Tax commissioner Michael D’Ascenzo owes Crocodile Dundee star Paul Hogan an apology.  By serving a Departure Prohibition Order (DPO)  on the Australian entertainment icon he has prevented Hogan from returning to his wife and child in America until he pays his big tax bill on $37.6 million of alleged undeclared income because he believes he is a “flight risk”.  He can’t be serious.

This draconian action was orchestrated from the Sydney office of Operation Wickenby by the ATO’s assistant commissioner for serious non-compliance, Michael O’Neill and approved by D’Ascenzo.

I believe the DPO is technically flawed, vexatious and inspired by elements within the ATO and the Australian Crime Commission as payback for public comments by Hogan ridiculing the Wickenby investigation.

To issue a DPO while Hogan exercises his rights under tax law to object and appeal against his tax bill is premature in the extreme.  This right is granted to all Australians and as the matter of the tax bill has not been finalised you have to question whether this action is vexatious and a tactic to force Hogan to cough up the money now.

Hogan’s lawyer Andrew Robinson, from Robinson Legal in Sydney, said in a public statement yesterday that objections to the assessments had been lodged with the tax office but the ATO had not acted on them.  Crikey understands that the objections were lodged more than four months ago in April.

The tax office service standard for completing objections is within 56 days but in Hogan’s case the number of days has clicked over to 120 and still counting.

Robinson was interviewed by Karl Stefanovic on the Today Show this morning and said the ATO had faxed him last night requesting a meeting this afternoon in Sydney with Hogan’s legal team to investigate whether there are terms upon which the commissioner will let Hogan back home to Los Angeles.  The ATO has to date refused to explain its actions to Robinson or agree to a meeting unless a lengthy questionnaire was completed by Hogan.

This is a flagrant breach of the government’s Taxpayers’ Charter that the tax office likes you to believe they adhere to.  Under the charter they state:

When we give you a decision about your affairs, we explain that decision to you.

The charter also states under the heading “Respecting your right to a review”:

Reviews are conducted by a tax officer who did not make the original decision.

Objections against assessments are supposed to be an “independent” review but how can that happen when the ATO has already made up its mind that Hogan is guilty by slapping a DPO on him.  What sort of independent review can he expect?  One can only imagine!  I suggest the Commonwealth Ombudsman should mount an own-motion investigation of these breaches of the charter and service standards.

The stats on objections don’t lie.  On average 32% of all objections lodged with the ATO are allowed in full.  15% are allowed in part while about 8% are settled or withdrawn.  So, on those stats Hogan has a one in two chance of either reducing his tax bill to a lesser amount or to zero.

That’s a pretty good reason why this DPO action is indeed premature.

I think the DPO will be defeated in the courts because the ATO will not be able to prove Hogan is a “flight risk”.  He has returned to Australia about 10 times while he has been in dispute with the tax office and the ACC.  He has family, business and assets in Australia so I think the ATO are drawing a long bow with this drastic action.

To serve Hogan with a DPO while in Sydney to attend his mother’s funeral is an act of bastardry and continues the terrible handling of this case by the Australian government.

Hogan has been treated appallingly by the authorities.  He has had his personal tax affairs leaked to the media over a long period of time by Wickenby investigators.  He has fired back with strong language saying the tax office should erect a statue of him outside their office because of all the taxes he’s paid.  He has dared them “to come and get me, you bastards”.  And now the DPO.

It’s personal now.  Someone outside this toxic relationship needs to resolve this imbroglio.  It is high time Treasurer Wayne Swan stepped in and told the authorities to back off with this DPO action.