Senator Patrick said ExxonMobil Australia was the largest supplier to Australia’s domestic gas market. Mr Owen previously told a Senate hearing the reason the company wasn’t paying corporate tax was because it was investing $21 billion in new infrastructure.
But Senator Patrick questioned why ExxonMobil Australia was owned by companies registered in the Netherlands, the Bahamas and the US state of Delaware – jurisdictions popular with companies that have a record of paying little or no tax.
“Exxon has denied these opaque arrangements had any impact on tax paid in Australia, but the company has failed to explain the purpose of those tax haven shell companies and why those arrangements were put in place,” he said.
The use of shell companies does not breach Australian tax law. Mr Owen in 2018 said the company had historically been a corporate taxpayer and expected to return to paying corporate tax from 2021.
Australian Taxation Office data released late last year showed in 2017-18, ExxonMobil Australia had a total income of $9.2 billion but paid no income tax. That followed income of $8.4 billion in 2016-17 and $6.7 billion in 2015-16, on which no tax was paid.
Senator Patrick promised to name other business figures in coming weeks who he said were making sure corporations were not paying company tax in Australia.
“Unfortunately, Richard Owen is not the only business figure I intend to turn the spotlight on in weeks and months to come. Regrettably, there are others who need to be named and shamed,” he said.
An ExxonMobil spokesman said under Mr Owen’s leadership there had been significant investments in Gippsland operations that had delivered jobs, adding the company had invested more than $21 billion since 2010 into Australia.
“It is disappointing that Senator Patrick has resorted to a personal attack,” the spokesman said.
“ExxonMobil Australia has a long history of paying its fair share of taxes in Australia, having paid more than $2 billion in corporate income tax alone since 2000, as well as more than $14 billion in petroleum resource rent tax since 1990,” he said.
“On average more than $600 million has been paid to the federal government each year for over a quarter of a century.”
Federal Bureau Chief Canberra
Jennifer Duke is an economics correspondent for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age, based at Parliament House in Canberra.