Just recently we covered on an important Parliamentary Committee Report calling for legislation to create Taxpayer Rights. The Parliamentary Report says that taxpayers need protections from an ATO that may abuse its powers. The recommendations are common sense that we strongly support.
Under Australian legislation all taxing powers belong to the Tax Commissioner. This legislation effectively means the Commissioner has the power of a ‘tax dictator’.
Senate Hearing – ‘burn them’
About a week ago the Tax Commissioner attended a regular Senate Estimates hearing. This is where Senators ask questions of the bureaucrats.
Senator Eric Abetz (Tasmania) asked the Commissioner if he remembered the Four Corners program ‘Mongrel Bunch of Bastards’ that covered ATO abuse of taxpayers. And if the Commissioner remembered saying that the accusation in the program that the ATO ‘slowly boiled people until they are roasted to death’ was ‘ludicrous and absurd’. The Commissioner said he remembered.
Senator Abetz then produced a transcript record of senior ATO legal officers discussing a strategy against taxpayers to ‘burn them.’ The Commissioner replied, “I’m astounded that you are raising this.” Senator Abetz tried to speak but the Commissioner cut the Senator off with “No listen to me…” Senator Abetz commented that he was surprised by the Commissioner’s agitated response’. See the Abetz-Commission video record (10-min YouTube) here.
Senate Hearing – No to ADR – ATO whim
Later in the same hearing, Senator Ben Small (Western Australia) had questions. The Senator asked if there were times when the Commissioner would not enter Alternative Dispute Resolution with taxpayers. (ADR is being hailed by the ATO as a great way to avoid disputes.) The Commissioner responded with a bit of a rambling reply that included “If you (ATO) have entrenched avoiders, ADR wont help.”
That was part of the Commissioner’s reply to the Senator’s question which asked, “Where a taxpayer in that particular circumstance approached the ATO with a view to engaging in good faith ADR to de-escalate for the parties, are you saying that would not be appropriate?” See the Small-Commissioner video record (11-min YouTube) here.
So, it seems that the ATO’s much hailed Alternative Dispute Resolution is only available if the ATO likes you. That is, ADR is NOT a right for taxpayers but something entirely at the ATO’s whim. Sounds like a tax dictatorship to me!
ATO ‘bad eggs’
I liked Senator Abetz’s comment to the Commissioner comparing tax officers’ behaviour to those of the police. The Senator said:
I’d agree with Senator Abetz. We should be concerned. Are taxpayer rights only there at the whim of the ATO dictatorship? That’s neither just nor fair.
Parliament must lead
The parliamentary report calling for a Taxpayer Rights Bill seems to recommend leaving it to the ATO to ‘develop’ those rights. After witnessing the Senate Estimates performance above, every taxpayer should be highly concerned. Taxpayer Rights have to be created by the Parliament. That’s what Parliaments must do. Parliaments are there to protect the people from dictatorships.
It seems we have a lot of work to do for Taxpayer Rights.
It’s worth watching the Tax Commissioner in the Senate:
Here’s the Hansard record