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On the meaning of “tax”

Published on 01 Sep 18 by "AUSTRALIAN TAX FORUM" JOURNAL ARTICLE

 

Common-law jurisprudence characterises a tax as a compulsory payment imposed by a public body for a public purpose under the authority of the legislature. While useful in many situations — and despite judicial statements that a tax is not a penalty, fine or user charge — this understanding of a tax fails to make clear how some other transactions should be classified. This is arguably because certain elements of the common-law characterisation are lexically inappropriate, logically redundant and inconsistent with extant decisions. This article proposes an alternative. It argues that a tax is a compulsory transfer of value imposed primarily for a redistributive purpose. This definition is purposive (it lends insight into the appropriate aims of taxation), universal (the focus on redistribution distinguishes taxes from other payments to government) and practicable (it promotes fiscal transparency and clarifies the actual financial contribution each and every natural and legal person makes to the public finances).

 

Author profiles

Huigenia Ostik
Huigenia is a Lecturer in Tax Law, University of Auckland.
Current at 1 September 2018
Mark Bowler-Smith
Mark is a Senior Lecturer in Tax Law, University of Auckland.
Current 1 December 2015
Click here to expand/collapse more articles by Mark Bowler-Smith.

 

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