Face it, business in Australia has rarely been about playing on level fields. The juggernauts of the big four banks and the supermarket duopoly, that run right over the top of enterprising small and medium businesses in Australia, seem manageable in comparison with the diabolical genius of the (mostly) multi-national organisations who ‘transfer price’ tens of billions of dollars out of the Australian economy. By doing so, they profit from all tax paying Australians.



IT IS DIABOLICAL that two generations of Federal Governments have, at best, miscalculated the scourge of transfer pricing. At worst, Federal Government taxation and trade policy has been blindsided by a problem partly of its own design.

Transfer pricing – the dark art of manipulating money flows so that little or no profit is taxed in the country in which that profit is generated – is alive and diabolically well in Australia. It has been turbocharged by digital transformation and new-era companies that are internet-central in operations.

One example is American Express, a company reported by Fairfax Media last year to have not paid tax on profits in Australia for more than seven years.

It is an example of how the key to minimising tax among these internet-centric companies is to be headquartered – and conduct billing – out of a low tax jurisdiction. One particularly popular low-tax jurisdiction for the Australian market is Singapore – used by multi-nationals such as American Express and several major oil companies. That’s right, Australian American Express financial payments are directed to Singapore.

If you were sceptical, you would wonder what the real advantage to Australia could possibly be from linking our petrol prices to the Singapore and Tapis crude oil markets, for the oil refined in this country. The issues of what happens to prices – and transfer pricing of oil profits – as Australian refineries steadily close and are modified as storage depots (which has happened recently at the giant Botany Bay site) are disturbing to consider both economically and in terms of national security.

The most emotive transfer pricing outcry example in Australia right now concerns ride share group Uber, which has not only disrupted thousands of family taxi companies day-to-day, but for some it has helped bring about their rapid financial demise.

In Queensland, where the State Government was selling operating licences for up to $500,000 just a few years ago and still legislates taxi fares and charges, the impact of Uber and other ride-share companies has seen those licences become comparatively worthless.

Many owners who planned to use the value of their (often multiple) licences as ‘superannuation’ will instead only receive a $20,000 compensation from the Queensland Government – per licence and for a maximum of two licences. This is a regulated industry that has been totally transparent for decades and been forced to pay its fees and taxes accordingly. Its devastation will have a corresponding effect on taxable incomes of those (largely) family businesses.

Some family taxi businesses in Queensland have reported to ABC Brisbane talkback radio host Steve Austin that they are most likely headed for bankruptcy – and some have already lost their family homes.

Uber, created in San Francisco, has effectively been domiciled in the Netherlands (a low tax jurisdiction that has, in the past, been utilised by former Australian companies such as James Hardie) since 2013 according to Forbes magazine and – most likely, but it is opaque – pays tax on its global profits there. Uber bills Australians from the Netherlands and the driver’s share, usually about 75 percent of the fare, is repatriated back to the driver’s Australian account.

This means that about 25 percent of each ride share fare that goes to Uber remains in the Netherlands and therefore is not subject to profits tax in Australia. The driver is responsible for their own tax affairs.

How much of that 25 percent ride income actually is profit is irrelevant as is it ‘earned’ offshore, beyond the ATO’s jurisdiction. The Australian Government certainly does not know. It has no way of knowing what ‘profit’ Uber has actually earned in Australia, based on current legislation, because it is regarded as being Australian dollars earned in the Netherlands

Not so long ago, a process like Uber’s would have been regarded as an ‘import’ of a product or service. Today it is being treated like an export, where GST is also being argued by Uber as not being applicable.

Yes, these are customers in Australia being serviced by an Australia-based tax-paying driver in a vehicle sold and maintained in Australia, on Australian roads paid for by Australian taxpayers. So, while about 75 percent of the fare generated ends up being taxable in Australia the other 25 percent of this service definitely happened in cyberspace, so there’s no taxable income on that component.

The Australian Government is nodding its head remorsefully that this is the case, for now at least. Thankfully, they have refused to keep nodding in the case of ride share services avoiding GST – that’s Goods and SERVICES Tax, for those in the government who may have overlooked the entire acronym – although Uber is again contesting this through the courts.

Yet, in Uber’s case and others, what seems a straightforward case of transfer pricing ‘sleight-of-hand’ is actually complicated by a whole range of international trade conventions and agreements entered into by the Australian Government as part of its free trade mantra over the past 30 years.

In practical terms, you cannot blame Uber, or other multi-nationals, for playing the game their way, on the playing field Australia has cultivated.



Uber is a highly visible example right now of the problems facing Australian taxation revenues – but there are many, many more flying well under the radar.

In fact, as Australian business at large comes to understand the insidious workings of transfer pricing, it could help to alert the Australian Government to similar threats.

One potential threat may ironically have been averted by the election of Donald Trump as President of the United States: the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP).

The TPP on the surface would seem to be a very progressive agreement, effectively establishing a free trade zone around much of the Pacific Rim – although the way it had excluded China was questionable.

Countries involved in the TPP were the United States (under President Barack Obama) Australia, New Zealand, Malaysia, Vietnam, Singapore, Brunei, Canada, Mexico, Chile and Peru. Together, they contributed about 40 percent of the world’s annual economic output.

Australia has been instrumental in TPP negotiations, most recently through Foreign Minister Julie Bishop. Australian business in general seemed to be too busy to bother to get its head around details on the TPP, and paled to insignificance against the contributions and lobbying of the big US multi-nationals.

Some concerns that emerged included fears that US multi-nationals would have the ‘right’ to challenge and possibly sue governments whose legislation changes negatively impacted their business in that country.

The flashpoint on this issue in Australia was likely to be pharmaceuticals. It was argued by some sectors that the TPP would promote complaints and financial claims by US drug companies in issues such as the availability of generic competition under Australia’s Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS).

But among the accounting and legal organisations who manage transfer pricing for international companies – and in the main this is a complicated and legitimate practice for these multi-nationals – there has certainly been an undercurrent of a re-focus on transfer pricing under the proposed TPP.

For example, a report from The International Tax Policy Forum suggested “potential tax effects from the Trans-Pacific Partnership to highlight the link between aggressive upstream transfer pricing and downstream earnings stripping”. 

Indeed, BDO Australia’s Transfer Pricing Practice is happy to point out that it “helps groups navigate this fast changing transfer pricing environment”. BDO’s online promotion for its expertise in the field says: “Aided by dedicated transfer pricing practitioners around the BDO network, we provide a range of planning, compliance, audit defence and benchmarking services. We can work with you to develop transfer pricing policies that are defensible, flexible and in line with your overall tax planning strategies.”

Nothing wrong with that. In fact, under the current rules of the game in Australia, companies would be crazy if they didn’t use transfer pricing to keep more of their profits.

The moral dilemma is that the same advantages are not available to most Australian businesses – who want to stay domiciled here – and the Federal Government has lately been coming down hard on companies that even look as if they may be re-structuring into international entities.

Of course, you could simply leave Australia and sell back to it, or set up your new Australian subsidiary from the Netherlands or Ireland … as former local iconic companies including James Hardie and BHP (now BHP Billiton) have done.

Such arrangements can work really well, unless that loan from head office to the Australian entity, which has to be repaid at levels remarkably similar to the levels of potential profit made in Australia, is called by the ATO for not being ‘at arms length’.

Of similar ilk  is the ATO’s $1.01 billion tax and penalty claim against BHP Billiton – which is being vigorously contested – at the moment targetting the Big Australian’s Singapore marketing base operations, which primarily conducts iron ore sales around the globe and enjoys a mark-up for doing so.

