Google’s Ross-on-the-Spot: The Lawyer Front Footing Google’s NZ Work

Google's Ross-on-the-Spot: The Lawyer Front Footing Google's NZ Work 2
Google's Ross-on-the-Spot: The Lawyer Front Footing Google's NZ Work 3

John Bowie – Sometime Google’s government affairs man in New Zealand, Ross Young, must wish he had remained working with the Commerce Commission.

After last week’s fracas over the name publication debacle in respect of the Grace Millane murder, Ross Young offered the search Giant’s apology to Justice Minister Little with some forelock-tugging and acknowledgement of Google’s respect of New Zealand and our law.

Young apologised for a terse email to Andrew Little, saying “I want to apologise for the miscommunication on Tuesday. I did not mean to convey that Google does not take this issue seriously.

“In light of the concerns you expressed this week, Google has… suspended Google Trends emails about searches trending in New Zealand.”

The former regulatory affairs chief at the Commerce Commission, who lead a team of eight lawyers and advised on regulation of telecommunications, energy (electricity, gas), airports, dairy, merger clearances and authorisations among other matters, has a solid background in telecommunications and internet affairs.

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Murdering Tax

If it’s not murder, its tax and other matters that have occupied the lawyer’s time handling Google’s varied obligations and commitments locally.

Last year he indicated that the local business would be restructured so that advertising revenue – the rivers of gold that once belonged to newspapers – would be booked in New Zealand rather than the low-tax environment in Singapore.

Handling the country-sized revenues of internet giants like Apple, Facebook and Google is a problem countries are wrestling with constantly and the efficacy of local legislative attempts to minimize the tax-drain from low tax regimes will doubtless be an ongoing battle for this government along with most others.

Taxing local revenues is fine, but local revenues have been modest.

IAB figures show Google’s search of the local ad market runs to hundreds of millions of dollars in 2016 but it recorded only $12.2 million in revenue, showing a $603,000 loss and paying $305,000 in tax.

Once – if ever – the OECD’s multi-country BEPS (Base Erosion Profit-Shifting) project starts working things may change, slightly. In the meantime, some public flag-waving on issues like name suppression orders helps stir an internet giant into a recognition of its need to retain at least a modicum of respect for its local backyard.

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