Record corporate tax receipts, but fossil fuel giants still paid zero

Some of Australia's largest fossil fuel giants paid no tax in 2021-22, new data reveals.

Some of Australia's largest fossil fuel giants paid no tax in 2021-22, new data reveals. Photo: Getty

Australia has collected billions more in tax from corporate giants on the back of a global commodities boom and the COVID-19 rebound, but many large businesses still paid zero.

Figures published in the Australian Tax Office (ATO)’s latest corporate tax transparency report on Thursday revealed the 2713 largest businesses operating in Australia paid $83.8 billion in income tax during 2021-22, up 22 per cent on the previous year and 50 per cent in two years.

It was driven by a surge in commodities prices, which has run rivers of gold for Australia’s huge mining corporations like BHP and Rio Tinto, alongside the economic recovery from COVID-19.

But many big businesses still paid no tax despite posting billions of dollars in income, including electricity retailer AGL and oil giant ExxonMobil – both of which made $15.4 billion in 2021-22.

Gas giant Chevron also paid nothing on $5.2 billion in total income.

Curiously, News Corporation’s Australian holding company also paid zero tax, despite posting $1.8 billion in total income.

There are a myriad of reasons companies pay little or no tax, some of which are legitimate, but experts have warned that corporate giants creatively minimise their profits to escape taxation.

Other companies carry forward losses from prior years to reduce their tax bills; one example is embattled airline Qantas, which posted $9.3 billion in income for 2021-22 but paid zero in tax.

However, ATO deputy commissioner Rebecca Saint said the 2021-22 tax take was nevertheless a record result, with every sector in the economy showing an increase in tax payable for the financial year.

‘This is a fantastic result for the Australian community,” Saint said on Thursday.

“A combination of a rapidly recovering economy, high commodity prices and high levels of voluntary tax compliance, backed up by the hard work of the Tax Avoidance Taskforce over many years, has delivered in spades.”

Commodities boom drives tax boost

Near-record high prices for key commodities such as iron ore, coal and gas during the 2021-22 financial year is the biggest reason that income tax receipts from large firms has skyrocketed.

BHP and Rio Tinto paid more than $18 billion in tax between them on $142 billion in total income (only $40 billion of which was taxable), while Fortescue Metals paid the third most tax at $3.5 billion (on $21 billion in total income).

Australia’s big four banks were the next largest group of taxpayers, forking over more than $8.2 billion in tax between them on more than $100 billion in combined total income, the ATO said.

From there the list trails off into a mix of heavy industry companies and large retailers such as supermarket chains Woolworths and Coles as well as JB Hi-Fi, which all benefitted from the rebound from the pandemic.

Almost a third of big firms paid no tax

But almost a third (31 per cent) of firms included in the ATO’s latest analysis still paid no tax in 2021-22, which is down from 36 per cent in 2013-14.

Saint said companies pay tax on profits rather than gross income, which is one reason large companies with huge revenue streams may kick very little into public coffers in a given year.

“Even entities with large revenue streams may not make a profit for a variety of reasons,” she said.

There are, however, longstanding criticisms that the tax system makes it too easy for large corporations, particularly those in the resources and technology sectors, to pay little or no tax.

Mining giants, for example, have access to billions of dollars in tax credits for their use of petrol, while technology companies utilise loopholes in global tax regimes to minimise their tax bills.

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