The dilemma for Australian tax authorities is that the iron ore has been bought in Australia by BHP Billiton’s Singapore marketing entity for a much lower price than it has been then sold to, say, Japanese and Chinese steel mills. It used to be a ‘clean’ transaction, in which overseas steel mills would buy direct from Australia. That’s what has the ATO miffed and seeking to tax the money in the middle.

BHP Billiton argues forcefully that it is operating with the law and is conducting its sales and marketing operations fairly. Rio Tinto, which has a similar Singapore marketing hub set-up, argues the same. What is for certain is that this is going to be a long drawn-out argument.



It was all so much simpler just a few decades ago when some of Australia’s big name organisations managed their transfer pricing – or as it was called back then, ‘profit shifting’— closer to home.

Back then, the game was about shifting profits offshore through a web of trusts and companies – sometimes based in the South Pacific, Asia or Europe – in a way that supposed they could not be found. But money was not so easily moved back then through ‘telegraphic transfers’, without today’s internet-fuelled secure financial transfer systems.

Some of Australia’s most successful companies and wealthiest families, who utilised this ‘offshore’ method, have since transitioned into much more savvy structures, often with the help of the Big Four accountancy firms and modern secure internet communications

It was often rumoured about time of the ATO’s Operation Wickenby, which started in the 1990s, that the web of offshore trusts and hidden offshore bank accounts that many Australian business moguls had would be exposed – and they would then be forced” to pay their fair share of tax” in Australia.

Take sharemarket guru the late Rene Rivkin, for example, who has since been shown to have secured his wealth in ‘untouchable’ Swiss banks and financial structures.

It’s a sentiment not dissimilar to what we hear today with regard to transfer pricing.

But it’s not really how it worked out, is it?

The original ‘offshore’ system was simple and so well known in accounting fraternities that it beggared belief that the ATO was not all over it. The owners of an Australian company would use local accountants to establish companies in a tax haven such as the British Virgin Islands. Often this was done through an intermediary marketer of such companies in a jurisdiction with strong financial services capability – say, Hong Kong, Singapore or Cyprus.

One such ‘deep cover’ company or trust would own another would own another, so that the secrecy of ownership increased layer by layer. Then the Australian company would take ‘loans’ from overseas ‘investor’ entities … which would have to be paid back at remarkably fluid levels of interest, of course.

It was ironic how these structures would almost invariably produce a result in which there was precious little profit to be taxed in Australia …

The end result, then as now, is that the gulf left by these transferred profits ends up being burdened upon income tax payers and small-and-medium enterprises.

Today, it’s a much more open card game in which one arm of a multi-national organisation simply bills another and another. All within the existing house rules.

The deck is stacked against the Australian Government as it shuffles around in court with the multi-nationals, their Big Four accountancy firm transfer pricing advisors and their combined armies of lawyers.





MARTIN FEIL is probably the most knowledgeable person in Australia about transfer pricing, profit shifting and multi-national tax rorts. In fact, he wrote the book on it: The Great Multi-national Tax Rort – how we’re all being robbed.

Or, you could also say truthfully, he wrote both books on it. The first, also published by Scribe Publications, was named The Failure of Free Market Economics – and it was a mind-blower for Australian business people on its release in 2010. It seemed a shame its revelations did not appear to hit the mark in government circles.

Mr Feil’s latest work ratchets up the commentary and the huge weight of evidence to a nuclear fission-level anger point. 

He has been gently described as a poacher turned game keeper, for he has worked both sides of the fence: advising companies on strategies to minimise tax and tariffs, while with Ernst and Young (now EY), and also working for the Australian Customs Office and the Tariff Board, then later as an investigator for the Australian Taxation Office. Mr Feil had been chairman of the Institute of Chartered Accountants customs committee and the institute’s representative on the ATO’s transfer-pricing sub-committee before his recent retirement.

While his work has been illuminating, it has also suffered the fate of being overlooked by authorities in Australia for far too long. He has offered up how it started in the Australian context, how the Big Four accounting firms globally have made a sinister art form of it, how successive Australian Governments have ignored the warnings in favour of a ‘free trade at any cost, for the greater good’ agenda, and what can be done about it now.

On that last point, Mr Feil gently adds the ominous phrase “before it’s too late” for Australia.


How Australia is being burgled by multi-nationals

FOR MOST Australians, the issue of transfer pricing is up there in the ‘cloud’ so vigorously promoted by the US-developed tech companies who want us all to live there. While increasingly a ‘child’ of the cloud-centric world in which Australians drift, the sinister effects of this artfully created profits transfer system are hitting home.

When the Federal Government is telling Australians that it is actually ‘good news’ that the deficit has reduced to $45 billion a year – about the same as the major multi-national tech. companies allegedly short-changed Australia in profits taxes last year – the maths seem brutally simple.

Then you look at what numbers of Australian dollars are permanently leaving Australia in other sectors such as finance and oil – while in other reports Australia has a shortfall in funding for education, medical care, aged care and infrastructure, so taxation may have to be re-set – and you realise why there is a simmering anger among Australian business people.

Many business people are livid at being hounded by government regulatory authorities like clockwork for GST payments, BAS statements and superannuation deposits at the same time as multi-national profit shifters are seemingly left alone in a luxurious too-hard basket.

Martin Feil knows all about. He has been talking frankly about these problems for decades, followed up in recent years by two detailed and critical books about the rorts of multi-nationals on the Australian economy. 

The amount of money exiting the Australian economy forever is unprecedented and, you’d have to think, unsustainable. Here is an infuriating tidbit:

“In 2013-14, Apple Australia paid around $80 million in income tax on revenue of over $6 billion.”

And another: “In 2011, Amazon paid an effective tax rate of 0.5 percent on its UK earnings of £3.35 billion.”

That Amazon fact was one of the catalysts for the UK bringing in what is often called its ‘Google tax’ on turnover to help stem the flow of revenues through transfer pricing and it has also energised the OECD. The Australian Government, perhaps because of the complexity of these issues and the complications of international trade agreements, is working within the OECD framework to find a way forward.

It has recently been announced that Amazon is about to establish logistics facilities to step into Australia proper. The media has general been enthusiastic about the prospect. Australia’s retail sector has been mute, so far.



The Panama Papers revelations shocked the world, but as Mr Feil points out, it should have energised governments to look long and hard at what is a much bigger problem – predatory transfer pricing.

“The 11.5 million pages released in the first tranche of those (Panama-based firm Mossack Fonseca) documents revealed truly shocking global tax avoidance and tax evasion – but they dealt with the behaviour of wealthy individuals and their tax advisers. They did not deal with similar behaviour by multinational corporations and their very highly paid tax advisers. The latter is a much bigger problem …

“Transfer pricing is a completely different matter. This technique, developed by multinational corporations, has been out in the open for at least the last 25 years, with more and more devastating consequences for governments and their citizens around the world.

“The multinationals have perfected the practice of selling to their global affiliates at prices that would send the affiliates bankrupt if they were left on their own, trying to recover their inflated import costs in the marketplace. The affiliates survive only because the banks of the world lend them money based on the surety letters from their parent companies or regional head offices.”

So Australia’s big banks are privy to this global sleight of hand too.

