Treasurer Scott Morrison presented the Turnbull Government’s second Budget which he described as an ‘honest budget’.
The Government’s strategy is to balance the Budget with increased revenue forecasts and new revenue measures.
The key announcements in the Budget include:
- introduction of a levy on banks, which is estimated to raise $6.2 billion
- increase in the Medicare levy from 2.0% to 2.5% from 2019
- introduction of measures to manage housing affordability
- strategies to provide funding for infrastructure and
- strengthening International tax integrity measures.
The Federal Government has used the Budget to propose a multi-pronged approach to manage housing affordability. The Budget proposes measures which will impact individuals and managed investment trusts in an attempt to increase investment in, and supply of, affordable housing. Correspondingly, additional measures announced to target foreign investors and vacant property owners in an attempt to curb demand from those sectors.
Other Budget proposals will strengthen existing International tax integrity measures, known as Multinational Anti Avoidance Legislation (MAAL), as well as a focus on targeting the black economy and tax crime.
While the tax incentives introduced in the previous Budget for small businesses continue largely untouched for the next 12 months, corporates (listed, unlisted and privately owned) have been left wanting from this year’s Budget. Small business will need to consider whether they are entitled to the reduction in the company tax rate.
In this Hall & Wilcox online publication, we explore the key tax announcement’s in the 2017-18 Federal Budget with a focus on those measures and announcements which will have the greatest impact for taxpayers. A separate brief will cover the announcements on Superannuation.
Partner, Head of Tax
The key is whether the investment really is `productivity enhancing’. That said, all debt has to be repaid. We (and the rating agencies) will continue to focus on the Underlying Cash Balance. In the ‘Medium Term Economic Outlook’, our view is that the Budget implies a further slight drag on growth near-term but a sharp drag thereafter.
We are much more cautious on 2018-19 forecasts and beyond. The economy in our view will be running nearer 2.5% than 3%+ by then. And we are very sceptical about the wages forecasts – and hence nominal GDP estimates. As such, we don’t believe the medium term fiscal projections – and hence the credibility of the fiscal profile. This Budget will be popular, but from an economic perspective, if it looks too good to be true, it probably is.
The underlying cash deficit is expected to fall from $37.6 billion to $29.4 billion in 2017-18, then rapidly improves to $2.5 billion in 2019-20 – and achieves a surplus of $7.4 billion in 2020-21. The Net Operating Balance is, however, expected to fall more aggressively (as extra Government investment kicks in) to around $10.8 billion in 2018-19 and achieves balance a year earlier in 2019-20.
There is little fundamental difference between Treasury’s and NAB’s economic forecasts in 2017-18 – both around 3%. From a slow start in the first half of 2017 the economy will accelerate as lagged effects of higher commodity prices flow through to profits, LNG export volumes accelerate and the construction (apartment) cycle peaks. That said, domestic demand remains subdued. NAB’s forecasts are notably more pessimistic as we move into the forward projections (from 201819) as near term positives start to unwind and the construction cycle turns down.
Our expectations for the unemployment rate are similar, stabilising around 5.75% in the near-term before edging lower to 5.5% in the out years. We forecast nominal GDP growth of 3.3% in 2018-19 (the Government has 4%). The Government’s nominal GDP numbers then accelerate further – heightening our scepticism. The Government’s wages growth forecasts in particular, of 3% in 2018-19 and up to 3.75% by 2020-21, appear very optimistic.
There was little discernible market reaction to the Budget. That said, banks suffered as news of the new tax leaked out earlier in the day. Ratings agencies will clearly be looking at the underlying cash balance projections and their sustainability. It is equally unclear how they will see the new bank tax and what it means for growth and risk.
CGT changes for foreign investors
Australia’s foreign resident CGT regime will be extended by:
- denying foreign and temporary tax residents access to the CGT main residence exemption from 7:30 PM (AEST) on 9 May 2017
- increasing the CGT withholding rate for foreign tax residents from 10.0% to 12.5%, from 1 July 2017 and
- reducing the CGT withholding threshold for foreign tax residents from $2 million to $750,000, from 1 July 2017.
