Five unusual Australian taxes

Queen bee
Chris Sheedy By Chris Sheedy, CA Today

4 October 2016

Every country has its bizarre tax laws and Australia certainly doesn’t escape the strangeness – from a queen bee levy to a special tax offset for seafarers.

We had a very amusing conversation with tax trainer, tax writer and self-confessed ‘tax nerd’ Ken Mansell, who has worked and advised at senior levels in government and corporate environments, about six of the best.

1. Queen bee levy

“Australia has over 125 different taxes, and some of these taxes are as ridiculous as the queen bee levy. 

"Up until recently, if you sold a queen bee for over $20 you had to arrange a 10 cent payment to the Government. A really big money earner for the Government!”

2. The seafarer’s tax offset

“This little present by the previous Labor government to the Maritime Union allows those who employ seafarers a 30% tax offset for the salaries they pay. 

"The rationale for the introduction of this tax offset was to ‘stimulate opportunities for Australian seafarers to be employed on overseas voyages and to gain maritime skills’. 

"Since its introduction, it has been claimed by fewer than five taxpayers.”

3. Salary-packaged cars

“The reason we have tax concessions that encourage people to salary-package cars is because back in 1986, when Australia introduced a fringe benefits tax to tax benefits provided to employees by their employers, it was too difficult to track car expenses. 

"Also, Government wanted to continue to encourage the thriving Australian car manufacturing industry. We still salary-package cars today when it’s a piece of cake to track car expenses, and the car manufacturing industry in Australia is almost gone and will definitely be gone by 2017.”

4. The brandy advantage

“Unlike many countries that use volumetric taxation, where you tax the product based on how much alcohol is in it, Australia has a unique system where it taxes beverages based on how ‘Aussie’ they are. 

"Australians like drinking beer so beer is taxed substantially less than spirits, at almost half the rate. But for some reason, Brandy is taxed substantially less than other spirits – I never knew Brandy was an Aussie favourite!”

5. For technology’s sake

“Small businesses can give staff several electronic devices, like a phone, tablet and a laptop, in a single year, as is often the case when a new employee starts, without paying any Fringe Benefits Tax. 

"But don’t think about doing this if you are a medium or large business! As these devices have ‘substantially similar functions’, the tax system says that if these medium and large businesses provide more than one of these to an employee each year there should be FBT payable. 

"Welcome to your new employer. Would you prefer to have either a phone or a computer to read your emails for your first year, because for tax purposes we can’t afford to give you both. Quite 1980s.”

About the author

Chris Sheedy is one of Australia’s busiest and most successful freelance writers. He has been published regularly in the Sydney Morning Herald, Virgin Australia Voyeur, The Australian Magazine, GQ, In The Black, Cadillac, Management Today, Men’s Fitness and countless other big-brand publications. He is frequently commissioned to carry out copywriting and corporate writing projects for organisations, including banks, universities, television networks, restaurant chains and major charities, through his business The Hard Word.


  • Accountancy
  • Australia

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