“This process has allowed multinational firms to dominate the markets for goods and services in around 180 countries, or to operate without permanent establishments and have no tax obligations anywhere. This trick relates principally to internet operators such as Google, Amazon, Apple etc, and to ‘sharing economy’ companies such as Uber and Airbnb.”

If there is a bright side to the brazen nature of this unprecedented vacuuming up of wealth it is that the governments of major world economies are working together co-operatively, like never before, on tax rulings that attempt to combat transfer pricing. But they are a long way behind.

Perhaps one of the reasons they are a long way behind is that the people who create these transfer pricing structures, processes and arrangements – named by Mr Feil as the world’s Big Four business advisory services PricewaterhouseCoopers, EY (formerly Ernst and Young), Deloitte and KPMG – are also the same firms who supply a lot of the advice to governments on such issues. Australia included.

Mr Feil cites the 2013 report, Tax Avoidance: the role of the large accountancy firms, by the UK House of Commons Committee of Public Accounts, which gathered evidence form the Big Four accounting firms:

“HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) appears to be fighting a battle it cannot win in tackling tax avoidance. Companies can devote considerable resources to ensure that they minimise their tax liability. There is a large market for advising companies on how to take advantage of international tax law and on the tax implications of different global structures. The four firms employ 9,000 people and earn £2 billion from their tax work in the UK, and earn around US$125 billion from this work globally. HMRC has far fewer resources. In the area of transfer pricing alone there are four times as many staff working for the four firms than for the HMRC.”

How bad is it? Well, Mr Feil noted that in 2015 UK firm AstraZeneca was found to have paid no tax on £3 billion of profits, facilitated by channelling funds through a subsidiary in The Netherlands.

What major Australian operating companies also utilise The Netherlands? James Hardie Industries domiciled there in 2001 but later relocated to Ireland; although dual global headquarters are in Melbourne and London, BHP Billiton has a marketing division in The Netherlands as it does in Singapore; and, of course, Royal Dutch Shell is based in The Hague and has a dual London headquarters.

Here are some insightful core observations by Mr Feil …



“Multinationals not paying a fair share of tax is a core social problem for the people of Australia and the rest of the world.” He uses the case of Coles as an example – with Coles, as part of the great Australian so-called ‘supermarket duopoly’ often being accused of not being a ‘fair player’ in the Australian economy in relation to its handling of smaller suppliers. For example, the ‘dollar-a-litre’ milk instigated by Coles has often been publicly blamed for the demise of parts of Australia’s dairy industry.

But consider this … “Richard Goyder, the chief executive of Wesfarmers (the owner of Coles and Bunnings), commented in an address to the National Press Club on 5 August 2014 that Wesfarmers paid $1.5 billion in tax in 2013-14 while Aldi and Costco paid nothing. Why should that be so? The answer is that transfer pricing by multinationals has created a market and profit advantage for them that, ultimately, will destroy their competitors. Coles, along with Woolworths, is one of the largest employers in Australia. Most of its hundreds of thousands of employees are women trying to earn enough money working part time to keep the family afloat.”

It is ironic that some of the world’s most publicly admired brands – and most have solid community help and support programs – nevertheless are leaders in this transfer pricing process that threatens to undermine the economic fabric of their own major markets.

Ikea gets a mention in this company, which surprises many people, given its progressive and ‘responsible’ brand appeal.

The Australian journalist Eli Greenblat laid it out in plain terms in his report in December 2016:

“Accounts lodged by Ikea’s Australian arm show that for the 12 months to August 31, it posted sales of $969.5 million, up from $827.4m a year earlier. Gross profit jumped to $356.6m from $300.5m in the previous year.

“The usual costs of doing business — advertising, depreciation and wages — quickly whittled down that gross profit, as was the case in 2015, and Ikea booked $31.9m in “franchise fees” for the year and another $82.16m in “other expenses”.

“This reduced Ikea’s pre-tax profit to $37.5m from which $10.7m was paid in tax. This left Ikea with a profit for the year of $26.8m.

“In 2015 it was much the same story. Ikea then had combined “franchise fees” and “other expenses” of $89m that reduced its pre-tax profit to $25.5m and once $10.4m of income tax was paid Ikea had a profit of just $15.1m.

“At a time when Ikea’s sales increased by $142m, or 17 percent, and its profit jumped 77 percent, income tax recorded in its annual accounts lifted by less than $400,000.

“In 2014 franchise and other expenses totalled $70.9m while a line item titled “payment under risk agreement’’ swiped another $37.06m from Ikea’s pre-tax profit that year.

“It is believed these annual payments are charged by entities based in lower-tax jurisdictions. There is no suggestion Ikea has engaged in wrongdoing and the 2016 accounts were signed off by auditor Ernst & Young.

“The Swedish furniture juggernaut, known for its flatpack kits and hip interior designs, has long intrigued tax experts and rival retailers. Its inner workings are highly secretive. One document among the “Luxembourg leaks” reportedly showed that Ikea’s profit growth in Australia between 2004 and 2014 trailed sales growth — or sometimes went in the opposite direction — because the company reduced its taxable income by paying more than $2 billion in franchise fees, licence fees and royalties to its European parent.”



Martin Feil characterises the ever-expanding resort to transfer pricing by multinationals – or base erosion profit shifting as the OECD prefers to call it – as a global threat to the very societies that have borne them.

“We are talking about a deliberate and broad-based assault by the multinationals upon national tax collections, combined with their growing control of national markets for goods and services. If this strategy continues unchecked, it will (ultimately) destroy the foundations of the global industrial society while enriching a small percentage of the population.

“The law has not developed as it should have, because tax authorities and governments in general have not been prepared to tackle the increasingly predatory tax strategies and artificial arrangements the multinationals have adopted.”

The happenstance of how this race began in Australia is charted by Mr Feil. He cites the ironic fact that when high tariffs, based on the percentage of import value, were reduced in the 1980s and 1990s then, amazingly, import prices rose.

“High customs duties had previously been a deterrent for multinational parent companies charging prices that, together with duties and marketing on-costs, could be recovered in the consumer market by their subsidiaries.”

This is the time, just as more multinational brands were emerging, when the off-shoring and transfer pricing pundits had their revelation.

“The multinationals’ light bulb moment was to recognise that subsidiaries did not need to make a profit in every national market. In fact, foreign governments want to collect taxes on any such profits. The multinationals’ solution was to impose charges on their subsidiaries for royalties, manufacturing knowhow, and technical service fees. These parent-company imposts ensured that the subsidiaries never made a profit and so never paid company tax. In some cases, the subsidiaries incurred losses for decades.”

The more ironic aspect of that process is, while the ATO is expected to understand that, in such extreme cases only losses have been generated from the Australian market over many years — sometimes from hundreds of millions of dollars in annual turnover — but our banks are comfortable to lend to these ‘Australian’ entities.

“The global banks have been a great help to the multinationals,” Mr Feil wrote. “They are the conduits and facilitators of the multinationals’ transfer-pricing tax-minimisation strategies. And they provide financial facilities to companies that, to go by their balance sheets, have not made a profit for decades.”

Later in the book, Mr Feil sums up the apparent madness of continuing to go down this Base Erosion Profit Shifting (BEPS) path.

“Why do multinationals use transfer pricing? I suppose it is like the short-term madness and hubris on Wall Street that created the global financial crisis. There seems to be no end to greed, even if it is ultimately terminally destructive for the greedy. The owners and senior executives of the great global brands have already made an enormous amount of money. Yet they seem to want more. The Big Four accountants and economists involved in transfer pricing are also, even by their standards, making a great deal of money.”



