Since he took on the job as the tax office watchdog, Inspector-General of Taxation David Vos has been a tenacious taxpayer advocate often publicly criticising excessive ATO actions and Treasury advice. But last night in a Senate Estimates hearing Labor Senator Nick Sherry asked Nigel Ray, a senior Treasury Official: “We have received information that the Inspector-General of Taxation is to be nobbled to make it more restrictive and difficult for him to carry out his important tasks.”

Clearly stunned and looking nervous, Mr Ray responded by trying to flick the attention back on the government: “I think that’s a policy decision.”

Sherry: I’m not going to go to the individual policy advice of about how you are going to nobble him. I’m interested to know whether it’s being examined.

Ray: I can assure you we are not attempting to nobble him as the Inspector-General has statutory powers and it’s a matter for the Parliament not us.

Sherry: Yes but it’s a matter of what powers are left after he has been restricted in his activities.

Ray: That’s a policy question.

Senator Sherry’s questions came after the tabling of the Inspector-General’s annual report last week in Parliament. The Inspector-General David Vos AM claimed in his report:

Relationships with the Tax Office during the year have been considerably strained in respect of some reviews, with several legal opinions being sought on either issues identified in a review or on the scope of my powers to obtain information generally. The Treasury, as coordinator of the Treasury portfolio, has also been involved in some of these matters. Obtaining legal opinions on my information gathering powers has been undertaken jointly and cooperatively across the three Treasury portfolio agencies.

Vos plays an important role in our democratic society but unfortunately for him and Australian taxpayers he is doing too good a job and it appears Costello and Tax Chief Michael D’Ascenzo want to pull the leash tighter on him so he can be effectively muzzled.

We’ve seen taxpayers’ rights being torn to shreds as Costello authorises draconian ACC terrorism powers applied to chasing alleged tax suspects in Operation Wickenby over unpaid tax. Those powers include a suspect not being able to tell their doctor or psychiatrist they’re being investigated for fear of risking getting them arrested and coming under investigation as well. We’re talking tax here, not terrorism or murder!

So who’s going to rein in Costello and D’Ascenzo?

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey

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