Apple under scrutiny in Labor's tax loophole crackdown proposal

A new proposal by the Australian Labor Party to outlaw tax loopholes and ramp up the Australian Taxation Office's resources to police tax avoidance could see some of the largest technology companies operating in Australia come under increased scrutiny.

Large international tech companies operating in Australia such as Apple and Google could come under increased fire over their local tax treatment under a new proposal by the federal Labor Party to clamp down on loopholes.

In what Shadow Treasurer Chris Bowen described as an "opening salvo in the battle of ideas", Labor's first major policy announcement in opposition is to introduce a range of measures to stop billions of dollars of tax from bleeding offshore.

"This announcement today sets a blueprint for Labor's approach in office," Bowen told reporters in Canberra on Monday.

The federal opposition's tax package, which has been costed by the independent Parliamentary Budget Office, is worth AU$1.9 billion over four years in additional revenue.

It includes tightening of the so-called "thin capitalisation" rules, which allow companies to offset profits against debt servicing costs in high-tax jurisdictions such as Australia to reduce their taxable income.

This approach also draws on the OECD's global action plans for countering base erosion and profit shifting, according to Labor.

A joint statement by Opposition Leader Bill Shorten, Bowen, and Shadow Assistant Treasurer Andrew Leigh referred to "one of the largest companies in the world", which paid AU$80 million in Australian tax on local revenue of just over AU$6 billion.

Although the offices of the statement's co-authors did not name the company in question, a Labor case study informing the new proposal cites the figures of Apple's Australian operation, which paid AU$80.3 million in Australian tax during the financial year ending 2014, from local revenue of more than AU$6 billion.

By comparison, the joint statement said, local retailer Harvey Norman paid more tax -- AU$89 million -- on a quarter of the revenue.

"How much tax you pay shouldn't depend upon how much you can afford to pay your tax lawyer and specialist accountants," Shorten said at the official policy launch. "Why should James Hardie get a tax advantage over James the plumber?"

However, big business is concerned that federal Labor's plan to close multinational tax loopholes will slow economic growth. Prime Minister Tony Abbott reminded parliament of Labor's record on tax in government.

"There were some 100 measures that had been proposed but not implemented," Abbott said in Monday's question time.

Despite Labor's accusations that the Coalition has not done enough to clamp down on corporate tax avoidance, the subject has been a major focus of federal Treasurer Joe Hockey.

In November, Hockey called tax cheats "thieves" in the lead up to Brisbane's G20 summit, saying it requires a global effort to combat companies evading tax."They're stealing from us and our community," he told the Nine Network. "The only way we can address this is through global action.

"We can have all the measures we want in Australia, but there will still be ways they can try and reduce, significantly reduce, or even evade their tax obligations in Australia," he said at the time.

In October, the Australian Senate voted in favour of a motion put forward by Greens party leader Senator Christine Milne to launch an inquiry into corporate tax avoidance.

Milne suggested at the time that by pulling up some of the largest businesses operating in Australia on their domestic tax commitments, the government could plug its revenue shortfall without removing funding from social services.

The inquiry is being carried out by the Senate Economic References Committee, and is expected to provide its report by the first sitting day in June 2015.

With AAP