Mr Feil knows the territory as he has seen it from both sides of the fence. He also sees solutions that governments and tax enforcers seem to find too energetic.

“The ATO has been substantially involved in transfer-pricing reviews, audits, advance-pricing arrangements, and other tax-review products for more than 25 years. It seeks fairly simple, initial levels of participation in the processes from multinational affiliates in Australia. The ATO is aware that parent companies and regional offices have bene managing the transfer-pricing issue on a worldwide basis for decades. Yet initial probes by the ATO often result in an Australian subsidiary client producing documentation that is out of date, does not represent the present functions, assets and risks of the affiliate, and does not indicate any awareness of the Australian rulings and legislation …

“The taxpayer documentation review and negotiation process is like watching cold oil drip. No one in Australia will take responsibility for documentation, and no one will make much effort to explain how and why a company’s functions, assets and risks paradigm have altered during decades of product change, divestment of subsidiaries, acquisitions of new business, the impact of new government policies, or any other change that may impact upon transfer-pricing analysis. Often the documentation is badly out of date and does not accurately represent the subsidiary’s functions, assets, and risks at the time of the audit – and certainly not at the time of judicial review,” he wrote.

“For smaller Australian multinational affiliates, the entire issue is outside their control, beyond their budget, and not in their interest. The managing director of a major company recently told me that he would be poorly regarded if he brought the issue up with his European head office. I know that whenever a matter blows up, the global transfer-pricing people form the United States and Asia come to Australia for the discussion with the ATO. This would obviously be the case for European multinationals as well. Local executives generally have a minor role, and cannot make final settlement decisions.”

If you think this is hyper-critical of multinational subsidiaries in Australia, take a look at the Senate Enquiry into Corporate Tax Avoidance that quizzed the Australian CEOs of some of these multinationals.     



The ATO does have access to one potentially powerful new tool: the Sub-Division 815-A and –B additions to the Income Tax Assessment Act 1936 (ITAA). This sub-section allows the ATO to look seriously at transfer-pricing cross dealing back to 2004-05 – and it has been applied already to the ATO’s Federal Court case against oil giant Chevron Australia, as a deterrent.

The power behind 815-A is its retrospectivity, given that the parent company loans to the Australian subsidiary, which came about ostensibly because of Chevron’s global purchase of Texaco in 2000, caused a restructure in Australia. Essentially the loan interest payments were under question for their alleged non-commercial nature, which permitted Chevron to reduce profits in Australia through higher interest payments.

The ATO’s case for a 25 percent penalty, which it finally won in a decision in 2015 (but which has drawn appeals from Chevron, so Australia has so far won no money from the decision) was complex and relied on testimony from oil and gas industry experts, a banking industry expert, a transfer pricing economist, three (credit) ratings experts and an accounting expert. Federal Court Judge Alan Robertson’s judgement ran to 118 pages in this complex case and looked like costing Chevron more than $300 million.

Mr Feil has some prescient advice for the ATO and the OECD, shaped from first-hand experience when he worked there as the authority on transfer pricing practices: Get Moving Fast.

“It has taken the OECD over 20 years to move aggressively against transfer pricing and identify the fundamental threat it has become to the global economy. The pace is simply too slow.

“The damage to national tax collections has been immense. If the Big Four (PwC, EY, KPMG and Deloitte) have been paid US$500 billion in 25 years, how much tax have their multinational clients avoided globally? It must be in the trillions of dollars …”

Australia’s approach of working within the OECD does make sense as, if any money is to be recovered from decades of transfer pricing ‘cup shuffling’ it will require the cooperation of the offending multinational’s home market – and in so many cases that is the US.

Of course, it becomes academic if the real profits have ended up in a tax haven or, in modern parlance, ‘disappeared into the cloud’.

As Mr Feil laments, “Correlative relief is obviously morally correct, but it often takes a long time for the home tax authority to give some of the money back.”

His other idea, of forgetting the past and, from this point onwards, setting ‘new rules’ for how the money can be counted by multinationals operating in Australia – eliminating predatory transfer pricing from now on – may be the smartest way to go.

That might take public knowledge of what their favourite brands are doing and induce public pressure.

That is what these Business Acumen reports are all about.





While the challenges of overcoming transfer pricing structures are hardly diminishing, the Federal Government is no longer idle on the subject. This is a very good thing as, up until about 18 months ago, Federal Governments of both persuasions had been glacially slow is combatting the bleeding obvious. Here are some recent initiatives.

Govt opens windows on beneficial ownership of companies

THE Federal Government has released a public consultation paper on Increasing Transparency of the Beneficial Ownership of Companies.

This is an early step in pegging back international tax rorts and the offshore escape of what would otherwise be taxable profits.

Revenue and Financial Services Minister Kelly O'Dwyer said the consultation paper “delivers on the government’s commitment in Australia's first Open Government National Action Plan, released on December 7, 2016”. 

“It also reaffirms the government’s announcement at the UK Anti-Corruption Summit in May 2016 to consult on options for a beneficial ownership register for companies,” Ms O’Dwyer said.

“Australia is playing a leading role in global efforts to crack down on tax evasion, and combatting money laundering, bribery, corruption and terrorism financing. Today’s announcement demonstrates the government’s commitment to this important objective.”

If the law and certain international treaties can be shaped effectively out of that public consultation, which is expected to include information from whistleblowers, it would boost transparency around who owns, controls and benefits from companies.

Ms O’Dwyer said it would “assist with preventing the misuse of company structures for illicit purposes”.

“The consultation paper seeks views on increasing the transparency of the beneficial ownership of companies for relevant authorities, to better assist these authorities to combat illicit activities,” she said.

“The government is seeking feedback on what information needs to be collected in order to achieve this objective and how it should be collected, stored and kept up to date. We also seek feedback on the expected compliance costs for affected parties.”

Submissions on the consultation paper can be made online, closing March 13, via the Treasury website.


Turnbull Government continues crackdown on multinational tax avoiders

THE Australian Government has introduced legislation into the Parliament to implement the new Diverted Profits Tax, which will prevent multinationals shifting profits made in Australia offshore to avoid paying tax.

The Diverted Profits Tax will start on July 1, 2017, and is expected to raise $100 million in revenue a year from 2018-19.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said it would provide “a powerful new tool to the Australian Taxation Office to tackle contrived arrangements and uncooperative taxpayers, and will reinforce Australia’s position as having some of the toughest laws in the world to combat multinational tax avoidance”.

Mr Turnbull said it represented “a significant step” as his government “continues to deliver on its commitment to ensure the integrity of our tax system”. 

The Diverted Profits Tax, announced in the 2016-17 Budget, targets multinationals that enter into arrangements to divert their Australian profits to offshore related parties in order to avoid paying Australian tax.

The Commissioner of Taxation will be provided with extra powers to achieve this.

The move will make it easier to apply Australia’s anti‑avoidance provisions and then order a 40 percent rate of tax, which will need to be paid immediately.

Mr Turnbuill said the Diverted Profits Tax would complement the application of the existing anti‑avoidance rules; encourage greater compliance by large multinational enterprises with their tax obligations in Australia, including with Australia's transfer pricing rules; and encourage “greater openness with the Commissioner, and allow for quicker resolution of disputes”.

“The government has consulted extensively to ensure that the legislation appropriately targets multinational tax avoidance," Mr Turnbull said.