The foreign resident CGT regime will be amended by applying the principal asset test on an associate inclusive basis from May 2017 for foreign tax residents with indirect interests in Australian real property.
While the policy underlining these measures is clear, it remains to be seen whether they will actually achieve the policy intention of curbing demand in the housing sector by the foreign investor market.
Unfortunately, as the CGT withholding rules assume vendors are non-residents unless a clearance certificate is obtained, the reduction to the CGT withholding threshold is likely to lead to significant compliance costs for Australian residents (particularly in cities such as Sydney and Melbourne where median house prices are high). Essentially, a clearance certificate will need to be obtained for all residential conveyances of $750,000 and above.
Annual levy on foreign owned vacant residential properties
A charge on foreign owners of residential property, nicknamed a “ghost tax”, will be introduced where properties are not occupied or genuinely available on the rental market for at least six months per year.
The charge will be administered by the ATO and will likely lead to increased compliance costs for foreign residential property owners. Similar measures enacted by State Governments targeting foreign owners of vacant land will be compounded by the proposed levy at the Federal level. The Government has stated that this measure is intended to improve the supply of affordable housing, by encouraging foreign owners of residential property to make their properties available for rent.
One would also suspect that it will be difficult to identify when a property has been unoccupied for 6 months and whether the ghost tax should be imposed.
Foreign ownership in new developments restricted to 50%
The Government will introduce a cap on foreign ownership in new developments through a condition on New Dwelling Exemption Certificates that will apply to applications made after Budget night.
New Dwelling Exemption Certificates are granted to property developers and act as a pre-approval allowing the sale of new dwellings in a specified development to foreign persons without each foreign purchaser needing to seek their own foreign investment approval.
While the current Certificate regime does not limit the amount of sales that may be made to foreign purchasers, a cap of 50% will be applied to foreign ownership in new developments through a condition on New Dwelling Exemption Certificates.
This measure may lead to funding issues for property developers who may have been otherwise more reliant on funding from foreign investors, as well as increased compliance costs. However, the long term benefits of this measure are uncertain, given that there are no restrictions on first-time residential owners in property in a development subsequently on-selling to non-residents.
From 1 July 2017 property investors will only be able to claim plant and equipment depreciation deductions in respect of outlays actually incurred by them. The effect of this is that investors will not be able to claim these deductions in respect of plant and equipment items that have been purchased by a previous owner of the property. These existing plant and equipment items will form part of the cost base of the property for the investor.
These changes will apply on a prospective basis. Existing investments grandfathered, with investors still being able to claim depreciation deductions in respect of plant and equipment forming part of residential investment properties as of 9 May 2017.
What is described as an integrity measure appears to be a restriction on negative gearing. This measure may also lead to property developers restructuring sale of land agreements.
From 1 July 2017, taxpayers will no longer be able to deduct the cost of travel expenses related to inspecting, maintaining or collecting rent for a residential rental property. This measure will not prevent investors from claiming deductions for engaging third parties such as real estate agents for property management services. These expenses will remain deductible.
This is stated to be an integrity measure to address concerns that many taxpayers have been claiming travel deductions without correctly apportioning costs, or have claimed travel costs that were for private travel purposes. However, it also appears to be a restriction on negative gearing by stealth.
Incentives for MITs holding
MITs will be able to acquire, construct or redevelop property that is provided to low to moderate income tenants, with rent charged at a discount below the private market rental.
The arrangements will allow ‘flow through’ tax treatment for resident investors, and foreign investors will benefit from the concessional 15% withholding rate on fund payments by the MIT. Resident individual investors will also benefit from an increase in the CGT discount to 60%.
Qualifying conditions for the concession include that 80% of the Fund’s income must derive from the affordable housing assets and the MIT must make the affordable housing asset available for rent for at least 10 years.
The measure will commence for income years starting on or after 1 July 2017.
