In life there are usually two numbers we keep to ourselves: our PIN and our TFN. The reasons for keeping the former private are straightforward, the reasons for keeping the latter private are more complex.
Australian law generally treats taxpayer information as sacrosanct; a well-guarded secret between you and your Commissioner. Why is that so? The question was a popular one this week as a result of the Senate inquiry into Corporate Tax Avoidance.
Senator Sam Dastyari, Chair of the Senate Economics References Committee, urged the Commissioner to release confidential taxpayer information as part of the Senate inquiry, which the Commissioner refused to do. Treasurer Joe Hockey subsequently issued a media release in support of the Commissioner's decision, citing "maintaining integrity in our tax system" and "the risk of reducing compliance with the system" as reasons for maintaining taxpayer confidentiality.
Coincidentally, this week also marks the closing date for submissions to the ATO's consultation on tax secrecy and transparency. Later this year, the ATO will be publishing certain tax information for the 2013-14 income year in relation to companies with total income of $100m or more (approximately 2,300 entities). The paper asks a series of questions about how the ATO should undertake the reporting of this information. The ATO is compelled to disclose this information by amendments to the Taxation Administration Act 1953 enacted on 29 June 2013.
There are difficult questions in life and whether our tax affairs should be confidential is but one.
The Tax Institute's submission to the Senate Corporate Tax Avoidance inquiry can be found here.
Our submission to the ATO consultation on tax secrecy and transparency should be available on our website shortly.
Thilini Wickramasuriya FTI is a Tax Counsel of 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.