“The Diverted Profits Tax will not apply to managed investment trusts or similar foreign entities, sovereign wealth funds and foreign pension funds. These entities have been excluded as they are low risk from an integrity perspective, are widely held and undertake passive activities.

“This exclusion also ensures that such entities do not face an unnecessary compliance burden as a result of the introduction of the Diverted Profits Tax. Similarly, the DPT will only apply to multinationals that have global income of more than $1 billion and Australian income of more than $25 million.”

In addition to the Diverted Profits Tax, the Combating Multinational Tax Avoidance Bill 2017 introduced into Parliament recently includes two further measures to ensure that multinationals pay the right amount of Australian tax and comply with their tax disclosure obligations.

The first is to increase the maximum penalty 100-times for large multinationals where they fail to lodge tax documents on time.

“This means that the maximum administrative penalty for significant global entities that fail to comply with their tax reporting obligations will increase to $525,000,” Mr Turnbull said.

“The Government is also doubling the penalties for large multinationals when they make false or misleading statements to the ATO.

“This will make penalties more commensurate with the turnover of large multinationals and provide greater incentive for them to lodge tax documents on time and take reasonable care when making statements to the ATO.

“The second is to amend Australia’s transfer pricing law to give effect to the 2015 OECD transfer pricing recommendations,” he said. “These recommendations provide greater clarity on how intellectual property and other intangibles should be priced, and ensure the transfer pricing analysis reflects the economic substance of the transaction rather than just the contractual form.

“Adopting these changes will keep our transfer pricing rules in line with international best practice and help ensure that profits made in Australia are taxed in Australia.”



BRISBANE’S catalytic home for innovation, The Capital, is already building momentum as a launchpad for a new breed of Queensland-based businesses.

If the  launch of The Capital itself is any indication of trajectory – powered as it is by two of Australia’s top business incubators, Fishburners and Little Tokyo Two – then the potential is sky high. 

“More than 200 startups will be based at The Capital, with many more businesses to be supported through events and industry programs that will run out of the facility,” Brisbane Lord Mayor Graham Quirk. Brisbane City Council’s $5 million investment into innovation, as outlined in the Brisbane 2022 New World City Action Plan, aims to create hundreds of new jobs of the future and boost Brisbane’s rapidly expanding start-up community, he said. 

“Australia’s largest startup space operator, Fishburners, and Brisbane success story Little Tokyo Two, are the anchor tenants for The Capital and will cultivate the city’s start-ups through their business life-cycle.” Cr Quirk said.

“The Capital’s location in the heart of the CBD will provide Brisbane start-ups with exposure to corporate and government customers and partners crucial to helping them grow and attract new investment.

“Innovation is an industry that is critical to our future economic growth and will continue to be a major stimulant of job creation for our city,” Cr Quirk said.

“The Capital will continue Brisbane’s momentum as a centre for innovation in the Asia Pacific region and ensure the city continues to thrive in this rapidly globalising economy.”

Fishburners chief executive Murray Hurps said Brisbane was the ideal location for his company’s next Australian venture outside of its Sydney base.

“Brisbane has a strong entrepreneurial spirit and has a track record of producing ground-breaking startups with world-changing ideas,” Mr Hurps said.

“Fishburners is a not-for-profit focused on inspiring new start-ups, attracting and validating existing startups and connecting them with support from other parts of the ecosystem.

“With support from the City of Brisbane and our corporate partners, Fishburners Brisbane is now open to new high-impact, scalable start-ups looking to create something big in a collaborative community.”

Little Tokyo Two founder Jock Fairweather said there was no other space in Australia offering the entire start-up, enterprise and business ecosystem in one single building. 

“The Capital has offered Little Tokyo Two the opportunity to provide what we thought was missing in the ecosystem – a space that could host scaled start-ups, venture capitalists, mentors and corporate innovation teams in a space that is conveniently co-located with start-up innovators from Fishburners,” Mr Fairweather said.

“Being part of The Capital has allowed us to become recognised as a leader in innovation, culture, creativity and entrepreneurship. We are proud that we are now known as Brisbane’s leading curator of innovation communities.”

Cr Quirk said that nurturing Brisbane’s startup ecosystem and creating a dynamic innovation hub was one of seven key economic priorities outlined in the Brisbane 2022 New World City Action Plan.

“The Capital will also house the city’s peak small business and start-up education programs, Digital Brisbane, as well as Brisbane’s chief digital officer,” he said.

“The highly successful programs such as Power-Up and the Visiting Entrepreneurs Program will be run from The Capital, in addition to other dedicated community programs and one-on-one support.” 

Brisbane City Council has signed an agreement with Fishburners and Little Tokyo Two as anchor tenants over five years with building redeveloper ISPT joining The Capital as a founding partner. Fishburners is supported by partners Google, News Corp, Optus, NAB, PwC, Cisco, Dropbox, Amazon and BigAir.



Managing director of SG Partners, Michael Lang, almost says it as an aside – but he says it often because it is a truth all business leaders instinctively know: if you don’t have sales, you don’t have a business.  Yet as Mr Lang well knows – it is his business to know – effective leadership, sales training and long-term sales team building is woefully low on the budget line and list of priorities for Australian business leaders. He argues a major problem facing Australian business right now, especially in the financial services sector, is the mind-set of business leadership. Here is how Michael Lang and his SG Partners team are there to help.

By Mike Sullivan >>

IS IT ALL in the mind? SG Partners managing director Michael Lang has a mind to say so, about Australian business success.

In fact, it is Mr Lang’s extensive observation over many years of how successful business people guide their companies, by understanding what drives their people, that led to his study of neuro linguistic programming (NLP). Now Mr Lang and his SG Partners teams apply NLP to their training courses and positive business change programs.

While Mr Lang and SG Partners started in the field of sales training, lately he has focused on chief executives, managing directors and key executive leaders – because their leadership skills and behaviours have been empowered by his programs.

Too many business leaders, he believes, have been guilty of harbouring mindsets that were limiting innovation within their own organisations. And, stifling revenue generating opportunities along the way.

Michael Lang believes great business leaders must know their own minds, know how to stimulate the mind sets of others, read the aspirations of those who work for them – and they effectively ‘mind the shop’ by placing customer service and sales at the top of everyone’s minds and agendas.

Great business leaders, often without realising it, are tapping in to the science that underpins SP Partners training programs: NLP. 

 “If you want to change someone’s behaviour, skills alone will not do this,” Mr Lang said. “Nor will putting them in a new environment – it will not change people’s behaviour”.

“How many times have we heard from people who come up from Melbourne to the Gold Coast and say, ‘My life sucks in Melbourne, so I’ve come up to a warmer environment’. And after a while they go, ‘Oh, the Gold Coast sucks, I’m going back to Melbourne.’?

“Because they have bought their baggage with them. The environment doesn’t change you. What changes you are your rules, or beliefs, that allow you to keep your values.

“And that is all about neuroscience. How the mind is wired, and how you change that wiring”

NLP techniques, often applied to sports people and high-performance professionals in the entertainment and military spheres, are surprisingly easy to learn for business leaders. The often difficult requirement for success is that you must change your own mindset first. This is where SG Partners comes in.

“You can change it (the mind) just by changing your language. Simple,” Mr Lang said. “It starts with changing your state.”

“If someone is in a negative state, as in their posture is closed, you find their breathing becomes shallower, therefore less oxygen goes to their head, the brain starts to shut down and creates a protective mentality,” he said. “It releases certain chemicals that allow you to be protected, but what it doesn’t do is engage the frontal lobe. The frontal lobe is where all the ideas and thinking comes from.

