It is one year to the day since the Four Corners show ‘Mongrel Bunch of Bastards’ was aired. This ABC production exposed the ATO’s mistreatment of small business people. Watch the show here. It continues to be relevant.
So, what has happened in 12 months?
- First, the ATO denied that there was a problem. It repeatedly stated ‘nothing to see here folks’ in Parliament and the media.
- Media stories surged, particularly in The Age/SMH, ABC and The Australian.
- A string of parliamentary and bureaucratic investigations and reports flowed. All confirmed bad treatment by the ATO. This included the Small Business Ombudsman, the Inspector-General of Taxation, a retired federal court judge, a top ex-ATO executive, an ATO internal report and more. The parliamentary committee overseeing the ATO confirmed major problems and called for significant changes, including (effectively) a rewrite of the Taxpayers Charter (Recommendation 5).
Still the ATO publicly denied any problems. Then Federal Labor called for reform to the ATO’s internal procedures. This was an important step forward.
However, while still continuing to deny problems the ATO:
- Made significant changes to key personnel.
- Effectively implemented the ALP’s call for a new internal review processes through an ‘Independent 2nd Commissioner’.
- The Morrison Government established a new Small Business Tax Tribunal which is a breakthrough for small business people. And the ATO has cooperated in the fairer structure of this new tribunal.
We’re not really that interested if the ATO wants to maintain its ‘nothing to see here folks’ approach. It can continue whatever media line it chooses. What’s important is whether there are fairer treatment processes in place for small business people. And there are—both through the Small Business Tax Tribunal and through the new ATO internal review process. But both these processes need to be tested to see if the practice matches the conceptual design.