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Australia leads NZ 2 – 0

The Australian Government looks likely to change its GST treatment of digital currencies. In NZ we’re left wondering what our Government’s position is.

This is the second time in about as many weeks Australia has taken steps to address a well acknowledged GST issue. Just a few days ago we learnt it is now almost inevitable the low value import threshold in Australia will be reduced, perhaps even eliminated; see my 22 July post.

And on 4 August the Senate Standing Committee on Economics released its report on digital currencies. You can find the full report here: http://www.aph.gov.au/Parliamentary_Business/Committees/Senate/Economics/Digital_currency/Report

The Committee was asked to consider the tax treatment of digital currencies and the Australian Tax Office’s (ATO) published position.

The report highlights the practical and commercial issues with the current tax treatment. GST is singled out as the most significant. The ATO, rightly in my view, concluded digital currencies are commodities and GST applies to them in the same way it applies to traditional barter arrangements.

As the Committee points out, this leads to double taxation and can be a permanent cost for private consumers when they’re exchanging real currency for digital currency.

The Committee recommends digital currency (like Bitcoin) be treated the same as money for GST purposes and the Government consult with States to consider changing the GST law. This would remove GST from digital currency and resembles the “exempt” treatment adopted in the UK.

I have no doubt the NZ Government (through Inland Revenue) is following this development just as it is the low value import threshold issue. And, there is sense in staying close to Australia and not blazing our own path on these issues. Nevertheless, it would be good to know where IRD stands on digital currencies and GST.

Iain

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