While the policy underlining this announcement is applauded, it remains to be seen whether investment managers will view the overall returns on affordable housing assets as sufficiently attractive to establish these new types of funds.
Super contributions from downsizing
From 1 July 2018 persons aged 65 or over may make a non-concessional contribution of up to $300,000 from the proceeds of selling their home. This measure will apply only to sales of a taxpayer’s principal place of residence (PPR) owned for the past ten or more years.
Both members of a couple will be able to separately take advantage of this measure for the same property. However, it is unclear whether this will be the case where only one member of the couple owns the PPR and hence receives all of the sale proceeds.
These contributions will be in addition to those currently permitted under existing rules and caps and they will be exempt from the existing age test, work test and the $1.6 million balance test for making non-concessional contributions.
While this measure is stated to be aimed at removing a barrier to older people downsizing their home, there appears to be no requirement that they purchase a smaller replacement property.
Simpler framework for
foreign investment framework
A range of amendments will be introduced with effect from 1 July 2017, to clarify and simplify Australia’s foreign investment framework. This will make foreign investor obligations clearer, and allow for more efficient allocation of Foreign Investment Review Board (FIRB) screening resources to higher risk cases. The final form of the changes will be subject to consultation with stakeholders.
The measures, summarised below, are expected to provide a welcome reduction in the red-tape surrounding FIRB regulation and should lead to a decrease in FIRB approval delays:
From 1 January 2018 the CGT discount will be raised from 50% to 60% for individuals who invest in affordable housing. To qualify for the higher discount individuals must be Australian residents and the housing must be provided to low to moderate income tenants, with rent charged at a discount to the private rental market rate. In addition, the housing must be managed through a registered community housing provider and held by the taxpayer for a minimum period of three years.
This increased CGT discount would flow through to resident individuals investing in qualifying Managed Investment Trusts. For more information, see our summary above on Incentives for MITs holding affordable housing.
Notably, the increased CGT discount is only available to resident individuals, not trusts, superannuation funds or listed investment companies. It is unclear why the restriction exists. However, it would appear to encourage Mum and Dad direct investors to direct their negatively geared investments to a particular class of housing.
Major bank levy
From 1 July 2017, the Government will introduce a major bank levy for Authorised Deposit-taking Institutions (ADI) with licensed entity liabilities of at least $100 billion. The $100 billion threshold is indexed to grow in line with gross domestic product. The levy will be 0.06% per annum of the ADI’s licensed entity liabilities which will include corporate bonds, commercial paper, certificates of deposit and Tier 2 capital instruments. Liabilities that are not subject to the levy include Tier 1 capital and deposits of individuals, business and other entities protected by the Financial Claims Scheme.
The levy is expected to raise (net) $6.2 billion which, in the Government’s view, ensures the big banks are doing their part to assist the budget repair. The levy is intended to increase competition in the banking industry by allowing smaller banks and non-bank competitors to better compete with the major banks.
Tougher Multinational Anti-Avoidance Law
The Government will ensure that multinationals do not attempt to circumvent the MAAL by using foreign partnerships and trusts in their corporate structure. The MAAL will be broadened so that it applies to:
- a partnership with a foreign resident partner
- a trust with a foreign resident trustee and
- foreign trusts with temporary central management and control in Australia.
These changes rectify a loophole in the current MAAL and are consistent with the original policy intent of the MAAL which is to combat multinational tax avoidance and strengthen the integrity of Australia’s tax system. The new measures will have retrospective effect and will apply from 1 January 2016.
At the end of 2016, the Government established the Black Economy Taskforce to combat tax avoidance among taxpayers who show a disregard for their tax obligations. The extent of the cost of the black economy is enormous and more significant than the tax gap that exists in respect of corporates. For example, the interim report from the Black Economy Taskforce estimates the cash economy to be around $25 billion, resulting in reduced income and consumption tax revenues of $10 billion, as well as higher welfare payments of $4 billion due to the understatement of income.
