It probably had to happen at some stage! For all the criticism we direct at the ATO (all warranted) there had to come a time when we could direct some praise!
You’ll be aware of our intense campaigning against the ATO for bad treatment of small business people. We’ve now had a very good experience, however.
ATO Independent Review
Last year, in partial response to the media coverage of bad ATO behaviour, particularly the Four Corners program ‘Mongrel Bunch of Bastards’ the ATO started a trial ‘Independent Review’ process for small business disputes.
We have just finished supporting and assisting a small business person through this process. We can’t mention the case or specific details but this person accepted that he owed the ATO money. The dispute was over how much was owed. The ATO was claiming about three times the amount we assessed he owed. There wasn’t any tax avoidance or attempt to avoid, rather a series of situations that led to a debt.
We have been involved with many ATO internal ‘alternative dispute resolution’ processes over several years. Frankly, until now, we’ve found these processes to be ‘con-like’ where the ATO used the processes to press their massive superior power and to ‘cook small business people slowly’.
This Independent Review process has been totally different. We found the process genuinely independent and focused on the facts of the case. That’s all we’re asking. The ATO officers did not play any power games or spin, mislead or seek to lie to us and the person we were supporting. The ATO officers were firm, diligent and, yes, nit-picky in seeking factual evidence. And that’s what we’d expect and ask from the ATO officers in doing a professional job.
The outcome is that the small business person won some points but lost others. That’s not unreasonable. Some of the issues in dispute were quite involved. What we were impressed with was that the review was a genuine review. We praise the ATO officers who conducted the review and the senior officers who are directing the process. This is a very big step in the right direction. We hope this continues and moves forward.
But one good experience does not dampen our campaign for major ATO reform to be implemented through legislation. We’ll explain this in future news alerts.