia.

          You simply shut this down, NZ does likewise with specific clauses that benefit us, and we lose out in other ways. Devil is in the details.

          Husic talks a good talk, and I agree something needs to be done, but its not a simple issue. If it was, it would have been blocked decades ago.

          • Another simpler point which is probably running contradictory to my former contribution but when thinking about it, with the difficulty you indicated in closing these loopholes, the years that would be spent closing new loopholes and possible legal battles would probably be all for naught. If the tax was increased, it would in all likelihood be passed to the consumer as an increased cost in goods/services.

            Corporations do like making money.

          • “Corporations do like making money.” — hehe, true dat.

            Strangely enough though, these loopholes do actually impact on these businesses.

            Its well known that Apple has truckloads of cash sitting in the bank. What isnt as well known is that a good amount of it is sitting in the bank because they cant move it back into the US without it becoming taxable. And hence negating the reason it went through the cycle in the first place.

            They are pushing really strongly for an amnesty so they can offload some $40b in dividends. I’m sure they are a little anxious about so much cash being tied up in a small country who’s economy could go belly up at any time…

          • IMO there is no way to ‘fix’ the loopholes in the tax laws related to foreign entities operating in Australia (or any other country for that matter) without rescinding the mutual understanding of the treatment of foreign entities for taxation purposes, an epic world-wide agreement that is too hard to decipher let alone understand without degrees in law, economics and foreign affairs. The whole problem is that while one Government is playing whack-a-mole trying to keep the taxes on revenues raised in-country, another government is opening the doors to exploitation just to take their undeserved taxes at a lower rate. It’s called a race to the bottom, and the only winners are the 1% wealth owners of the world and their lawyers/accountants.

            You fix the ‘problem’ by pulling out of the mutual understanding and instead dealing with each country on a unilateral basis, or a bloc of countries (e.g. ASEAN) on a multi-lateral basis, with any unilateral agreement overriding any multilateral agreement.

            But that would be too hard, don’t you know the Government has got real work to do, like stopping the boats!

          • GongGav, we already have tax laws regarding using structures to move revenue through countries with tax agreements, essentially if it only exists to avoid tax its considered to be dodging tax and thusly illegal. The trouble is we (Australia) are slow to move on it.

    • Where is the article?

      Home page of Delimiter;

      Apple Australia’s tiny tax bill “staggering”: Husic – Tuesday, January 29, 2013 12:42 – 14 Comments
      An Inside Look at How Groupon Does Support [sponsored post] – Tuesday, January 29, 2013 11:51 – 0 Comments
      Slow progress: NBN Co releases Dec 2012 stats – Tuesday, January 29, 2013 11:11 – 99 Comments
      NBN Co offers $108 bounty on new customers – Monday, January 28, 2013 11:30 – 100 Comments
      A great Aussie virtual desktop case study – Friday, January 25, 2013 14:23 – 7 Comments

  5. There are 2 issues here.

    1 is the market price of the devices. Essentially the market has failed to regulate the price of the apple devices. IE competition is not strong enough on its own to bring the price down.

    2 is the Tax being paid. Legal but dubious practices are allowing them to get away with paying lower taxes than they should be based on the profit earned.

    What are the solutions?

    Consumer Knowledge – beware the goodwill of the consumer?
    More Competition – Can you compete against a closed environment, that is inherently monopolistic?
    Regulation and Laws – Where do you draw the line?

    In this case, I beleive the loopholes need to be closed. In addition I would like to see a generic system in which companies that are profiting within Australia, that are also shutting down any potential competitive streams (For example Parrallel imports, personal imports, etc etc) are punished significantly enough to prevent them doing so again.

  6. Lets get some randomly related figures.

    $6 bn revenue in Australia by Apple.
    22,902,618 population (AU census estimates).
    $261.98 per person on average revenue, in AU$.

    $54 bn in revenue in US by Apple.
    315,235,260 population (US census estimates).
    $171.30 per person on average revenue, in US$.

    Considering the exchange rate on average for the 12 months, has been a little higher than parity. Well, let’s ignore the exchange rates, as an average wouldn’t be very accurate anyhow.

    And we can say, Apple made 52% more per person in Australia than in the US.

    Now I know that Australian’s love tech, and we had a super strong economy that allowed us to spend more money this last year, but 52% more?

      • Well, we’re going to give Tony Abbot the gong for PM later this year, thus proving how stupid we are as a country. No surprises then that Apple does so well.

  7. Are they technically breaking any existing law? Given that they will be spending tens, possibly hundreds of millions on legal fees to the world’s top legal minds to ensure they skate as close as possible to the boundaries of law without actually crossing it, it is doubtful they are actually breaking any laws. But consider the likelihood of a standalone company operating with turnover of 6 billion and net profits of just 100 million, an after-tax return of around 1% of turnover- if it was a publicly listed company its stock price would be plummeting through the floor. The only way this works as a strategy is as part of a multinational tax avoidance scheme… And as far as I’m aware, tax avoidance is illegal. Tax minimisation isn’t, but individuals and small companies operating accounts in offshore tax havens are pursued and prosecuted by the ATO – the only reason Apple et al get away with it is due to their size, being able to legitimately claim their extraterritorial operations are legitimate operating entities (where most small tax-haven avoidance schemes fail).

    The end result is companies like this are bleeding huge volumes of cash out of the Australian economy, money that would otherwise be assessable and taxable as income and thereby dramatically reducing government funding (as thus what can be distributed back to public works, infrastructure, welfare etc through the budget). The Govt (and ATO’s) efforts would be better spent pursuing corporations like this to pay their share of tax than 95% of income tax paying individuals…

    • There are no laws being broken here, technically or otherwise. If there was, they wouldnt be getting away with it. They are utilising loopholes in European laws to basically move their money to Bermuda, and in the process reduce the tax they pay on the profits to effectively zero.

      Company tax in Ireland is very low. They move the money there (legally), then move it to the Netherlands (legally) to activate another loophole, then move it back to Ireland (legally) to complete the cycle. That last company is based in Bermuda, and the whole process means the profit ends there, without activating any tax along the way.

      Its all with how the tax laws are worded in Ireland and the Netherlands, which creates a situation that lets the money be legally siphoned.

      The hard part is getting as much of the initial profit into Ireland as they can. After that, its European laws that create the real problem.

      • What you are describing is the textbook description of Tax Avoidance if only done to avoid tax.

  8. “Crusading Labor MP Ed Husic” had better start doing his bit to get rid of loopholes in tax law if he’s annoyed.

  9. Governments all over are starting to kick up a fuss about this. UK is rather upset with Starbucks, Google and Amazon where those companies are raking it in and paying little to no tax.

    (In Starbucks case, staff are paid so little the UK government is actually topping them up, in effect UK is paying Starbucks to take money out of the country).

    Fair’s fair I think, tax loopholes and, “But my HQ isn’t in your country” doesn’t wash it anymore.

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