Who runs Australia? Is it the politically accountable politicians elected through the democratic process? Or is it the unidentified, unelected, bureaucrats who hide behind closed doors?
A situation happening now indicates that at least some Commonwealth bureaucrats think they run the country and democracy can go jump!
In the April budget last year, the Morrison government announced that the Tax Office would no longer be able to collect a small business tax debt while in dispute and under appeal. That’s a damn good policy move for tax fairness.
“We are backing small business in over the ATO. No longer will the ATO be able to garnishee and takeaway while the dispute is in train …”
A key job of the Commonwealth Treasury department is to draft legislation that puts government policy into effect. Last week, nine months after this very clear policy statement, Treasury released draft legislation that does the opposite of what the government promised. (See here and here.)
The draft legislation would not automatically stop the ATO collecting on a disputed debt. It would force a taxpayer to apply to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal (a very expensive process) for a pause. And a taxpayer would have to prove that their application did not “restrict …administration of tax law…” In our view this is a sneaky bureaucratic way of killing off the Morrison government’s attempt at small business tax fairness.
Yesterday we lodged a submission condemning the draft law and calling for it to be put in the trash bin. Here’s our submission (3 pages).
Robert Gottliebsen in The Australian took the same view with the headline ‘Tax bureaucrats try to sneak one through.’
Why ‘sneaky’? The draft legislation was released for ‘consultation’ on 12 January, smack bang when most people are on holidays, and during the height of the Djokovic mess and while the government was/is handling supply chain and other Covid ‘crisis’ issues. And Treasury has given only seven days for responses. The draft legislation is short and tax bureaucrats have had nine months where they could have done something. Looks sneaky? Probably is sneaky!
We’ve said in our submission:
The job of Treasury is to faithfully draft legislation that accurately reflects the government’s policy intent … we submit that this draft legislation undermines the government’s policy intent and the process of democracy in Australia.
We’ve made it clear what the legislation should look like.
Normally we admire the professional integrity of the Australian public service and their respect for the democratic process. This situation is a dark smudge on that professional integrity.