The Government has announced that it is currently investigating ways to ensure New Zealanders are charged GST on purchases they make online from foreign vendors. Netflix was one of the first companies to state that they do not intend on charging New Zealanders GST to use their service.
Just how the Government intends to levy GST on all online purchases is anyone’s guess. The devil will be in the detail.
The key question for taxpayers is whether this ‘itunes tax’ is about fairness, or revenue gathering. If the politicians are to be believed that this is purely about creating an equal play field, then there is no reason why the extra tax collected shouldn’t be used to lower New Zealanders’ tax burden in other areas.
It should come as little surprise that retailers in New Zealand are welcoming the announcement. Online purchases, especially of physical goods, have the ability to erode their market share, and with it taxes that the Government would otherwise receive. Any regime would also have to carefully look at the impact of compliance costs.
Yet on the other hand, the Government’s proposal seems fraught with difficulty, especially in relation to digital content. New Zealanders live in an increasingly globalised world. The internet allows the free flow of information, communication and access to content. And let's face it, IRD can't possibly reach every online retailer.
Two ISPs, Orcon and Slingshot, have lead the charge to open-up access by providing their customers with a way to access otherwise geo-blocked content. Certainly there are other ways for users to access international content, whether that be anonymity software such as Tor, or by using a VPN. When these workarounds are combined with virtual credit cards, like Entropay, users are free to consume content from wherever, whenever, in whatever jurisdiction has the best price.
The potential for a 15% increase in in the price of digital content may easily lead to an increase of people finding workarounds or increase the number of people engage in illegal file-sharing.
We look forward to scrutinising the proposal that the Government eventually releases, with a view to ensure that the Government offsets any increase in the tax take by reducing the tax burden elsewhere.