The elements which can attract the criminal label to evasion were elaborated by Dickson J in Denver Chemical Manufacturing v Commissioner of Taxation (New South Wales): An intention to withhold information lest the Commissioner should consider the taxpayer liable to a greater extent than the taxpayer is prepared to concede, is conduct which if the result is to avoid tax would justify finding evasion. Not all evasion is fraudulent. It becomes fraudulent if it involves a deliberate attempt to cheat the revenue. On the other hand, evasion may exist, but may not be fraudulent, if it is the result of a genuine mistake. In order to prove the offence of evasion, the Commissioner must show intent to evade by the taxpayer. As with other offences, this intent may be inferred from the circumstances of the particular case. Tax avoidance and tax mitigation are mutually exclusive. Tax avoidance and tax evasion are not: They may both arise out of the same situation. For example, a taxpayer files a tax return based on the effectiveness of a transaction which is known to be void against the Commissioner as a tax avoidance arrangement.
A senior United Kingdom tax official recently referred to this issue: If an ‘avoidance’ scheme relies on misrepresentation, deception and concealment of the full facts, then avoidance is a misnomer; the scheme would be more accurately described as fraud, and would fall to be dealt with as such. Where fraud is involved, it cannot be re-characterized as avoidance by cloaking the behavior with artificial structures, contrived transactions and esoteric arguments as to how the tax law should be applied to the structures and transactions. Tax Avoidance in a Policy Framework We now turn from the existing legal framework in the context of income tax to a possible policy framework for considering issues relating to tax avoidance generally. The questions considered relevant to a policy analysis of tax avoidance are:
What is tax avoidance? Under what conditions is tax avoidance possible?
When is tax avoidance a ‘policy problem?
What is a sensible policy response to tax avoidance?
What is the value of, and what are the limitations of, general anti-avoidance rules?
The first two questions are discussed below What is Tax Avoidance?
Finance literature may offer some guidance to what is meant by tax avoidance in its definition of ‘arbitrage’. Arbitrage is a means of profiting from a mismatch in prices. An example is finding and exploiting price differences between New Zealand and Australia in shares in the same listed company. A real value can be found in such arbitrage activity, since it spreads information about prices. Demand for the low-priced goods increases and demand for the high-priced goods decreases, ensuring that goods and resources are put to their best use. Tax arbitrage is, therefore, a form of tax planning. It is an activity directed towards the reduction of tax. It is this concept of tax arbitrage that seems to constitute generally accepted notions of what is tax avoidance. Activities such as giving money to charity or investing in tax-preferred sectors, would not fall into this definition of tax arbitrage, and thus would not be tax avoidance even if the action were motivated by tax considerations. It has been noted that financial arbitrage can have a useful economic function. The same may be true of tax arbitrage, presuming that differences in taxation are deliberate government policy furthering economic efficiency.
It is possible that tax arbitrage directs resources into activities with low tax rates, as intended by government policy. It is also likely to ensure that investors in tax-preferred areas are those who can benefit most from the tax concessions, namely, those facing the highest marginal tax rates. If government policy objectives are better achieved, tax arbitrage is in accordance with the government’s policy intent. Tax avoidance, then, can be viewed as a form of tax arbitrage that is contrary to legislative or policy intent. What Makes Tax Avoidance Possible? The basic ingredients of tax arbitrage are the notion of arbitrage, and the possibilities of profiting from differentials that the notion of arbitrage implies. This definition leads to the view that three conditions need to be present for tax avoidance to exist. A difference in the effective marginal tax rates on economic income is required. For arbitrage to exist, there must be a price differential and, in tax arbitrage, this is a tax differential. Such tax differences can arise because of a variable rate structure, such as a progressive rate scale, or rate differences applying to different taxpayers, such as tax-exempt bodies or tax loss companies.
Alternatively it can arise because the tax base is less than comprehensive, for example, because not all economic income is subject to income tax.
- An ability to exploit the difference in tax by converting high-tax activity into low-tax activity is required. If there are differences in tax rates, but no ability to move from high to low-tax, no arbitrage is possible.
- Even if these two conditions are met, this does not make tax arbitrage and avoidance possible. The tax system may mix high and low-rate taxpayers. The high-rate taxpayer may be able to divert income to a low-rate taxpayer or convert highly-taxed income into a lowly-taxed form. But this is pointless unless the high-rate taxpayer can be recompensed in a lowly-taxed form for diverting or converting his or her income into a low-tax category. The income must come back in a low-tax form. The benefit must also exceed the transaction costs. This is the third necessary condition for tax arbitrage.
- Since all tax systems have tax bases (The thing or amount to which a tax rate applies.