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Leveraging tax transparency

15.05.20

Universal health care. Free childcare. Free education. These are what our taxes contribute to in Australia. Despite this, the issue of tax is highly politicised and often used to attack progressive governments. So what is the role of ActionAid on tax justice and how Australian companies do business in low income countries?

ActionAid Australia hosts, and is a key member, of Publish What You Pay Australia. Together ActionAid and Publish What You Pay work to bring greater transparency and accountability to the mining, gas and oil sectors with a focus on companies operating overseas.

Publish What You Pay’s research shows that there are over 700 listed companies operating in over 100 countries globally. This includes many countries where ActionAid has offices. For example, there are Australian extractive companies present in 34 African nations. Big gas and mining companies also operate in Myanmar, Cambodia and Indonesia. Many of these companies operate in secrecy. Some use tax havens and implement aggressive tax cheating activities. Other pollute the environment and ignore human rights standards.

Women in these communities are impacted by the double threat of climate change and a lack of transparency from companies. For example, in South Africa there are many Australian coal mining projects operating in communities where ActionAid works. ActionAid South Africa and Australia have worked with Publish What You Pay to pressure Australian companies to properly consult with communities and be more transparent around the social and environmental impacts of coal mining. 

In 2018, ActionAid and Publish What You Pay secured commitments from opposition parties to implement legislation that requires Australian companies to publish their payments to foreign governments. This helps transparency is at heart of securing increased spending on essential services like hospitals, schools, teachers and nurses. 

More recently, Publish What You Pay has been working with investors to raise issues of tax transparency with Australian mining companies operating in South Africa and has also drawn national attention to issues of corruption and secrecy in the mining, gas and oil sectors. With COVID-19, we are pivoting to focus more on revenue transparency – where the money goes, who benefits from revenues and how the money is spent by governments – to ensure people in low income countries where ActionAid works get a fair share of company tax payments through spending on urgent health care services that target women and families.

The partnership between ActionAid Australia and Publish What You Pay is part of global campaigns around tax justice done in collaboration with ActionAid offices and allies around the world. The work also links issues of tax and climate justice by aligning policy demands around revenue and tax to dealing with the climate crises.