NZ PM John Key grilled over foreign trusts

Inland Revenue can access detailed information on foreign trusts set up in New Zealand and is able to pass it on to tax authorities in other countries, Parliament has been told.

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“It’s ridiculous to suggest New Zealand is a tax haven,” Prime Minister John Key said.

“We have a strong tax treaty and information exchange network that helps discover and prevent tax avoidance through exchanging information.”

Opposition parties are demanding tougher tax laws as the fallout from a massive leak of millions of documents from a Panama-based law firm continues, and MPs used question time on Tuesday to challenge Mr Key over New Zealand’s involvement.

The 11.5 million leaked documents from law firm Mossack Fonseca have revealed 214,000 trusts and companies set up in more than 200 countries.

New Zealand is one of them, and the papers show Malta’s energy minister Konrad Mizzi and the prime minister’s chief of staff, Keith Schembri, set up two offshore trusts in 2015.

There are about 12,000 foreign trusts in New Zealand.

In parliament, Mr Key rejected claims by Labour and Green Party MPs that current law protects foreign trusts from scrutiny.

“The trustee must keep detailed financial and other records … Inland Revenue can get this information and will give it to the tax authorities in any other country, if requested under a relevant tax agreement,” Mr Key said.

“New Zealand has always been able to comply with these sorts of information requests from treaty partners.”

Mr Key says New Zealand doesn’t tax foreigners on money earned overseas and put into trusts in NZ.

“It’s up to tax authorities around the world to enforce their own tax laws on this income and on their own residents,” he said.

“We can help them do that by providing detailed information, on request, about trusts administered from New Zealand.”

Labour leader Andrew Little wants an inquiry to assess the scale of the foreign trust issue in New Zealand.

“We need to know how big the problem is and then what sensible responses need to be made in order to preserve our reputation around the rest of the world,” he told reporters.

Mr Key and Revenue Minister Michael Woodhouse don’t think that’s necessary, but say they’ll consider tightening the rules if the OECD comes up with recommendations.

They say the OECD reviewed New Zealand’s tax law in 2013 and gave it a clean bill of health.

Helen Clark nominates for UN secretary general

Former New Zealand prime minister Helen Clark has announced her bid to become the next United Nations secretary general.

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If successful, Ms Clark would be the first woman to hold the top post.

Helen Clark says her nine years’ experience as New Zealand prime minister puts her in good stead to assume the post of secretary general of the United Nations.

Ms Clark has officially announced her bid for the role, aiming to become the first woman in the job after Ban Ki-moon retires at the end of the year.

The former Labor prime minister says she is running on her wide-ranging qualifications.

“Firstly, I’m putting myself forward because I believe I am the best person for the job. Obviously, I am a woman, and one would certainly hope in the 21st century that that did not count against one. But I’m not campaigning as a woman candidate for secretary general. I am campaigning to be the best person for the job.”

Ms Clark has already led the United Nations Development Program for seven years.

The New Zealand government will fund her campaign to become secretary-general, likely to cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Current prime minister John Key says Ms Clark is a worthy candidate.

“As I’ve previously said, I’ll do all that I can to help her secure the job. There is no doubt it will be a highly contested position, as it’s a very important one. But I am confident Helen has what it takes and is the best person for the job.”

Former Australian prime minister Kevin Rudd is also vying for the role.

But he welcomed the news over Twitter, saying Ms Clark will be a strong candidate and he wishes her well.

The United Nations is facing new challenges in recent years, including tensions in China and Russia and various militant threats around the world.

Ms Clark says she is well equipped to lead in the important role.

“I have led a small country in the South Pacific for nine years. I’ve been in leadership positions, really, going back close to three decades. Obviously, the experience here at the UN the last seven years as administrator, UNDP, has been invaluable. Our world is facing so many crises and challenges, and I think the background I have, the experiences I have, the pragmatism and focus that I have, are what the UN needs right now.”

John Key says there is a distinct reason for announcing her nomiation now: becoming the secretary general is a complex process.

“By announcing Helen’s nomination today, it means she can start presenting her case to the UN General Assembly, which is holding preliminary meetings with candidates in New York next week. The first straw poll* is expected to be conducted in July.”

