Letter to the editor - ABC coverage of national tax reform debate

15 February 2018

ABC coverage published on 15 February 2018.

Dear Ms Guthrie, 

I am writing to express my extreme concerns with the ABC's coverage on 14 February 2018 of the national tax reform debate which levels serious allegations against several members of the Business Council of Australia.

Emma Alberici's story -'Tax-free billions: Australia's largest companies haven't paid corporate tax in 10 years' - is not only grossly inaccurate and unbalanced, it implies these reputable Australian companies have broken the law.

For some extraordinary reason, Ms Alberici targets BHP and Rio Tinto, who are some of Australia's biggest taxpayers. For example, BHP and Rio Tinto each paid over $1 billion of company tax in 2015-16. Indeed, as the article notes, BHP paid over $66 billion of company tax and royalties over the past 11 years.

The Business Council has been vocal in the national debate on lowering the company tax rate and is strongly advocating for reform. 

As the organisation representing Australian businesses, it is extremely irresponsible that we were not approached for input or comment on this story.

Ms Alberici sent me a text message in early January when I was on annual leave.

My team contacted Ms Alberici on my behalf but she did not respond.

Had the Business Council been properly contacted about this story, I would have explained that the Commissioner of Taxation Chris Jordan made clear last year that tax compliance in Australia is "around global best practice and many countries aspire to this level of compliance".

When this data was released last year, deputy commissioner Jeremy Hirschhorn said, "Australia has one of the strongest corporate tax systems in the world".

The leading companies under attack in Ms Alberici's report employ thousands of Australian workers, pay taxes, pay dividends, make other contributions, and invest heavily in the Australian economy.

Equally, Business Council member companies provided material information to Ms Alberici but it was not included in the story.

Despite our members providing detailed  and important context to Ms Alberici, much of this was ignored in order to give the impression that business was somehow acting in bad faith. This is despite the very same member companies being mentioned in the story multiple times.

Nationwide, business provides 5 out of every 6 jobs, the private sector is responsible for 80 per cent of Australia's economic output, and paid $71 billion of company tax in 2016-17.

Companies pay tax on profit; the alternative would be a system which punished struggling companies or those growing - both of which employ thousands of Australians.

A business which isn't making a profit still employs workers, supports smaller suppliers and breathes life into local economies.

Businesses make investment decisions on a range of factors - of course the headline statutory rate is one of them.

I would also have pointed out that Business Council member companies paid over $23 billion of company tax in 2015-16.

Australians expect better from their national broadcaster than one-sided and mischievously misleading reports about dated information during a debate of national importance.

The ATO's Commissioner Chris Jordan made the following point about how dated the information was in his statement yesterday: 

"While information included in the corporate tax transparency report may be new to the community, it's not new to the ATO."

In the interests of balance on this significant issue, I am requesting a right of reply. I would like the ABC to publish online an opinion piece from me at a time of your convenience.

Yours sincerely,
Jennifer A. Westacott
Chief Executive


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