A submission of the Inspector-General to the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Tax and Revenue inquiring into the External Scrutiny of the Australian Taxation Office (copy attached)
The IGT welcomes the opportunity to make submission to the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Tax and Revenue (the Committee) to assist in its Inquiry into the External Scrutiny of the Australian Taxation Office (ATO).
As the Committee has previously found, an examination of the Australian Government scrutiny landscape shows that the ATO is not subject to any more scrutiny than the vast majority of public sector agencies, which are generally scrutinised by Parliament and its committees, the Australian National Audit Office and the Commonwealth Ombudsman (Ombudsman). The Committee has noted that the level of scrutiny was appropriate, given the importance of the ATO’s role. It is ‘too big to fail’ and appropriate levels of governance and independent scrutiny must be available to guard against system failures whilst also ensuring that due processes are followed and taxpayers are afforded procedural fairness.
Whilst the Inspector-General of Taxation (IGT) supports the removal of duplication, inefficiencies and unnecessary costs, any major policy change to reduce external scrutineer functions needs to be informed by a comprehensive analysis that weighs costs against the benefits and risks to arrive at the net benefit. A cursory look at the ATO’s key risks, including systemic and serious system failures (such as those giving rise to the establishment of the IGT) demonstrates the need to exercise extreme care in relation to any change to external scrutineering arrangements.
In respect of the IGT, specifically, the Government’s recent policy decision to transfer the Ombudsman’s tax complaint handling function to the IGT has already created significant efficiencies and minimised duplication. It has provided a single-port-of-call for investigating and reviewing taxation and superannuation administrative matters. The IGT is now essentially performing the functions of a tax specialist ombudsman in respect of the ATO and the Tax Practitioners Board, streamlining the number of agencies with oversight of the ATO on tax administration matters. The specialist nature of the IGT office has, for example, resulted in over 35 per cent of complaints being resolved without needing ATO intervention and, when the ATO’s input is required, the majority of the remaining matters have been resolved with 15 business days.
The Government’s decision has also consolidated the complementary functions of complaints handling and broader reviews. These two aspects of the IGT’s core work go hand-in-hand. The former provides real-time insight into emerging issues which, together with the latter, enables the IGT to move quickly to address problems before they escalate into major causes of taxpayer discontent or serious system failures. Moving forward, the IGT may undertake more targeted reviews in an expedited manner to address particular areas where significant complaints have been received.
The IGT believes that there are opportunities for the ATO to further manage its interactions with external scrutineers, including the IGT, to realise greater efficiencies and cost reductions. Such opportunities include improved engagement and collaboration based on full, frank and expeditious information sharing.
[IGT’s Submission: 160317 – IGT – Submission to the Standing -Committee – Tax & Revenue]