The relationship between principles and policy in tax administration: Lessons from the United Kingdom capital gains tax regime with particular reference to a proposal for a capital gains tax for New Zealand
eJournal of Tax Research
Australian School of Business, University of New South Wales
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It is unusual to find a tax in operation which does not represent a compromise between tax principles, policy and administrative considerations. However, the third of these, tax administration, often does not receive the attention it should as proposals for tax reform are developed. This paper examines one particular case, the possibility that attempts to introduce a capital gains tax (CGT) in New Zealand (NZ) have been unsuccessful because the right balance between the three dimensions of tax reform has not been achieved and that for this and other possible reforms each of these aspects should be given the appropriate consideration. New Zealand does not currently have a comprehensive CGT. In fact, political commentators have long said that the enactment of a CGT in NZ would be ‘political suicide’. The reasons for such antipathy towards a CGT are not entirely clear especially given the successful implementation and operation of CGT in many jurisdictions, including the United Kingdom (UK). However, sentiment towards a CGT in NZ appears to have softened more recently. Perhaps sensing this rise in support, the centre-left New Zealand Labour Party in the 2011 and 2014 general elections unsuccessfully campaigned on, inter alia, introducing a comprehensive CGT. It is unclear what part the CGT proposal played in its defeat in both elections with other factors in play. However, noting that the CGT policy may have alienated voters in the 2014 election, Labour Party leader, Mr Andrew Little has indicated that reform of the NZ tax system, including a possible CGT, would not be made ‘without going to the people first and getting a mandate to do so’. 3 Accordingly, the electorate support for a CGT, and its design (including the administration of the tax), will be crucial for its political viability in NZ; hence the rationale for this paper. The paper finds that the UK CGT is a very robust tax but has never taken a pure form based only on the principles of good tax design. Indeed its success in tax policy terms has been largely accounted for by pragmatic modifications over the years to accommodate the different and changing political and economic pressures applying to modern tax systems. The paper concludes that a more pragmatic approach could lead to the design of a CGT that may gain the broad support of the NZ electorate and also be as enduring as it has been in the UK
Final published version.
Vol. 14(2), pp. 455 - 485