The Australian Taxation Office is likely to face an
investigation in the new year into whether it is correctly applying its
policies on prosecuting individuals and businesses and the tactics it uses when
deciding to settle major disputes, says the Financial
Review
(not online). And if the review – which comes in response to questions raised in
the Fin – goes ahead, the
inspector-general of taxation, David Vos, might be doing the ATO
a favour, says the paper’s Brian Toohey. Because if he didn’t probe for
answers, the ATO would be left in the
invidious position of being unable to allay concerns that it is too soft on the
rich and too hard on the small fry.

Unfortunately for investors in the behemoths of the mining
industry – BHP Billiton and Rio Tinto – the
companies’ chiefs, Chip Goodyear and Leigh Clifford, don’t share the same
enthusiasm for dividend payments as legendary US
oil baron John D Rockefeller, who once quipped that the only thing that gave
him pleasure was “to see my dividends come in.” Rather, they’ve been downright
stingy, says Yvonne Ball in the Fin‘s
Due Diligence. While the miners appear to be emphasising revenue maximisation, rising costs are being
more than offset by China’s
insatiable demand. And that combination of strong demand and rising profits should
keep pressure on corporate managers to ensure that the rewards are more
generously shared among the true owners of the business, says Ball – the
shareholders.

Just what on earth is Sir Richard Branson talking about? asked Matthew Stephens
in The Australian
over the weekend. With his usual supporting cast of babes and
plastic props, Britain’s
flying knight popped on down to the colonies this week to dismay us
with
a media stunt or two, a dose of mischievous ambition and a bevy of
pretty
baseless allegations. Branson told a Sydney
lunchtime audience last Thursday that he wants his “baby” – Australian
budget airline Virgin Blue – back from the grasp of Patrick Corp’s
Chris Corrigan. Now,
if that’s what Branson wants, fine, says Stephens – he can cross his
fingers
that a deal with Toll actually happens or he can stump up the cash and
bid for
the thing himself. Will he? Probably not. That he wants us to believe
the rest of this
stuff though is, frankly, embarrassing.

Also in today’s Oz,
Glenda Korporaal looks at the career so far of Goodman Fielder chief Peter Margin – one that has
“spanned the corporate twists and turns of the Australian food industry.”

Gold’s advance to 24-year highs – it’s cracked the magical
$700 an ounce level in Aussie dollars – has yet to rub off on the junior
exploration sector in any meaningful way, says Barry FitzGerald in The Age. Most of the juniors are pretty much bumping along at the same sort
of levels that prevailed before gold took off. But that seems fair enough given
the heavyweights are actually producing the yellow stuff whereas the junior
explorers are not.

This week, Ken Henry will add another few billion to the
budget surplus forecast, as he has done roughly every six months since becoming
Treasury secretary in 2001, says John Garnaut in The Sydney Morning Herald. Copper,
zinc and natural gas have all just hit all-time market highs, which will
further bloat Australian corporate tax receipts. For the moment, Henry has
convinced his economic ministers to at least try to impose a modicum of
spending restraint on the basis that the good times won’t last. But at the
back of his mind, he must be wondering: will this be the first resources
boom that just won’t bust? The answer depends on what happens in China.
But unfortunately nobody, not even the Chinese themselves, has a clue.

And the Coles Myer board will today discard some of the
bidders from the shortlist of potential purchasers of the Myer department
stores, reportsThe Sydney Morning Herald. The meeting to finalise
plans for the sale of the 105-year-old retail group comes after a difficult
week of revelations for parent group Coles Myer. Bidders have questioned the company’s failure to inform them of
a continuing legal battle with the landlords of Highpoint Shopping Centre, to
provide them with a detailed financial picture of the retailer’s position or
with the timetable for the sale and possible potential conflicts of interest
involving board members and bidders. Myer managing director Dawn Robertson is also under
pressure to keep the cash registers ringing this Christmas, as poor sales
figures could to wipe millions off the business’s price tag.