The defection of the second most senior tax official in Australia to the Defence Department has rocked the tax office and the government. Greg Farr, the Second Commissioner of Taxation (currently acting Commissioner) and Michael D’Ascenzo’s right hand man will take up his new position of Chief Information Officer (CIO) for the Department of Defence in late November. Unfortunately for D’Ascenzo it may be the start of a senior officer exodus tsunami, sweeping experienced officers into the private and public sectors.

Farr leads the ATO’s information technology area and change program and is a long serving ATO officer with over 30 years’ service. He is a grass roots tax officer who started in the mailroom progressing through various areas of the tax office and working his way to the top. He had carriage of important government initiatives including the $1 billion outsourcing project and their $724 million technology Change Program. Farr’s position is seen as one of the most important IT jobs in the Commonwealth steering new reforms for the Australian Government’s principal revenue collection agency.

So why leave? It couldn’t be for the money. Last year Farr was paid around $400,000 while the position at Defence currently pays just over $200,000. There was speculation that Defence was prepared to pay more to attract quality candidates from the private sector who command $1m packages. A Defence Department spokesman refused to reveal Farr’s new salary package to Crikey. I guess we will have to wait for next year’s annual report to find out!

There is more than meets the eye in Farr’s defection. My information is that there are rumblings in the senior echelons of the ATO about a lack of leadership and the rapid change programs affecting business operations. Indeed I predict Farr’s defection will be the start of an exodus from D’Ascenzo’s leadership team. It has happened before when Michael Carmody was Commissioner. In a two year period in 1996-97 he lost four senior officers to places like the International Monetary Fund and the Privacy Commission. It was speculated at the time that the good officers were keen to escape the ATO.

Some of Farr’s reforms were not appreciated by some of his colleagues. The ATO’s Chief Operating Officer Margaret Crawford told a Parliamentary Committee last month Farr’s operating systems were to blame for the ATO’s failure to meet half of its service standards last financial year. Ouch! It is the second year in succession that Crawford has presided over failed service standards and D’Ascenzo must reassure the Australian community that the decline in service to taxpayers will cease.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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