Last week, Niv Tadmore (Co-chair of the Institute’s Dispute Resolution Committee), Thilini Wickramasuriya (one of the Institute’s tax counsel) and I appeared to give evidence before the House of Representatives Tax and Revenue Committee in relation to its inquiry into tax disputes. (Robert Jeremenko refers to the genesis and the activities of this committee in his column this month.) One of the key issues that the Committee is inquiring into is whether a separate agency should be created to review and determine objections to tax assessments.
As might be expected, the ATO strongly opposes the establishment of a separate agency. Our position is that a separate agency is unnecessary, but it would be worthwhile for the Commissioner to re-establish a separate review and appeals area, which operates independently from the rest of the ATO. The Institute had previously provided the Committee with a detailed written submission into the ATO’s handling of tax disputes, so our appearance before the Committee was mainly for the purpose of responding to any questions that the Committee may have had. The transcript of our evidence is available on the Committee’s website.
The Committee is willing to hear from anyone who has a submission to make about the way the ATO handles disputes, so a number of people have made submissions in their personal capacities. One of the witnesses on the morning we gave evidence was a businesswoman who had been hit with superannuation excess contributions tax. It was apparent that she (like so many who have been subject to this tax) was extremely frustrated and dissatisfied by her dealings with the ATO. It was obvious that she welcomed the opportunity to explain her position to someone in authority outside the ATO. The Committee listened carefully to her submissions. I hope that experiences like this one educate the Committee members about how unfairly the law can operate. The best solution to problems like this one is not reform of the ATO — it is reform of the law, which is in its hands.
Michael Flynn CTA is President of the National Council at The Tax Institute.
The Tax Institute is Australia's leading professional association in tax. Its 13,000 members include tax agents, accountants and lawyers as well as tax practitioners in corporations, government and academia.