It’s impossible to overestimate the creativity of people offered a tax break or slice of government money.
Even in a national crisis, some will seek to rort the system.
On Thursday afternoon, the Prime Minister was clear about the illegality of one of the more egregious scams being reported on social media: Employers asking/telling employees they would retain a share of the $750-a-week JobKeeper payment for “administration” expenses.
Mr Morrison asked for such cases to be reported to the police and Australian Taxation Office.
Such scumbag wages theft is at one end of the spectrum.
Inevitably, some employers will be willing to exploit their employees – and taxpayers – if they get a chance.
There was plenty of wages and superannuation theft around before COVID-19 was heard of.
Also inevitably, government programs attract fraudsters.
There’s any number of court cases demonstrating that – childcare centre frauds, sham private training colleges, NDIS rip-offs.
What doesn’t help is when the government program is messy, complicated and not quite thought through.
JobKeeper is a case in point.
There are good aspects, well-meaning aspects, but it relies massively on the goodwill of employers and their cash flow, the gaps in its coverage are more like chasms and, for me, there remains a lurking suspicion that a key driver in its delivery was to outsource social security from a failing and inadequate Centrelink – papering over the embarrassment of those gruesome Centrelink queues – plus a means of whitewashing unemployment statistics.
Programs rushed by necessity in a crisis will have problems.
Labor’s GFC school sheds program was a good overall policy, but there were clearly some failures in implementation. (Trusting the NSW government to implement it for state schools was the biggest.)
The test for government now is how it will go about fixing the faults.
On Thursday, Mr Morrison spoke of the economic “lifelines” running for six months – it will have to be longer.
The lesson learned from Australia’s world-best-practice GFC response was that the most important thing is to get money out quickly in a crisis, to try to catch people before they plummet too far, and worry about messy details later.
This is a very different sort of crisis, one that isn’t solved by the same formula, but speed is nevertheless an imperative.
And when speed is the priority over detail, opportunities will open up for the legal tax minimisation industry.
For example, there’s the suggestion around the tax advice industry of a neat little swifty that would enable some people to have their superannuation tax deduction cake and eat it too.
There are major problems with the government’s open-slather approach to allowing people to access their superannuation early, systemic problems.
The cynical have suggested elements within the government (yes, Senator Bragg, I might well mean you) are happy to use the crisis to try to damage industry superannuation funds by encouraging early withdrawal at the worst possible time to be cashing out unless it is absolutely necessary.
But at the merely venial end, there’s the “double dip” superannuation tax scheme doing the rounds of financial advisers.
The idea is that someone who qualifies for the $20,000 tax-free withdrawal can make the most of the tax deduction for a personal super contribution by whacking in $20,000 this financial year and then taking it out again.
For example, someone with their own business that has been suspended or had turnover reduced by more than 20 per cent – but still has spare cash and a high marginal tax rate this financial year – can claim a tax deduction on contributing $20,000 this financial year and take it (almost) straight back out again in two tax-free lots of $10,000 either side of June 30.
They would pay the 15 per cent contribution tax, but gain a deduction at their marginal rate, coming out some $4000 ahead on the transaction.
That’s probably not how the government intended the early access to be used.
It will be interesting to see if the ATO or ASIC have a crack at warning people off trying it, but tax lurks and government money always attract plenty of flies.