The Government has continued its support for the taskforce by announcing the following additional measures:
Courier and cleaning industry
The taxable payments reporting system will be extended to contractors in the courier and cleaning industry from 1 July 2018, with the first reporting in August 2019. This will require businesses to report payments they make to any contractors to the ATO. It is an extension of measures already existing in the building and construction industry that has improved contractor compliance.
Audit and compliance activities
The Government will provide the ATO with one year additional funding of $32 million to continue audit and compliance work enabling it to better target black economy risks to 30 June 2018. The key focus will be businesses with turnover under $15 million and with key behaviours such as non-lodgement, omissions of income and non-payment of employer obligations.
Prohibition on sales suppression technology and software
The Government will prohibit the manufacture, distribution, possession, use or sale of sales suppression technology and software. This software enables businesses to understate their income by untraceably deleting selected transactions from their electronic point of sale records. This will ensure that all income is disclosed and taxed accordingly. These changes have been recommended by the OECD and are consistent with reactions in other jurisdictions.
Combatting tax crime
The Government will provide the ATO with $28.2 million to target serious and organised crime in the tax system. The ATO’s compliance work is currently funded until 30 June 2017 and the additional funding will allow the ATO to continue its investigations into serious crime until 2021 and is expected to gain $408.5 million in revenue.
Hybrid mismatch rules
The Government has previously announced that it will implement the OECD’s anti-hybrid mismatch rules. These measures will tighten its focus on tax minimisation structures by eliminating hybrid tax mismatches that occur in cross-border transactions.
The measures will apply from the later of 1 January 2018 or 6 months following Royal Assent of the relevant legislation.
The Budget does not develop these measures further except for clarifying that there will be no special accommodation for banks and financial institutions in relation to Additional Tier 1 (AT1) capital.
Specifically, AT1 capital will not carry franking credits where returns are deductible in a foreign jurisdiction. Where the funds are not wholly used in the offshore operations of the issuer, the franking account of the issuer will be debited as if the returns were franked.
Practically the aim is to ensure that taxpayers cannot exploit differences in the debt/equity rules across jurisdictions by entering into arrangements that will enable them to obtain a deduction in one jurisdiction with no tax payable in the other. These measures were recommended by the OECD and form part of the Government’s broader commitment to eliminate global tax avoidance.
Small Business – Instant asset write-off extended for 12 months
Small business taxpayers can get an immediate tax deduction for depreciating plant and equipment (with minor exceptions) which cost $20,000 or less. This measure was due to expire at 30 June 2017 but the Treasurer announced in last night’s budget that it is being extended by a further 12 months, to 30 June 2018.
Currently, a small business taxpayer is a taxpayer carrying on a business with an aggregated turnover of $10 million or less. Most depreciating plant and equipment is included, with minor exceptions for horticultural plants and in-house software. Assets purchased by a taxpayer for more than $20,000 cannot be immediately deducted but can be added to a ‘small business depreciation pool’, and depreciated over time but at a higher rate than what a typical ‘effective life’ calculation would permit.
Government reports indicate that there has been a high take-up of the instant asset write-off and that it has encouraged small business to bring forward or make larger capital purchases. The extension of the instant asset write-off will, we think, be embraced by small business owners.
Consideration will also need to be given to the impact of these measures on the availability of franking credits and financial statements.
Small business CGT concessions being tightened
The small business CGT concessions rules will be tightened. Amendments will be made to prevent the concessions being applied by taxpayers who meet the ‘small business taxpayer’ definition, because they operate a business with a turnover of less than $2 million, to assets (including their ownership interests in larger businesses) which are not connected with the small business carried on.
The budget papers refer to taxpayer’s ‘structuring their affairs’ so as to come within the eligibility criterion for the small business taxpayer, which suggests that this is intended as an integrity measure and will overcome the need for the Commissioner to look to Part IVA to challenge such arrangements.
When details of the amendments are released, we will be updating you further.
The 2017 Federal Budget contains the following key proposed changes to the Australian GST system.