“That’s how we could get into a depressive state. Because by feeling down to start with, the chemicals released to keep us safe, those chemicals don’t allow the thinking of choices, so then we start to spiral and spiral and spiral.”

“By managing your state – by getting oxygen to flow – you now have your brain working at full capacity. It’s that simple.”

While Mr Lang observes sporting coaches applying NLP techniques with their players at various levels, for a business leader a much deeper understanding is required to achieve a sustained outcome”

“Highly trained sporting individuals and teams go on the field every week, but they don’t win every week. Isn’t that interesting?” he said. “Here’s the thing … they might get into peak state, but do they really understand why they are doing it? They are doing it because their coach has told them.”

“If you understood why you are doing it, then you would be able to tap into it consciously, consistently”

“We want to get into an ‘unconscious competence’. Just like when we drive … we often arrive somewhere and we go, I don’t know how I got here. That is an unconscious competence – you know how to drive so well that you don’t even think about it. You make the right choices automatically.”

“That’s why when we train people we provide them tools and strategies to implement,” Mr Lang said. “We may have the tool, but what is the strategy of using that tool? A lot of people just get the tools. That’s not good enough in business.”


Understanding what drives people and what their fundamental needs are, at work, underpins successful leadership, Mr Lang said.

“As a leader it is, more often than not, about giving people certainty,” Mr Lang said. “Certainty can be in many things to many people.”

“There are people who live in, ‘I need certainty’. There are people who live in ‘I need variety’. When you think about it, if you are investing eight hours a day in your job, you don’t want to be doing the same thing every day, year after year. That is why some organisations rotate their people with the task they perform when it is repetitive”

“Some people need significance. They want to be heard and they will conduct themselves in a way that will either be positive or negative.”

“You take some people consistently seen in the media. They demand significance. And they will bully people, they will go to court, they will engage the media. That is their way of saying I want acknowledgement . That’s the way they comes across. Whereas other people might say I can get my significance by tapping into the hearts of other people.” Mr Lang said.

“Then there is connection and love. People want to have connection to a tribe. We are all tribal. We want to be connected to something. Some people dwell in that space more than other spaces.”

“Then there is growth. People want to grow. We actually need to grow. “

“We also want to contribute. Most successful people in their heart, as well as their mind, want to contribute back.

“So it is about finding where you resonate both in a personal and professional environment.”

 This is what business leaders must come to grips with and interpret so they can shape a successful business direction.

“Neuroscience is about understanding how our mind map is created and how what our model the world is,” Mr Lang said.


It is complicated, Mr Lang admits, but business leaders can learn the tools and strategies that make decisions around these states of mind instinctive.

“When you are a baby, you want certainty. That is your highest priority,” he said. “Be fed, that is a priority, for sure. And there is love as well, love and connection.

“Teenager. It’s variety. It’s connection to peer groups. And there is some significance. They are not into contribution so much.

“When you get older, when you are my age, 50, you want to probably say, how can I give more back? I’m doing the CEO Sleepout this year, for instance. I have wanted to that for years. I am an ambassador of Opportunity International. I jumped off a 35 story building a couple of years ago for Save the Children, and I raised some money to do that.

“But then you look at young people who do want to contribute … often it is about the environment they live in.

“So is it is an age thing or it is about something that just strikes a chord with some people?

“There are some people who just get stuck in certainty. Why do you come to work? It gives me food on the table. That’s it. Who am I to judge them?

“I love growth. I love helping and succeeding and helping others to grow. That’s just me,” Mr Lang said.

“What we want to do is get the balance right. We run professional workshops for business people – and what we know is, that if we can help them personally, it will make it easier for their professional lives to change.

“If you can change someone’s rules or beliefs, then you will get a change of behaviour.”


Michael Lang’s journey in this area was shaped by his close observations of businesses and business leaders – some winning, some losing – over decades.

He started to assist sales teams in the mining and resources sectors, first through a period at Brisbane-based Mincom – a world leader in mining and public infrastructure management technologies that is now part of the multi-national ABB group – and then through a specially-created arm of the Australian Industry Group (Ai Group) the Mining Equipment and Services Council of Australia (MESCA).

Mr Lang focused at MESCA on helping mining supply companies to develop better sales systems, strategies and people. During his time there, he was instrumental in doubling MESCA’s membership.

“Through that time, I saw that the mining industry was changing. They were learning. The suppliers weren’t,” Mr Lang said. “Why would they? They were getting so much business, they didn’t have to do anything differently.

“So I started challenging the members and I started bringing training in. Through that, I got quite passionate about people engaging differently to get even better outcomes. So I later moved on to start the company (SG Partners) in just training.

“Then we learnt along the way that training in a workshop is not sustainable. You are just giving them a shot in the arm and the adrenalin wears off. That’s because, in a stressful environment, we will always go back to what is comfortable.

“Change only happens when we become uncomfortable. When we are consistently stretched.”

 “So I studied neuro linguistic programming.”


SG Partners found it was on a winner. The sales teams it assisted in its early days were measuring solid improvement, and SG Partners was rapidly building its business successfully through word-of-mouth based on these results.

Michael Lang, however, was not satisfied. He found while the NLP techniques were clearly effective, the sales teams were regularly encountering resistance from their management.

“We are doing all this sales improvement,” Mr Lang said. “And we are doing all these long term and short term and we were seeing change – but you know what, along the way I thought, you know, change could be even more if leadership changed their mind sets. That’s where I started getting involved more in leadership.

“Australia struggles with leadership. It not something at the forefront of our minds.”

“Look at the Americans. Americans strive and aspire to be like (significant) people. Here in Australia, don’t get too confident, I’ll cut you down.”

 “What is it like to be a true leader?” Mr Lang pondered. “Ask any Australian: name me a great leader. They probably wouldn’t name an Australian. Richard Branson would come to mind. Obama. Many other people, but not many great Australians, really. Certainly our Prime Minister would not come up, because we don’t defer to his leadership. We actually take the mickey out of our politicians.”

“We don’t congratulate leadership in Australia. If we want greatness in our country, then we have to understand that we have to embrace it. Not import leadership. We have to want it.

“If we are not used to being around it, then it is a scary thing.”


Mr Lang felt this problem was playing out right now across Australia in the sphere of early-stage technology companies and ‘tech start-ups’. Venture capital and seed funding is more of a focus that sales and growth strategies.

“You start looking at the Apple’s and the Amazons and you say, okay, what type of leadership and what type of management system have you got?” Mr Lang said, remarking that these companies were adept at constant evolution.

“The trouble with start-ups is, when they look other models of leadership, they look once only. If you are emulating other start-ups, they are changing all the time. You have got to follow that journey. You have to change constantly.

“Companies will only grow when you continuously innovate: processes, systems, products, people and the way to engage with the marketplace.

“Is there a culture of innovation? Is there a culture of dialogue around innovation? So many companies I go to that aren’t here (at that point)… they live in denial or hope. They still think that something outside their sphere of influence is going to change their fortunes. It’s very sad.

“Or they are waiting for the government? Or they are waiting for their friends or they are waiting for another company to change their fortunes?

“I find that the leadership of many companies comes from the backgrounds of logistics, finance or manufacturing or engineering – not from sales.”

Although sales is the life blood of business, Mr Lang believes that in Australia the sector is maligned and that is a mind-set which must change.

