Perhaps we thought we’d seen just about every ‘trick’ by the ATO, but the statements by the Tax Commissioner to the Senate on Wednesday (23 October) go to an entirely new level. The ATO ‘battle bar’ has just been raised, big time!
What has motivated the Commissioner is the ‘Right to Know’ public campaign being conducted by a large coalition of Australian media interests against the government’s suppression of free speech. This week ‘Right to Know’ released its first television/on-line advert. The opening ‘punch’ in the advert asserts that the ATO can take money directly out of people’s accounts “but you’re not allowed to know…”
The Tax Commissioner denies that the ATO does this. He said to the Senate “We use garnishees and other firm actions only after these attempts to engage the taxpayer have failed.”
We can advise Senators that this statement by the Commissioner is wrong and misleading.
We have firm, documented evidence of at least one occasion where the ATO emptied someone’s bank account without telling that person. The person did not even know that the ATO had raised a debt against them. The person did not receive notice from the ATO until ten days after the ATO cleaned out their bank account. This evidence has been supplied to a formal government investigation into the ATO.
The Tax Commissioner went further. He attacked the two public ATO whistleblowers. He divulged highly personal information which, in the case of Richard Boyle, is subject to criminal court proceedings.
(duration time) 01:03:00 — Commissioner denies Right to Know allegation of ATO taking money without people knowing.
(duration time) 01:06:30 — Commissioner begins attacking Richard Boyle.
(duration time) 01:15:20 — Commissioner claims IGT report cleared the ATO. (Note: This is untrue.)
(duration time) 01:22:00 — Commissioner finishes opening statement.
(duration time) 01:25:30 — ALP Senator Katy Gallagher asks questions.
(duration time) 01:28:30 — A shocked Senate Committee suspends proceedings to privately consider what to do.
(duration time) 01:37:45 — The hearing restarts. Centre Alliance Senator Rex Patrick makes comments.
(duration time) 01:46:20 — Finishes.
Note the restrained but shocked reaction of the Senators.
There has been massive media coverage. Including The Australian (‘Tax Commissioner Chris Jordan flays media over ‘whistleblower’ coverage’), The Age/SMH (‘Tax Commissioner attacks ‘out of control’ press over whistleblower reporting’), The Mandarin (‘ATO responds to press freedom campaign’), the ABC (‘Tax boss Chris Jordan hits back at ATO whistleblowers and media reporting’), the AFR (‘ATO boss Chris Jordan attacks whistleblowers’), the SMH/Age (‘”Absolute devastation”: The whistleblower who will “never work again” after helping tax watchdog’), the SMH (‘ATO appalling in its treatment of public servant, says Fair Work Australia’) and the SMH/Age (‘ATO’s Chris Jordan seeks to shoot the messenger’).
Following the Senate hearing, Greens Senator Whish-Wilson has asked for the Tax Commissioner’s statements to be ‘expunged’ from the official Hansard. The media report states that “Senator Whish-Wilson requested this happen given information provided by Mr Jordan ‘went beyond what was public knowledge’, was subject to pending court proceedings, and the individuals named had no immediate right of reply”. But can what has been said so publicly be ‘undone’? Justice is at stake!
The behaviour of the ATO reminds us repeatedly of the banks denying financial misbehavior, the churches denying sexual abuse by clergy, large firms denying underpayment of workers and more. In those instances the large organizations’ behaviour seems to fit a set pattern which involves:
- Denying the evidence of their bad behavior.
- Attacking the people who expose the bad behavior.
- Claiming the organization is nonetheless good.
Every time the pressure builds until there is an explosion. When that happens:
- The truth overwhelms the denials by the large organization.
- All hell breaks loose.
- The top people in the organization are forced to resign or are sacked.
- The task of cleaning up the organization begins.