Property purchasers to pay GST directly to the ATO
From 1 July 2018, purchasers of new residential premises or new subdivisions will be required to remit GST directly to the ATO on settlement of a property purchase. This is an integrity measure seeking to address situations where developers have claimed GST credits on the construction process but do not remit GST to the ATO.
Digital currency to be treated in the same
manner as ‘money’
From 1 July 2017, supplies of a digital currency (which are currently considered to be intangible property that can be subject to GST) will be treated in the same manner as supplies of money (which are currently excluded from the definition of a ‘supply’ for GST purposes) and therefore not be subject to GST. This proposed change is aimed at removing double taxation on digital currencies so as to remove GST as an obstacle for the Financial Technology sector.
Precious metals – business to pay GST on
acquisition whilst concept of second
hand goods made clearer
From 1 April 2017, the liability to pay GST to the ATO in respect of precious metals (such as gold, silver or platinum) will be the responsibility of the business acquiring the precious metals instead of the seller. It is proposed that a ‘reverse charge’ mechanism is used to implement this change. Additionally, ‘second hand goods’ for GST purposes will exclude gold, silver and platinum. Both these measures are aimed at combatting fraud in the precious metals industry and appear consistent with the announcement made on 31 March 2017 by the Minister for Revenue and Financial Services.
Other tax measures
Crowd-sourced equity funding for ‘Pty Ltd’ companies
The Government will introduce a new crowd-sourced equity funding (CSEF) model for proprietary companies (a new regime for start-ups that are public companies was introduced earlier this year).
CSEF allows individuals to make small financial contributions to CSEF by reducing compliance and disclosure burdens on the start-up. The extension of the relaxation of the regulatory rules to ‘Pty’ companies will make it easier for start-ups to fund their businesses.
Access to super for first home deposit
From 1 July 2017 individual taxpayers will be able to make voluntary concessional contributions to their superannuation accounts of up to $15,000 per year and $30,000 in total. Any contributions that are made must come within the existing concessional contribution caps.
From 1 July 2018 the taxpayer will be able to withdraw contributions made under this scheme and any associated earnings, for the purpose of making a first home deposit. These withdrawals will be taxed at the individual’s marginal tax rate, less a 30% tax offset. Both members of a couple can take advantage of this measure to buy their first home together.
The scheme is intended to provide an incentive to enable first home buyers to build savings faster for a home deposit, by accessing the concessional tax treatment of contributions and earnings in superannuation, without adversely impacting their statutory superannuation contributions.
Medicare levy increase
The Government will increase the Medicare levy from 2.0 to 2.5% of taxable income from 1 July 2019.
From 1 July 2019 individuals will pay an extra $50 for each $10,000 of taxable income that they earn. However, the tax rate will be reduced by 2 cents of the dollar from 1 July this year for those earning over $180,000 when the Temporary Budgeted Repair Levy ends as originally promised by the then Abbott Government in the 2014-15 Budget.
Low-income earners will continue to receive relief from the Medicare levy through the low-income thresholds, which will also be increased for singles, families, seniors and pensioners. The current Medicare levy exemptions will also remain in place.
Medicare levy low-income threshold
The Medicare levy low-income thresholds for singles, families and seniors and pensioners will increase from the 2016-17 income year.
The threshold for singles will be increased to $21,655, while the family threshold increases to $36,541 plus $3,356 for each dependent child or student. Singles, seniors and pensioners threshold will increase to $34,244. The family threshold for seniors and pensioners increases to $47,670 plus $3,356 for each dependent child or student.
Low-income earners will benefit from the threshold increase and will be insulated from the Medicare levy increase which will apply from 1 July 2019.
Among other things, a new set of repayment thresholds will be introduced from 1 July 2018 affecting the timing and quantity of repayments under Higher Education Loan Program (HELP).
These proposed measures confirm the pre-budget higher education reform package announcement by the Minister for Education and Training. Relevantly, the proposed changed include the lowering of the minimum repayment threshold to $42,000 (down from $55,874 for 2017/18) from 1 July 2018, with a lower 1% repayment rate, and a maximum threshold of $119,882 with a repayment rate of 10%.
