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Swan attacks BHP over tax avoidance

AAP logoAAP 12/10/2016

Former treasurer Wayne Swan claims there's an epidemic of tax avoidance by large companies, highlighting the case of BHP Billiton which has paid about $1.4 billion in back taxes after shifting profits offshore into its Singapore marketing hub.

"It is terrible behaviour from the big Australian, it's un-Australian behaviour," he told ABC radio on Thursday, saying the full extent of the mining company's profit-shifting activities or how much more the tax office might be chasing it for was unknown.

BHP vowed in September to fight a tax office claim, describing the matter as a valuation dispute.

In parliament, Mr Swan said the behaviour of BHP led him to believe it operated at the evasion end of the spectrum for more than a decade.

"The evidence against BHP is damning," he said.

Transfer pricing was exploited when a company sold a product between two arms of its operation in order to book its profits in the lower tax jurisdiction.

"This tax shield used by BHP in Singapore is used to smuggle profits out of Australia," Mr Swan said.

Mr Swan, who introduced a controversial super-profits tax on resources company in 2010, recalled how BHP was "frothing with outrage" at the very suggestion it was paying too little tax during a period when Australia's mining and mineral resources were enjoying record-high prices.

"There is now no question that BHP has been gaming the system and is in serious dispute with the tax office over its unpaid taxes," he told MPs.

"The community cannot allow the corporate veil to hide the moral responsibilities of those that run those corporations."

BHP Billiton has defended its record, saying it has paid approximately $65 billion in taxes and royalties in Australia over the past 10 years.

"The primary tax in dispute with the ATO is less than two per cent of the taxes and royalties BHP Billiton paid in Australia over that period," the miner said in a statement.

"Our Australian adjusted effective tax rate, inclusive of corporate tax, PRRT and royalties in FY16 was approximately 57 per cent. Our global rate was slightly higher at 59 per cent.

"This demonstrates that we pay our 'fair share' of tax both in Australia and globally."

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