Multinationals cry foul at budget's corporate tax changes
Multinational oil and gas company BP has described the 2012 budget as a "missed opportunity" for tax reform and said some of the tax changes announced were at odds with a pro-growth agenda.
BP's comments were indicative of the mood across the business sector in the wake of Tuesday's budget, which imposed several tax increases on multinationals, the resources sector and companies hiring foreign workers.
Multinationals were targeted by tighter "thin capitalisation" rules, which will effectively reduce the size of tax deductions available to big companies using disproportionate amounts of debt to fund their Australian projects.
The changes will affect the big banks as well as multinational oil and gas companies operating in Australia, with Chevron and BP considered to be most affected by the rule.
While he played down the impact of the changes, a BP spokesman said changes to thin capitalisation rules would not help Australian resources projects come to fruition. "Regarding the specific measure of changes to thin capitalisation rules, we do not believe these will have a significant impact on investment. However, restricting options for funding projects is not aligned to a pro-growth agenda," he said.
"BP believes that there is a need for a national conversation on the whole tax system, not just business tax, and would agree with commentators who are suggesting that the budget is a missed opportunity to commit to genuine long-term tax reform aligned to the principles of the Henry tax review."
Deloitte international tax partner Peter Madden warned that companies trying to grow overseas would also be affected by the change, calling it a "backward step".
Thin capitalisation was one of several corporate tax changes expected to deliver a total of $4.2 billion of savings to the budget over four years.
The budget also revealed a clampdown on tax deductions for Australian-based offshore banking units. The units are designed to help Australian banks win business in overseas markets and have delivered multimillion-dollar tax breaks to the big four banks and Macquarie group.
Australian Bankers Association spokesman Steven Munchenberg said the changes appeared to go beyond what was necessary to protect the integrity of the tax system, and he urged the government not to hamper Australian banks' bid to win a share of the growing Asian market.