“So they (leadership) actually see sales, or revenue generation as a black art,” Mr Lang said. “Even sales people … they actually have a negative identity around sales.

“Pushy, slimy used car salesman, right? So they don’t want to be part of that.

“When I’m engaging with leaders, I’m saying unless you are willing to get on board this isn’t going to work, because you are actually going to undermine it unconsciously,” Mr Lang said.


SG Partners recently opened its new leadership workshop series at Central Dockside in Brisbane, with inductees ranging from industrial to internet and other services company leaders. That workshop focused on Improving Leadership.

It is evidence that SG Partners practises what it preaches on diversity and innovation. One of its new clients, for example, is a major aged care company.

After learning about using NLP tools and strategies to change their own ‘state’ and moving on to influence others in their organisation, SG Partners trainers moved workshop participants through realistic scenarios, offering personal advice and questioning individual habits. A lot of time and effort was spent on workshopping how to conduct and manage a successful and energising team.

“We now have a diverse group of clients,” Mr Lang said. “Contractors, industrial suppliers, IT, engineering firms … and we did some work for a retirement home company and a nursing contracting company.”

Never content to leave a looming problem alone, Mr Lang is now turning SG Partners’ expertise to address the financial services sector.

“I am looking at the financial services sector because there is a dramatic trigger point coming,” Mr Lang said. That trigger point is the changes to the financial services sector by Federal Government legislation, focused on ethical behaviour. 

Mr Lang said changes included an independent Standards Board and a precedent for professionals employed in the industry to first undertake a degree, professional year and exam (for new advisers) or an appropriate degree equivalent (for existing advisers).

The challenge was large, because of the recent track record of the industry in Australia and the imperative to change the mind-set of financial advisors towards earning their livings from great client service rather than ‘hidden’ commissions from financial institutions.

“It is the most highly regulated industry. It’s fascinating really,” Mr Lang said. “The trigger point the government is bringing via further regulations will change the way financial services people are remunerated, requiring even more transparency, which means they will have to engage even better with their clients.”

Mr Lang said the 451,000 Australian jobs in the sector makes it crucial to the economy – and therefore it needed to provide the highest standards of service to customers.

“As one of Australia’s fastest growing industries, it is important that employees in financial services are receiving the training they need,” Mr Lang said. “What we will see is young graduates coming into the industry, who although qualified, have not had client engagement training and do not have the skillset to engage with clientele and get the very best outcome from them. That’s where SG Partners can help.”

Mr Lang outlined the fundamental challenge ahead for the sector.

“If I am selling you a financial plan which is going to grow your assets, and your wealth, before you used to pay for over time,” he said

 “Now, if I am selling to you, I’ve got to ask you to pay for my advice. There is a whole different conversation going to happen there.

“The people in the industry have not been used to that so they are scared about bringing it up and talking about you having to pay upfront. Or they are scared about having to get you to commit. They have never had to do it before, they do not have the skills. They don’t have the culture. They don’t have the leadership that understands how to do that.”

Mr Lang sees the key challenge as being how to educate the sector’s leadership to guide that change.

“I listen to the financial services industry and they still use words, “we are not the trusted advisor”. “We have to train our people on integrity”.

“Really? It’s 2016! What type of culture do you have in the company that you believe you have to train on integrity? Where are they learning about integrity? Where are they learning about trust?

Mr Lang said the fundamental problem was the sector to date operated in a ‘high risk, high reward’ ecosystem.

“With high risk comes different value systems,” he said. “We reward people’s behaviour. If we are going to reward people’s behaviour for taking risks, therefore that is the culture we are creating, isn’t it?

“And then if you get caught, don’t complain … you created that culture.

 “Part of the challenge with public companies is that they usually have a 3-5 year mandate before the CEO or MD changes. Is that long enough to change a culture? No. That is why they have to be given some depth and breadth to do that.

“I wonder, are they (the leaders) incentivised to do it? Are the leaders incentivised to say, you know, we’ve got a culture problem, this is what we need you to focus on? You fix that and everything else will follow.”

Mr Lang said SG Partners has long realised that changing behaviour is about understanding ‘patterns’ – and changing them. That was what the recent workshop focused upon.

“Everything we do is about patterns,” Mr Lang said. “Patterns of individuals in that workshop: here is your pattern, here is your outcome. If you want to change your outcome, here is where you need to change your patterns.”

The workshop’s role playing inspired participants to imagine what they were going to do differently in their businesses and how they were going to behave differently once they got back to their organisations.

Mr Lang said SG Partners training was practical

“At the end of the workshop I will ask them: you need to pick three things. Go and do those three things within your organisation,” he said.

“You are not going to do everything, but just pick three things. And the human spirit kicks in … once they start to see some traction they will want more and the snowball forms and suddenly it gets momentum.”

“Great leadership is about giving a shift,” Mr Lang said he tells those in his workshops. “It is about caring for the individual in front of you, asking questions, listening and tapping into them. Then they feel that you care and they will follow you.

“So, I’ve got to learn to care. I’ve got to learn to slow down. I’ve got to ask some great questions. I’ve got to give feedback so that the individual is actually being heard.”

Mr Lang’s second piece of advice at the workshop was to focus on ‘pay it forward leadership’.

“I challenge them to go forward and share what they are doing with others. Because life is a lot easier when everyone rises to the next level,

“Spread the word. Because when we spread the word we re-learn as well. Too many times training is seen as, I’ve learnt something now, all I have to do is practise it.

“No. Go and share it with others. Get everyone else on board. It will be a lot easier.”

While the workshops focus on equipping participants with the tools and strategies to succeed in boosting revenue across the board while building organisational effectiveness, putting that into practice often requires follow-through from SG Partners.

“Typically our engagement is over about a two-year period with a company, to turn the ship around, to get people aligned, to improve their mind sets and give them some new skills. And then embed it.”

The way to accomplish that is simple.

“If you really want to be good at it, you need to be practising and be coached,” Mr Lang said. “Dare I say it, the top golfers have four coaches, one focussed on every aspect of their game.

“In my experience, the best and most successful leaders take an elevated view and look for where they themselves may be falling short and then they are more able to see where others in their organisations can benefit from some assistance.”

It’s not mind over matter, it’s minding over what really matters.

COUNCIL of Small Business of Australia (COSBOA) CEO Peter Strong has rejected claims that there is currently “an anti-big business narrative” in Australia – in fact, he said, the pressure remains on small business.

He made his comments in response to a July 26 editorial in the Australian Financial Review which referred to a dominant “anti-big business narrative” in Australia (Let competition work its magic).

COSBOA’s experience, he said, was rather there is an “anti-dominant oligopolies campaign” and with good reason, “because competition is not working”.

“An Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) report from 2014, available from the Australian Office of the Chief Economist, shows Australian small and medium businesses are the fifth most innovative in the world and Australia’s large businesses are the 21st most innovative in the world,” Mr Strong said. “The report goes on to outline that Australian businesses perform poorly on ‘new to market’ innovation when compared globally. 

“This is both illuminating and disturbing,” he said.

“While it is good to see Australia’s SME’s confirmed as among the most innovative in the world, it is also not surprising to see our big business sector struggling as innovators. This is because it is widely accepted that the bigger a business becomes, the less agile it becomes in responding to changing market and consumer needs.

“When these two facts are combined however, we find that the big oligopolies have become bottlenecks for taking innovation to the market. They are holding back productivity. They, not the market, decide what products and services will be sold into national markets.

