Hayden Donnell reads another rejection, probably. (image: screengrab from a tv show, probably)

One reporter’s doomed quest to use Google’s tax tactics

Hayden Donnell read about Google’s tax strategy, and went on a journey to try and replicate it for himself.

“Can I formally notify you that I’m not paying tax in 2018?”


Reporter Hayden Donnell’s voyage into the world of multinational tax strategy began with a stern rebuke from the IRD, and it’s not a spoiler to suggest things go south from there.

The story for The Spinoff TV (Fridays at 9.45pm on Three)  began with an interview in the Herald with Google NZ’s country manager Caroline Rainsford, wherein Donnell was startled to read that the company “made the submission to Parliament around our intention to either by January 1, 2019 or before, move to a [new] model” of tax payment.

There was this sense that the interview was set up in part so that Google, one of the most valuable and profitable companies in the world, was seeking applause for its ‘volunteering’ to pay more tax. Which seems kind of messed up, given the rest of us don’t have a choice – and besides, what has Google been doing here for the last 20 years?

Donnell decided if it was good enough for Google, it was good enough for him too. His reasoning went that if paying tax was a voluntary exercise for Google, then he would try and do the same.

After approaching the IRD for their advice he went down a long and rabbit-free rabbit hole. He spoke to Coffee Supreme CEO Al Keating, then Labour MP Deborah Russell and finally tax expert Terry Baucher in his quest to discover the holy grail of tax minimisation.

Sadly, what he discovered was that the options available to journalist are very different to those available to a digital titan.

It’s a bleak and doomed journey, with the only bright spot being Russell’s news that legislation is coming to make the arcane tax planning of Google and their ilk far more difficult – both in New Zealand and around the world. Which makes Google’s decision to re-work its tax strategy look a lot less like the friendly behaviour of a helpful corporation, and more like a desperate attempt to get credit for something which they were about to be forced to do by law.

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