Thursday, May 22, 2008

Luxury cars: "perfectly legal, elegant tax avoidance"

Get a load of the front page of today's Age:

Here's a close-up of the text of the ad:

... which was placed right below Nassim Khadem's story "Luxury car owners to be targeted in new crackdown on tax evasion"

The same thing happened in the Sydney Morning Herald with Jessica Irvine's story.

I understand that the ads had been pre-booked and the placement was a un/helpful coincidence.

My story on the front page of this morning's Canberra Times (not placed next to a related ad) is below the fold.

Luxury car owners, already reeling from a Budget which will lift the rate of tax they pay on buying their cars by one third, are about to be hit something worse – special attention from the Tax Office.

The Tax Office yesterday gave notice in the Commonwealth Gazette that it would ask each state and territory motor registration office to supply it with the names, addresses, phone numbers and dates of birth of each Australian who has bought or sold a luxury car between July 2005 and July 2007.

The Tax Office defines a luxury car as any vehicle bought or sold for more than $57,000 – the current luxury car tax threshold.

It is a definition that at odds with that used by the Coalition Treasury Spokesman Malcolm Turnbull who told the National Press Club yesterday that “the vast bulk of the cars sold in that $57,000 and more category are not regarded as particularly luxurious.”

The tax increase on cars above that price level “should be called a Tarago tax,” he said.

“It is not a tax on people of high incomes."

But the Tax Office said yesterday that its luxury car program would identify “those earning high incomes” who accumulated assets.

“The intention of the Luxury Vehicle Data Matching Project is to trace both high risk non-lodgers and those with undeclared income based on the value of the assets they acquire which indicate conspicuous wealth,” the Office said.

The program is an extension of its Conspicuous Wealth Project.

Results from a pilot program suggest that as many as one in four Australians who buy or sell a luxury car have at least one outstanding tax return.

The Office said it would cross-reference the sales data obtained from the states and territories with its internal records to identify Australians who appeared to have tax debts, undeclared income and unlodged tax returns.

Australians who had bought or sold cars and were unknown to the Tax Office would receive a letter asking them to confirm that they had tax records.

“We have not been able to confirm your details with Tax Office records,” the letter would read.

“If we have not had a response within 21 days a field officer may visit you to confirm your Tax Office record details.”

The Tax Office will ask registry offices to supply it with details that identify both the purchasers and sellers of luxury cars and also the dates of the sale, the sale prices, the garage addresses and the Vehicle Identification Numbers.

Where luxury cars have been bought or sold by companies the Office will ask the registration authorities for the Australian Business Number or the Australian Company Number of the companies involved.

The protocol released yesterday says the Office recognises that “certain persons with conspicuous wealth may use various strategies to conceal their ownership of a vehicle”.

“These strategies can involve registering the vehicle under the name of another person or entity when buying or selling.”

“Alternatively, it may be that the actual owner undertakes a vehicle ownership transaction when claiming to act on behalf of another person or entity which may or may not exist.”

It says it will extend its data matching activities to investigate further persons of interest such as sellers, licensed dealers, fleet managers and leasing companies “to determine if the use of interposed persons and the use of false or proxy ownership represent a significant threat to the revenue”.

The Commonwealth Securities index of luxury car sales hit record high in 2007, climbing 11 per cent to 48,820.

The index includes data on sales by 15 luxury car manufacturers including Aston Martin, BMW, Bentley, Ferrari, Hummer, Jaguar, Lamborghini, Lexus, Lotus, Mercedes Benz, Porsche and Rolls Royce.

Luxury car dealers have been advertising heavily ahead of the budget tax rise due in July saying that the increase in the luxury car tax from 25 per cent to 33 per cent will push up the price of a $100,000 car by around $2,500.