The General Assembly will appoint the new secretary general at the end of the year, with a recommendation to come from the UN Security Council.

 

 

 

End family tax benefits, say Liberals

Members of the Victorian Liberals are seeking an end to family tax benefits and a strict cap on all federal government spending.

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The Victorian Liberals’ state council will meet in Melbourne this weekend to hear from Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and other senior figures in the party, as well as debate a number of resolutions.

The Young Liberals’ policy branch has submitted a motion to abolish family tax benefits.

The background to the motion, published in the council agenda, says FTB – introduced by the Howard government – represents “the absolute worst of middle class welfare in Australia”.

It suggests the government instead cut income taxes.

The branch also calls for a ceiling of 20 per cent of GDP in public sector spending, down from about 26 per cent now.

It says the current spending figure is “reckless and unsustainable”.

Federal government spending has not been that low since the 1970s.

There are also calls to abolish tax on alcohol and luxury cars.

The Camperdown branch is calling for a flatter income tax and company tax system and the broadening of indirect taxes such as the GST.

It says high marginal tax rates and bracket creep are penalising Australian workers and encouraging tax minimisation.

The Kingston Heath branch says the party should ensure all federal election policy costings are released in time for the start of pre-poll voting.

“The Liberal Party – as the standard of responsible politics – should lead by example and release our policies and costing well before polling day,” the branch says.

Mr Turnbull will address the council meeting on Saturday.

Cameroonian aspiring boxer shooting high with brother by her side

Overcoming adversity is a common narrative for aspiring boxers, but few title hopefuls have the motivation of Stephanie Mfongwot.

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Now 22 years old, she arrived in Australia after fleeing violence in her African homeland of Cameroon.

And she is determined to repay the country that has given her what she sees as a unique opportunity.

Inside the boxing ring, there are no punches pulled between siblings Steph and Jonas Mfongwot.

But when the gloves are off, their bond is a force.

26-year-old Jonas Mfongwot shelved his own promising boxing dream to work two jobs and fund his sister’s career.

His sister says she could not be more grateful.

“He’s everything to me. If they said you can compare a human being with God, I can compare my brother with God, because what he’s been doing for me is really amazing.”

Session by session, bout by bout, he says, he is being repaid.

“There’s no other word I can actually express the joy that I have for her. I’m very, very proud of her.”

The Mfongwots arrived in Australia in 2009, fleeing spates of violence in their West African homeland of Cameroon.

The violence, generated by ethnic unrest, had hit in the previous two years.

And Steph Mfongwot saw too much.

“Seeing people dying, so that wasn’t really safe for me. And scary.”

Australia provided safe haven.

And, critically, she says, Australia provided specialist treatment for partial deafness diagnosed at birth.

“You can even see the way I’m talking sometimes, I need to open my mouth to say some word. And back in Cameroon, they couldn’t do anything.”

The condition is improving, and Steph Mfongwot says she is determined to repay her adopted country.

“So what Australia has done for me, I want to give it back in a different way. I just want to do something that some people haven’t done, like someone who’s fighting with a hearing aid.”

She is already the reigning Australian amateur champion in the 69 kilogram division and has her sights set on an Olympic, then professional, career.

Trainer Steve Kerr says he believes she can do it.

“I’ve been in the game a long time, and I haven’t seen anyone move on their feet like her — men or women.”

But he says it is Steph Mfongwot’s determination which will get her there.

The 22-year travels almost two hours by train, tram and bus to be trained by Kerr.

She says she now regards him as family.

“The relationship I have with him is like daughter and father. I’m not calling him my coach anymore. I’m calling him Father.”

Steve Kerr says the feeling is mutual.

“She just lights up the gym with her smile, and everyone loves her. And to get those sort of things like Steph said, you know, it means a lot to me.”

And as far as within the ring, Steph Mfongwot says she will stop at nothing to realise her dream

“I want to do this, do something better, to encourage people that have a similar problem like me, so they can know that it doesn’t matter the situation you are in, you can still do something. As long as you love it, you believe you can do it, you can do it.”