A Travellerspoint blog

A little-noticed part of the 2009 budget

Tuesday 12th May – 5 months, 26 days

So, my budget commentary is a little late*. However, I think this is important, so I still want to write about it.
I didn’t see much comment about one particular aspect of the budget which still has me shaking my head in disbelief. That is, that the majority of Australians working overseas now will be liable to pay tax in Australia. It used to be that most people working more than 91 days straight were exempt. Now, only certain aid workers, and certain defence / government workers will be exempt. Everyone else has to pay.

Now you might ask yourself, ‘And why shouldn’t they pay? They shouldn’t get to avoid tax! Besides, they’ll get a tax offset for any foreign tax they pay!’. Except, I’d ask in return, why do we pay tax? Well, to keep our country running, as far as I can tell. Schools and hospitals and roads and internet and such. Services which you just don’t use if you’re working overseas. Being out of the country, and all. So pretty much anyone who works overseas is being penalised for having the gall to leave Australia and work somewhere else. (As always, those of independent means, who can afford very good accountants, don’t have to worry.)

The thing is – there are a *lot* of jobs going in developing countries, currently filled by Australians, which probably won’t fall under the exemption for aid workers, although they are arguably aid work. How is ‘aid or charitable worker’ defined? I mean, do you have to be working for an Australian aid organisation to get the exemption? Or an international one? Does it matter how much money you earn?

And doing your tax when you’re overseas just isn’t as simple as when you’re working for an Australian employer. In Australia, working for the public service, I get issued a tidy little group certificate from my employer each July, ready to pop into my e-tax form. I can’t imagine what kind of hoops I’d have to jump through in Timor to convince an international employer, or a local Timorese NGO, in order to get some kind of statement of my pay, when the Timorese financial year runs from January to December, and the American one from April to March.

I just have this bad kind of feeling this isn’t going to encourage Australians’ participation in aid work, including volunteering (the potential for problems with this definition of who gets the exemption and who doesn’t is endless), in the long term. Once people work out that they’re gonna get slogged, they’re going to sneakily redefine their work, they’re going to do some creative accounting, they’re going to just not bother going for that awesome job in community development.

I particularly like how this measure picks on a demographic who would have the least idea of what’s just happened to their pay packets – because we’re all, you know, out of the country and probably mostly aren’t (apart from me) following things like the budget process at all. Nice work.

  • That’s what happens when you’re living the development lifestyle, my friends... It really is difficult to write a blog without a home internet connection.

Posted by timortimes 22:33

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