Former ATO auditor Chris Seage writes:





Tax Commissioner Michael
D’Ascenzo released the tax office compliance program for 2006-07 in Sydney yesterday. It is the most comprehensive and wide
ranging audit plan ever embarked upon by the ATO and Mr D’Ascenzo is to be
congratulated for his involvement in its production. Last year’s compliance plan raised $4 billion
so it is clearly a document not to be sneezed at, although the amount
represents
less than 2% of the total net tax receipts of $214 billion they collected in
2004/05.

The
publication of compliance programs commenced in 2002 under previous commissioner
Michael Carmody and it reflects a shift away from a “gotcha
mentality” to one that sees “prevention as better than cure”. I remember when I worked in the ATO and I was
pushing to have something similar done but it met great resistance from the old
heads in the audit division. “What, tip
them off that we’re coming? That would
take away the fun!”, one senior audit manager once told me. While much publicity will focus on the
crackdown on the rich, what I am impressed by is that it covers all areas of the
taxpayer population from occupational groups, small business, large business and
international transactions to non profit organisations and (would you believe)
government enterprises. Crikey readers
should check to see whether they are listed for an audit.
Small businesses constantly
complain to the ATO that it should focus on the big end of town. I think they have been heard.

D’Ascenzo has responded to
criticism from many quarters (me included) that the ATO seemed to have one rule
for the rich and a different one for you and me. The office lost a lot of respect from the
public over its handling of the Robert Gerard tax fiasco where it was alleged
the big Liberal Party donor received a $75m discount on his tax bill and was not
prosecuted for indictable offences.
There is no doubt this plan will go a long way to restoring the ATO’s
shattered reputation because they devote considerable resources to cracking
down
on high wealth individuals, big companies and serious fraud and
evasion.

The
cash economy will continue to be the subject of a crackdown with auditors
returning to an old audit technique not used over the last ten years. The asset betterment statement (or lifestyle
audit) will resurface. Auditors will
check to see how a person accumulated a big house and a flashy car along with
expensive overseas holidays. “We’re also
establishing whether the accumulated wealth and lifestyle of the individual
business owner is consistent with their reported income”, D’Ascenzo
said.

Just in case Crikey readers
thought I was going soft on the ATO, I have two questions for Mr D’Ascenzo. Firstly, I enquired a couple of days ago about
ATO activity into corporate Australia claiming tax deductions for bribes. The new plan still does not adequately
address the revenue risk involved with this activity in light of evidence
provided to the Cole Inquiry. All the
plan says is: “We
will check systems to ensure bribes and facilitation payments are not wrongly
claimed as tax deductions”.I
know that the Opposition will be raising this issue in Parliament so I ask the
question now: Why isn’t more being
done?

The
other issue is Project Wickenby.
Mentioned in the fine detail of the plan is that the ATO has received
two tax
settlement offers with $3.2 million accepted in one matter. Is the ATO referring these cases to the DPP,
as we are told this project involves the most serious fraud on the Commonwealth,
or has a secret settlement been made?

Peter Fray

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