'A fiscal termite eating away at the foundations of our corporate tax system'

Labor MP for Lilley and former Treasurer Wayne Swan, poses for a portrait in his office at Parliament House in Canberra on Thursday 30 March 2017. fedpol Photo: Alex Ellinghausen
Labor MP for Lilley and former Treasurer Wayne Swan, poses for a portrait in his office at Parliament House in Canberra on Thursday 30 March 2017. fedpol Photo: Alex Ellinghausen
Labor MP for Lilley and former Treasurer Wayne Swan, poses for a portrait in his office at Parliament House in Canberra on Thursday 30 March 2017. fedpol Photo: Alex Ellinghausen

Labor MP for Lilley and former Treasurer Wayne Swan, poses for a portrait in his office at Parliament House in Canberra on Thursday 30 March 2017. fedpol Photo: Alex Ellinghausen

Former treasurer Wayne Swan has launched another extraordinary attack on mining giant BHP, labelling it Australia's "worst tax dodger" and linking a million dollar bonus to the company's CEO to his success at minimising tax.

Under the cover of parliamentary privilege, Mr Swan called BHP "a fiscal termite eating away at the foundations of our corporate tax system" and rubbished the company's claims to be a global leader in tax transparency and corporate responsibility.

The world's biggest miner has been in a long-running dispute with the Australian Tax Office over assessments spanning 11 years that total $661 million in primary tax, plus interest and penalties that take it to more than $1 billion. Under dispute is the margin on mark-ups on commodities sold to its Singapore marketing business, which many argue is a ploy to avoid tax in Australia.

BHP strongly denies this accusation.

But Mr Swan said the BHP dispute accounted for a quarter of the ATO's total $4 billion total corporate tax disputes, and accused the company of "pillaging the Australian Treasury and short-changing the Australian people, pure and simple".

The backbench Labor MP - who clashed with the resources sector over his failed mining tax - also took aim at the company's "self-righteous" leadership, claiming chief executive Andrew Mackenzie's latest million dollar bonus was linked to tax evasion. Tax representation is listed as one of Mr Mackenzie's performance indicators in the company's 2017 annual report.

"In essence, BHP's board have awarded their CEO a million dollar bonus for a billion dollars avoided in tax," Mr Swan said.

"A million dollar bonus for organising aggressive tax minimisation through a tax haven resulting in one of the largest tax disputes in Australian history. A million dollar bonus for enhancing transparency and tax reputation when the company's current tax affairs can only be described as a high farce."

BHP declined to comment on Mr Swan's speech but a company source dismissed his claims around executive remuneration as ridiculous.

In its latest economic contribution report the company described its dispute with the ATO as "complex".

"BHP does not agree with the ATO's position. Consequently, we have objected to all of the amended assessments and intend to continue to defend our position, including by initiating court action if necessary," it said.

BHP said it has paid $66 billion in taxes and royalties to Australian governments in the past decade.

It paid a corporate effective tax rate of 34.5 per cent in 2017, higher than the general corporate rate of 30 per cent. Once royalties are included, the rate increases to 46 per cent.

Mr Swan made the claims during a debate on the government's next tranche of company tax cuts, which he said was part of the "toxic foreign import" of trickle-down economics.

This story 'A fiscal termite eating away at the foundations of our corporate tax system' first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.