Tech giants in crosshairs as Aussie govt redoubles tax chase

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Tech giants in crosshairs as Aussie govt redoubles tax chase

ATO powers beefed up.

The federal government has marked corporate tax avoiders as public enemy number one in its 2016 budget, with global tech giants likely to feel the heat from new measures designed to combat tax minimisation.

Treasurer Scott Morrison used his first budget speech to warn multinationals the government was increasing its efforts to make sure "everyone pays the tax they should on what they earn in Australia, not avoid tax by shifting profits offshore".

Global technology companies like Apple and Google have attracted unwanted attention for complex profit shifting structures designed to minimise what they pay in relatively high-taxing jurisdictions like Australia.

Morrison said Australia could recoup billions of dollars over the next four years by ensuring the nation isn't being sold short on revenue generated by global businesses.

The budget unveils new tax measures designed to better equip the tax office to go after global businesses who aren't paying their fair share.

It will introduce a UK-style diverted profits tax which will penalise multinationals found to be shifting income offshore with a boosted rate of 40 percent. 

The ATO will target firms with global revenues above $1 billion who appear to be paying less than 80 percent of the tax they would otherwise owe in Australia in their offshore destination, and where the Aussie tax man says it is "reasonable to conclude" its corporate structure has been designed to secure a tax cut.

Companies booking less than $25 million a year in Australia will be exempt, unless that revenue is being artificially shifted offshore, budget papers state.

The scheme is forecast to inject $200 million back into government revenue by 2020.

The budget will also multiply hundredfold the amount the ATO can fine multinationals who fail to meet their tax reporting obligations in Australia, to a maximum of $450,000.

The new powers come backed by a small army of more than 1000 tax office staff that will make up a dedicated taskforce assigned to chase down multinational tax dodgers. 

The new accounting team will cost an extra $679 million over four years, but the government insists it will be able to dig up $3.7 billion in lost revenue over the same period.

The government also introduced new protections for whistleblowers who offer up information about corporate tax avoidance in Australia that will come into effect in July 2018.

"Everyone has to pay their fair share of tax," the treasurer said.

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