“While this is worrying, it can also be easily explained, and hopefully fixed, with changes to the policies, beliefs and practices that have created dominant oligopolies in Australia,” Mr Strong said.

“It is due to extreme market dominance that the boards of dominant businesses have no motivation and no reason to innovate. They do believe they are innovative but that is delusion based on power not fact.

“In the end, their boards act purely to increase profit and maintain dominance by hitting hard on the SMEs in their large supply chains, rather than doing anything innovative. There is no reason for the oligopolies to foster imagination and reward those who do things differently and better. They behave in this way as a result of the failure of competition policy.

“These oligopolies increase market share by misuse of their market power through bullying, price discrimination, and covert manipulation of government policy – not by being particularly innovative or clever,” Mr Strong said.

“Recently the shadow assistant Treasurer, Dr Andrew Leigh, a noted laissez-faire economist, stated that the domination by oligopolies is holding Australia back, in a speech for the John Freebairn Lecture in Public Policy, at the University of Melbourne in May.” 
In his speech, Dr Leigh said: “Like a large tree that overshadows the saplings around it, firms that abuse their market power prevent newer competitors from growing. They hurt entrepreneurs and often reduce the scope for innovation. Consumers suffer through higher prices, lower quality and less choice.”

Mr Strong said this kind of statement had been argued in various forms by most small and medium business representatives in Australia for decades, “but has been rejected by government policy makers –  normally from Treasury – political parties beholden to donations from the oligopolies and unions, the text book driven laissez-faire economists, and from big business lobbyists”.

“To justify these opinions these representatives normally make shallow statements like ‘the market will decide’ or ‘that is our policy and it is not up for debate’, which detrimentally limits intellectual conversation and collaboration,” Mr Strong said.

“Dr Leigh also highlights the depth and breadth of the problem. He mentions that oligopolies dominate markets in newspapers, banking, health insurance, supermarkets, domestic airlines, internet service providers, credit unions, liquor retailing, hardware among many others. In petrol retailing and telecommunications, the largest four companies control more than two-thirds of the market.

“In addition, Dr Leigh’s speech delved into the problem apparent when economists and politicians pick and choose arguments to highlight their particular needs, while ignoring the same rationale for other important arguments.”

Dr Leigh had made the point in his speech: “In 2009, Chris Bowen, as Minister for Competition Policy and Consumer Affairs, criminalised cartel conduct with a jail term of up to 10 years. This put Australia in line with the United States, United Kingdom, Germany, Ireland and Canada.”

However, Mr Strong said, “So it appears we need to be in line on one policy (cartels) yet we cannot put Australia in line with the same countries when it comes to other important competition policies, such as the controversial but desperately needed Effects Test?
“Why the difference?” he asked.

“Simply put Labor’s Competition Policy is written by the unions who often work in close partnership with oligopolies in specific industries where their union members are to be found. 

“One such example is the Labor Government’s ‘Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal’ where evidence of communications between the Transport Workers Union and some of Australia’s largest trucking companies could be construed as working together to make it harder for small trucking enterprises to operate.

“It is to the advantage of unions to maintain dominance by their big business friends.  This is at a cost to innovation, to productivity and to the economy,” Mr Strong said.

“COSBOA hopes if both major political parties can ignore the threats and misinformation coming from big unions and dominant businesses, this will see more opportunity for people who run SMEs to get their clever ideas to market. Certainly the Liberal-National Coalition has shown readiness to embrace competition as have the Greens and Nick Xenophon, it is only Labor that cannot confront this issue beyond words.

“It is worth remembering that most big businesses in Australia are good, efficient and fair; it is only the biggest most dominant businesses – about 12 of them – and the biggest unions, three, maybe four, who are the problem,” Mr Strong said.

“COSBOA calls for changes to section 46 of the Competition Act to break the chains on innovation holding Australia back.”


THE Council of Small Business of Australia (COSBOA)’s Vodafone National Small Business Summit brought together key players who represent thousands of small businesses and individuals who shape policy in Australia. It began on July 7 at the Brisbane Hilton Hotel.

Those representing the small business community, including the Australian Hairdressing Council and Master Grocers Australia, heard from thought leaders who addressed some of the key issues that are affecting small business now. 

The summit addressed how policy makers and the government can provide solutions, resources and legislation that will influence small business growth in Australia.

The first day's discussions included Brexit, small business innovation, ecommerce and technology, and the mental health of the small business owner.

Kicking-off the Summit, Peter Munckton, the Chief Economist for Bank of Queensland, discussed the impact of Brexit across the globe, Australia and small business.

He said, naturally, Brexit will have a significant impact on UK business, especially those who have offices in other parts of Europe. They will now have to deal with different legislations across country boundaries in the same way that Australian businesses have to work in Europe.

On Australia, he said, “On the whole Australia is doing well, but it could be doing better,” and his data revealed the general public's biggest concern was job security. On the whole he said the direct consequences of Brexit should be manageable for small business in Australia.

The presentation was then followed by a Q&A session: Who are the Innovators? with Andrew Chanmugam, general manager of Businessat Vodafone Australia, Robert Gerrish founder of Flying Solo and Kim Houghton, general manager of policy and research at Regional Australia Institute.

The trio took questions from the floor about the importance of small businesses being innovative. Vodafone Australia’s Mr Chanmugan commented that the way we use technology has changed significantly over the last 20 years and for small businesses to be innovative, they must become more operationally agile, better connected to employees and better engaged with customers.

Vodafone wants to enable small business through technology, app partners and offerings so they can become what the carrier call a Ready Business.

Robert Gerrish added that innovation assists with a work-life balance for small business and can create business efficiency via systems such as online training and remote working.

However, Kim Hougton interpreted the question ‘who are the innovators?’ a little differently and asked ‘where are the innovators?’ He praised Vodafone for its actions connecting regional Australia, which will aid competition in the market place as they become better connected.

Mr Houghton hopes that technical innovation will bring together communities too, encouraging them to do business with their neighbours rather than looking further afield.

“This network is strong in the cities, but not outside of them," he said.

Australian Securities and Investment Commission (ASIC)’s Commissioner, Greg Tanzer, provided a regulator update, specifically for small business and also echoed the statements made in the ‘who are the innovators' session, that ASIC has the systems in place to make business operations seamless via an online platform, which will be launched later in the year.

The theme of online business continued at the Summit with Ben Laurie, from American Express, Michael Cooley, from Google Australia, and Emma Dobson, from the Digital Business Council discussing eCommerce and Small Business.

All agreed that the growth of the National Broadband Network was a great opportunity for small businesses, both regionally and city-based, and that doing efficient business online is key for future success. The importance of ensuring your website is mobile ready cannot be underestimated, especially given that individuals now look at smart phones at least 150 times a day.

The afternoon saw Sandy Chong, CEO of the Hairdressing Council of Australia and Mark McKenzie, from ACAPMA lead a session called ‘Vent on VET.’ The duo voiced their concerns with the current VET program and how it is not meeting the needs of the industry, especially small businesses owners.

Talking about the current system, Sandy Chong said, “We have to pay a 21 year old, who is training almost the same amount of money as a qualified stylist and there are salons out there that can’t afford to do that, which leads to less apprentices being taken on.

“We have an industry of unemployable qualified hairdressers based on our education and training system and small business has lost confidence in VET. Apprentices need to have skills: knowledge and experience before deemed qualified,” Ms Chong said.

The Vodafone National Small Business Summit continues on Friday July 8

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