Former Labor treasurer says miner ‘gamed the system’ by using aggressive transfer pricing to smuggle profits out of Australia
BHP Billiton has been hit with a $522 million tax bill that could rise well beyond that over the use of its Singapore office to shift profits.
THE mining giant, Australia’s largest taxpayer and company by market value, has vowed to contest the Tax Office’s bill even though investigations into the alleged use of BHP’s Singapore marketing hub are continuing.
The Tax Office has completed a look at the early years of the hub’s operations but is still auditing BHP’s profits over the past six years, which included record earnings between 2011 and 2013 as the iron ore price soared. The bill so far includes $221 million in interest and penalties for tax avoidance. It also emerged on Monday that while BHP did pay Australia taxes on profits out of its Singapore marketing hub, it was at roughly half the Australian corporate tax rate of 30 per cent. The revelations came when BHP responded to questions from a Senate inquiry into corporate tax avoidance – made under threat of being in contempt after not answering for “commercial sensitivity” reasons at a public hearing. The ATO has accused BHP and other miners of misusing transfer pricing – selling commodities such as iron ore to its own companies at a low price – to shift profits to low tax havens, costing Australia billions in revenue. BHP’s profits in its Singapore marketing hub were $US5.7 billion between 2006 and 2014. It paid $A945 million tax in Australia on that amount and $US121,000 in Singapore – the latter tax rate effectively zero. The ATO’s dispute with BHP also relates to the Singapore hub being 58 per cent owned by BHP in Australia and 42 per cent by its UK listing, with the latter paying no Australian tax. Rival miner Rio Tinto paid more than $100 million to settle a tax bill related to its Singapore hub, tax commissioner Chris Jordan revealed at the inquiry last week. BHP defended its use of transfer pricing, saying it believed its actions were proper, commodity sales to the Singapore hub were at arms length and within OECD principles. It said the Singapore government had given BHP a tax incentive for its contribution to that country’s commodities sector, with Asia representing 65 per cent of its sales. Australia needed other countries to cooperate to make it easier to stop the flow of funds to low-tax jurisdictions, Deakin University lecturer and tax specialist Dr Adrian Raftery said. But countries such as Ireland and Singapore were prepared to lose on tax revenue but benefit economically in terms of employment and infrastructure. “A systematic approach has got to occur, leadership has got to come from other big nations, the US and UK,” he told AAP. BHP also revealed that it spent $8.5 million on the 2010 media campaign opposing the Rudd Government’s mining tax. It did not disclose to the Australian Electoral Commission at the time that it gave $4.25 million to the Minerals Council of Australia, which made its own filing.