STARBUCKS, Google, Apple, eBay and other ''shape-shifting'' corporations that route their business through intermediaries in tax havens may soon face an Australian tax from which other corporations will be exempt.
The idea will be discussed at a special reference group set up to advise Treasury on a scoping paper setting out the extent of multinational tax minimisation and ways the Australian government responds.
The 14-member reference group is laden with critics of multinational tax practices, including ACTU assistant secretary Tim Lyons, Serena Lillywhite of Oxfam Australia, Jason Sharman of the Centre for Governance and Public Policy at Griffith University, Mark Zirnsak of the Uniting Church and Tax Justice Network, and Frank Drenth of the Corporate Tax Association.
Others appointed by Assistant Treasurer David Bradbury include the executive director of Treasury's revenue group, Rob Heferen, who will chair the group, Foreign Investment Review Board chairman Brian Wilson, former tax commissioner Michael D'Ascenzo and public policy specialist Greg Smith.
The only corporate representative is Ross Lyons, a tax executive at Rio Tinto.
The consulting firms PwC, Deloitte, Ernst & Young and Clayton Utz are also represented. Mr Bradbury has asked Treasury to report by the middle of the year, using the specialist group as a sounding board. ''This isn't just a reporting exercise,'' Mr Bradbury said.
''That's pointless without recommendations for ways of collecting tax from corporations that make money from [Australia] without paying proportionate tax.
''Some significant multinationals are deriving considerable revenues from Australian economic activity but paying tax out of proportion to that gain.'' In Britain, Starbucks has taken the ''unprecedented'' step of pledging to pay £20 million ($A30.6 million) in corporate tax it says it does not owe, offering as a gesture not to claim deductions for royalties it pays to its Amsterdam office.
The move has enraged rather than calmed critics such as Liberal Democrat tax spokesman Stephen Williams, who said it confirmed corporations such as Starbucks seemed to think paying tax was voluntary.
Niv Tadmore, a Clayton Utz partner who will be on the Australian specialist group, said the tax rules were relics of the time when doing business in Australia meant ''setting up a shop or a factory here or coming here every six months''.
One idea would be a withholding tax notionally applying to all corporate income but from which companies headquartered in nations with tax treaties would be exempt.
''You point it at everyone and have exceptions for countries bound by treaty obligations, that's the polite way of doing it,'' he said.