Budget policy check do we need company tax cuts random thoughts gas 99 cents

Business investment in Australia declined steadily for four years after peaking in 2013. In early 2016, the Turnbull government settled on a series of company tax cuts as their preferred policy to reinvigorate business investment and the economy.

Like many policy changes, there are winners and losers. The give-and-take nature of the tax cut means that the “losers” from the tax cut will be Australian-owned businesses and the Australian government. We find that despite the expansion in GDP, the average income of the Australian population (a more suitable measure of the material welfare of the population) will fall. Do we need investment to maintain jobs and economic growth?

The jobs growth figures last year – we all know now, more than 1,100 jobs a day – that’s had a really big impact on our economy and we can expect that to continue and now lead to – I would expect – better wage outcomes as long as businesses keep investing and businesses can keep remaining competitive.

In a well-functioning economy, population growth and technological progress naturally attract investment. When investment only keeps pace with population or employment growth, wages stagnate. For wages to grow, investment needs to be above this level. This happens when there is technological progress, generating the higher returns which attract the level of investment needed.

If company taxes are cut there will be significant costs to government revenue that amount to a “windfall gain” to the (mostly foreign-owned) investments that have already been made on the basis of the 30% tax rate. On balance, the positive impact on growth and wages is not enough to justify the loss of this revenue. Is there a problem with business investment in Australia?

Business investment is now showing signs of picking up. In a speech late last year, Reserve Bank deputy governor Guy Debelle saw “signs of life” in investment growth, particularly in the services sector and in infrastructure projects completed by the private sector on behalf of the public sector.

A Grattan Institute report identifies four very good reasons for the four-year decline. These include a return to “normal” investment following the mining boom and an overall decline in the amount of money needed to create capital goods in most industries. The report also points to an ongoing shift towards households spending more on services such as retail, cafes, and professional services and slow economic growth overall.

Certainly business investment has weakened over the last five years, and along with this we have seen weak wage growth. It would be foolhardy to argue against the need for more business investment. Jobs and growth underpinned by a healthy level of investment are essential aspects of a modern society.

But cutting the company tax rate is not the way to go. It may deliver more business investment and economic activity, but by forgoing taxation revenue from existing investment, it comes at a cost to the average income of the Australian people.

To reap the benefits of strong business investment without a costly tax giveaway, Australia must continue to play to its strengths. Reducing the government revenue base through a cut to company tax will undermine the sort of stable, prosperous society that underpins the world-class environment that we strive to offer all investors.