I’m glad I drive a Holden Statesman! Not because of any whiz bang
performance or safety features but because Holden isn’t
one of the sixteen manufacturers listed in the latest ATO audit blitz known as
the “Luxury
Vehicle Project”
.

Too
bad though if you drive a Saab, Volvo or Audi as your details will be sent to
the ATO in one of the biggest data matching programs ever launched in Australia
to catch tax cheats. I note that the
Holden HSV and WRX Subaru, the trusted vehicles for many in the shadowy world of
the drug trade when I was pushing a pen in the ATO aren’t on the hit list. They must feel
relieved!

The ATO has announced,
through a notification in the Commonwealth Gazette, that they will request and
collect details of individuals or entities that have purchased or acquired a
motor vehicle valued at $70,000 or higher between 1 July 2002 and 30
June 2005, from the relevant state
motor vehicle
registries.

Data matching
has become a favoured audit tool for tax gumshoes. Previous success in matching external data to
ATO information with professional industry groups produced bumper harvests for
consolidated revenue. The Legal
Profession project conducted by the ATO in 2004 uncovered a rat’s nest of tax
impropriety including barristers and solicitors not lodging tax returns (in some
cases for many years), 116 barristers
being in debt to the ATO for $65m while debt
for solicitors nationally is around $180m, scores of barristers turning to
bankruptcy to avoid paying tax.

There’s no doubt the ATO is serious – the intention of this
project is to flush out people who aren’t on the ATO system or who’ve
not lodged a tax return for some years. Others to be caught out are the
crooks who launder their money into conspicuous assets like luxury
vehicles while the builder who hasn’t declared all his cash takings
will also fall under the D’Ascenzo microscope.

The
people I really feel sorry for are the sixteen humble car manufacturers on the
tax hit list who will see a decline in their sales after publicity about this
project filters through to the car buying public. I recall when I was in the ATO and we
requested a list of all American Express gold card holders which we intended to
match against our records. The project took a bizarre twist when thousands of the card holders cancelled
their membership on reading publicity about our intended audit. The ATO will cop some political flak over
targeting certain manufacturers and not others. We haven’t heard the last of
this project.

Peter Fray

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