The budget forecasts an emphasis on ‘priority infrastructure projects’ as follows:
- Treasurer Scott Morrison has indicated that the Federal Government intends to purchase the 87% share of the Snowy Hydro scheme that is currently owned by NSW (5%) and Victoria (29%). This would be followed by a $2 billion upgrade over four years that would add 2000 megawatts to the existing 4100 MW capacity.
- $5.3 billion has been allocated towards building the Western Sydney Airport for which project design would start next year, with completion forecast for 2026. This project would include injecting $5.3 billion in equity into the to-be-incorporated Western Sydney Airport Corporation to build and operate the site.
- In NSW, $13.8 million has been announced to fund the Far North Collector Road.
- In Queensland, $843.8 million has been allocated to the new Bruce Highway upgrade project, as well as $45 million for the Walkerston Bypass and an additional $6 million for the Mt Lindesay Highway upgrade.
- A Melbourne to Brisbane inland rail has been flagged, which will cost $8.4 billion.
- The budget includes $20 million to fund business case consideration of other fast rail connections between major cities.
- In Victoria, $500 million has been allocated towards regional rail projects, including:
- $100 million for the duplication of the Geelong-Waurn Ponds line
- $100 million for the North East Rail Line upgrade
- $195 million for Eastern Line duplication projects and
- $95 million for the Avon River Bridge duplication.
- Victorian infrastructure projects also include $20.2 million for a Murray Darling Basin rail and $30 million to go towards a business case assessment of the Melbourne Airport rail link.
Health & Aged Care
While the Budget contains significant expenditure reduction measures for Health & Aged Care, these are tempered by new investments and revenue raising activities.
The Medicare levy will increase by half a percentage point from 2.0% to 2.5% of taxable income from 1 July 2019 to ensure the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) is fully funded and to guarantee Medicare. In a measure which has been backed by the Health sector, the Government will also extend the freeze on indexation of the Medicare rebate through to 2020.
Other measures include:
- the establishment of the Medicare Guarantee Fund as a special account from 1 July 2017 to guarantee the Government’s commitment to the Medicare Benefits Schedule (MBS) and the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) into the future
- ongoing, indexed funding for a new National Housing and Homelessness Agreement (NHHA) from 2018-19
- $10.2 million over 10 years from 2017-18 to partner with State and Territory Governments to trial the use of Social Impact Investments to fund a small number of innovative programs aimed at improving housing and welfare outcomes for young people at risk of homelessness
- $6.0 million over four years from 2017-18 toward the national rollout of the Homes for Homes initiative
- $20.2 million over 10 years from 2017-18 to encourage the development of the Australian market for social impact investments and
- new compliance arrangements for the No Jab No Pay (NJNP) and Healthy Start for School (HSS) policies to ensure that all families receiving Family Tax Benefit (FTB) Part A are encouraged to meet immunisation and health check requirements.
Malcolm Turnbull and Scott Morrison have effectively ended the political feud over education funding, with a policy that retains the architecture of the Gonski model while promising funding increases above inflation for the next three years. To further cement the neutrality of its education policy, David Gonski has been reappointed to chair a review to advise on fine-tuning the system christened Gonski 2.0.
Under Gonski 2.0, schools will receive an extra $18.6 billion by 2027, $22.3 billion less than promised by Labour in its negotiations with states and territories. However, higher education will contribute $2.8 billion towards budget repair through proposed reforms.
Other measures include:
- $125 million over five years to state and territory private school representative bodies to support the Government’s education agenda
- Commonwealth capital grants for private schools will increase by 28%, to an estimated $182.5 million per year in 2021
- additional funding for students considered disadvantaged
- additional funding for schools in regional and remote areas
- funding increase for Indigenous education in the Northern Territory
- pre-school funding will increase by $429.4 million in 2018 and
- proposed new funding rates for students with disability.
For more information, see our summary above on HELP changes.