2015 Tax Adviser of the Year Award judge: Arlene Macdonald CTA (Life)

I started my legal career in a small general legal practice in Adelaide’s CBD and then worked at the ATO in Adelaide for about 2 years including the old Appeals section.  I was promoted to Sydney as a Senior Investigation Officer at the Commonwealth Ombudsman’s Office (dealing with complaints against the ATO) and 8 years at the Australian Government Solicitor’s Office in the tax section, finally as Principal Solicitor.  I went to the Independent Bar in South Australia in 1996 specialising in tax and acting for both Commissioner and taxpayers in tax disputes and dealing with a wide range of other tax issues. I retired in 2013.

How long have you been affiliated with The Tax Institute?

I joined the Tax Institute in 1994

What does the Tax Awards mean to you, and more broadly, to the tax profession?

Tax law is often very difficult to understand and apply.  It is important to be committed to achieving and maintaining excellence in both knowledge and application and in being able to apply the law ethically and to explain clearly the relevant issues to clients, the ATO, peers and in some cases, AAT members or judges.  It is also vital that those with passion and ability share their tax knowledge generously with the profession.  The Tax Awards identify and recognise such excellence and professionalism and in so doing, highlight their importance and provide encouragement.

What are 5 main tips/tricks that you looked for in the application?

  • By far the most important aspect is that the applicant actually provides what is sought in the application form.   So for example, where the requirement is “to provide evidence” then it is important to do that and not merely make assertions.  One example is unlikely to be sufficient. It is often helpful to see very carefully edited advices (to fully protect privacy of clients).
  • Where the applicant (especially if still relatively junior) is relying on work done with others it is vital to explain the extent of the contribution by the applicant.  This may be done best by a supporting letter from the lead/main author.
  • Supporting letters from supervisor/manager/partner or others should be specific and as far as possible address the criteria in some detail.  It might be helpful for them to read the application so they are aware of the claims.  Usually they would also have something extra such as strength or an example (ie not in the application) to add.
  • The judge might be an accountant or lawyer.  The applicant should not assume the judge knows about their particular workplace (eg a Big 4 firm), for example whether promotions have been rapid or the type or level of work done at their position.

What do you look for in an application?

  • Satisfying the range of criteria including excellence in tax work appropriate to experience including ongoing tax training (and/or handing on knowledge if senior/skilful enough), leadership qualities shown in practice and unselfishness in voluntary tax professional involvement such as committee membership and/or presenting papers for Tax Institute.  This needs to go beyond simply furthering career or doing what might be expected by firm.
  • Clear evidence to support claims
  • Passion for tax

What are 4 main reasons to apply for the Tax Awards?

  • To further your reputation amongst clients and peers and senior staff if you are a finalist or winner of an award.
  • To step back for a short while from the normal hectic workload and think seriously about the factors that go towards being (or becoming) an excellent tax professional.
  • To show leadership in the profession.
  • To show you are serious about being (or becoming) an excellent tax professional.


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