Tax Commissioner Michael D’Ascenzo is starting to sound like a used car salesman rather than the nation’s chief revenue collector. To coincide with the release from jail yesterday of Operation Wickenby tax cheat Glenn Wheatley, D’Ascenzo spouted to the media that coming clean on tax evasion is the best path to follow:

This year, we’re starting to see the fruition, in terms of the range of charges and criminal proceedings. It sends a very clear message to the community that abuse of tax practice just doesn’t cut the mark. It was a situation of people trying to come good and co-operate, go forward. That’s what we want to do with people that have been involved in any of these arrangements – come good, get back on the straight and narrow. That’s a good message for all Australians.

So, according to D’Ascenzo we should all be like Wheatley. Come forward, confess our tax sins to him and then… go to jail. Wow! What a deal! Unfortunately for D’Ascenzo there are not enough naive customers out there willing to fall for his spruiking; his cry for help from dodgy taxpayers to prop up Wickenby results has fallen on deaf ears. Only a couple of weeks ago he issued a press release relating to tax evasion arrangements in Vanuatu. He said:

Last year we asked Vanuatu branches or subsidiaries of some Australian financial institutions to ask their Australian customers to check their arrangements. If people thought they had tax compliance problems we offered them the opportunity to come forward and voluntarily disclose any issues. We have been disappointed with the low response rate from this particular initiative and urge people to think again.

By using Wheatley as an example for all taxpayers, D’Ascenzo obviously has a short memory. Wheatley was the subject of criminal leaks to the media of his personal financial affairs by the tax office and he was dudded by the DPP when negotiating a deal with them to avoid jail.

D’Ascenzo is a revenue desperado. He knows his much vaunted Operation Wickenby is in the red to the tune of over $100 million taxpayer dollars — and rising. It is an embarrassment to the previous Liberal government that poured more than $305 million dollars into it. To date, they’ve only collected $27.9m and convicted Wheatley.

So desperate is D’Ascenzo to boost the Wickenby results he told Parliament’s Public Accounts and Audit Committee at the biannual hearing with the Commissioner of Taxation last month that tax payments by Wickenby targets had increased by 57% (around $40m) due to voluntary compliance. It is the first time I have ever heard a tax commissioner refer to the voluntary compliance effect and attempt to have that included in the overall result of the project.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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