Google pays Australian government AU$481m to settle tax dispute

The country's taxation office touts the multimillion-dollar payment as an 'e-commerce victory'.

The Australian Taxation Office (ATO) has announced settling a multimillion-dollar tax dispute with search engine giant Google.

The US-based company has made a payment of AU$481.5 million on top of previous tax payments.

"They join the likes of Microsoft, Apple, and Facebook who have all publicly stated that they have settled their tax affairs with the ATO and we welcome their transparency," the ATO said in announcing its victory.

See also: Microsoft Australia makes AU$43m profit after settling AU$39m ATO bill

According to the taxation office, the payment from Google brings the "increased collections made against taxpayers in the e-commerce industry" to around AU$1.25 billion.

"Thanks to the efforts of our ATO officers under the Tax Avoidance Taskforce and the introduction of the Multinational Anti-Avoidance Law (MAAL), Australian sourced sales by these digital giants will now be returned to Australia's tax base," the ATO wrote.

Under the MAAL, companies operating with an annual global income of more than AU$1 billion in Australia are required to lodge their general purpose financial statements to the ATO if they are not already doing so with the Australian Securities and Investments Commission.

Essentially, multinational companies found to be avoiding tax have to pay back the tax owed, plus a 100% penalty.

"The operation of the MAAL has already seen AU$7 billion in taxable sales being returned to Australia," the ATO touted on Wednesday. "That's AU$7 billion in sales booked, and the appropriate profit of these activities taxed, in Australia for the first time and locked in for the future."

The ATO said it has also led to the resolution of cases which had over AU$1 billon in back-tax assessments.

"This settlement is another great outcome for the Australian Tax System," Deputy Commissioner Mark Konza said.

"It adds to the significant success of the ATO in positively changing the behaviour of digital taxpayers and significantly increasing the tax they pay in Australia.

"The extension of the Taskforce until 2023 will ensure that the ATO is able to continue to pursue these issues and provide assurance to the community that we are doing everything in our power to protect Australia's tax base."

The announcement follows a report from the ATO last week that showed of the world's largest global tech firms that operate in Australia have continued to abide with the country's tax laws, coughing up their share of payable tax during the 2017-18 financial year.

The ATO indicated the local arms of Google, Apple, Microsoft, Samsung Electronics, Facebook, Amazon Web Services Australia, and Huawei Australia all paid an effective tax rate of around 30%.

The tech multinationals that continued to be repeat offenders, however, in not paying a single cent in tax to the ATO during the 2017-18 financial year were SAP Australia and DXC Technology Australia, despite having in excess of of AU$1 billion in revenue.

NEC Australia also had zero taxable income, despite its revenue reaching AU$436 million. 

IBM with a taxable income of AU$22.9 million and Dimension Data Australia with taxable income of AU$876,000 during the 2017-18 financial year also paid no tax. 

ATO deputy commissioner Rebecca Saint acknowledged that since the introduction of the MAAL, the tax agency has seen an uptick in companies paying their share of tax, but also firmly warned that the ATO would target those companies that paid no tax.

"The positive trend we are now observing is that many companies have ceased generating accounting losses and are now offsetting profits by utilising losses from prior years. We expect many companies to exhaust these losses and begin paying income tax in the coming years," she said.

"However, companies that consistently report sustained losses do raise a red flag … We take firm action where we see tax avoidance. There will be no lessening of our efforts to hold multinationals to account."

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