Two former Tax Office auditors have challenged the federal government to hold an inquiry into the activities of the ATO – where, they say, they will reveal details of their claims of high-level political interference.
Former Tax Office auditor Chris Seage and former senior auditor and prosecution manager Bob Fitton were responding to Crikey today after a report in this morning’s papers that the Prime Minister had “challenged an unnamed tax official to come forward with information supporting his media claims of ministerial interference in two other major tax cases.”
Seage, who repeated his claims of two cases of political interference within the ATO on the 7.30 Report last night, told Crikey, “I’m more than happy to come forward to name names, and I’m sure many other current and ex-ATO auditors would also be willing to come forward, so long as Mr Howard is prepared to call an inquiry into the tax office.”
“John Howard is the ex treasurer of Australia … so he more than anyone is aware that I cannot break the secrecy laws,” said Seage. “He should not be inciting people to break the law.”
Seage challenged the PM to establish “a special inquiry into the tax office where the secrecy provisions can be put aside to allow me and other former ATO auditors and even current ATO auditors to speak freely.”
Fitton, who retired last year after 35 years with the tax office and worked in the same branch as Seage, told Crikey: “There were rumours running around the office” about political influence on tax investigations, but “it was all hearsay… We’re all subject to direction by senior executives, so if there was political interference they wouldn’t tell us. You have your suspicions, but they’re not going to confirm them for you.”
But there is the feeling that “the people at the top do what they want and there’s no accountability.”
Fitton told Crikey that, like Seage, he’d be willing to take part in an inquiry. “If the PM wanted to summons Chris and myself and any other auditor and give us an assurance that we won’t be prosecuted I’d be more than happy to bring to his attention the issues that he’s not aware of.”