Tuesday, November 03, 2020

Patriotism and Kerry Packer's tax lawyer

Neil Chenoweth

Patriotism and Kerry Packer's tax lawyer

Neil ChenowethSenior writer

If you want a little zing in the way tax agents handle your returns, you can’t do better than making Kerry Packer’s tax lawyer one of the regulators.

This was Assistant Treasurer Michael Sukkar’s Big Idea last week, appointing Judy Sullivan to the Tax Practitioners Board, which oversees all tax accountants.

Sullivan wasn’t just Kerry’s lawyer. She was a Packer enthusiast, going on radio back in 1999 to explain why moving companies to the Bahamas was all about patriotism.

Kerry Packer the Bahamas patriot: “If anybody in this country doesn't minimise their tax they want their head read.” AP

“I think it’s actually incredibly patriotic”, she said, for Packer in to have moved $823 million in profits and assets from UK companies resident in Hong Kong, a low-tax jurisdiction, to the Bahamas, a zero-tax jurisdiction, in 1988.

That was so Kezza, helplessly driven by Australian fervour when he told the Senate in 1991, “If anybody in this country doesn't minimise their tax they want their head read.”

Sullivan’s reasoning, offered to the ABC while the Tax Office was appealing against a Federal Court ruling, was that avoiding double taxation just meant Packer could pay more tax in Australia. The ATO wasn’t wholly across this idea and argued it would be simpler just to send profits back here to be taxed.

But Sullivan was right and the patriots on the High Court ruled in Packer’s favour, dismissing ATO claims of dividend stripping.

More recently, July Sullivan was a tax partner at PwC Legal. She is one of three big-four alumni on the TPB board, along with Peter de Cure (ex-KPMG) and Greg Lewis (ex-KPMG and Ernst & Young), so they’ll be right across ATO claims that the big firms are abusing legal privilege claims.

The ATO launched Federal Court action against PwC in June, claiming that 44,000 emails sent to a PwC lawyer while advising Brazilian meat giant JBS were not all legal advice protected by privilege.

Details of the deal are sketchy, but JBS’s form of patriotism apparently involves interest payments to Luxembourg.

Neil Chenoweth is an investigative reporter for The Australian Financial Review. He is based in Sydney and has won multiple Walkley Awards. Connect with

Patriotism and Kerry Packer's tax lawyer 

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