Sep 6, 2010

How Hoges used PR to beat the taxman

He may not have made an international box office hit since the Crocodile Dundee series, but Paul Hogan certainly proved one thing over the last couple of weeks -- he still knows how to win over a crowd.

Tom Cowie

Crikey journalist

He may not have made an international box office hit since the Crocodile Dundee series, but Paul Hogan has certainly proved one thing over the last couple of weeks -- he still knows how to win over a crowd. Hogan has been waging a media war against the taxman for a fortnight now, after the ATO grounded the seventy-year-old as part of Operation Wickenby for allegedly skipping the bill on millions of dollars of unpaid taxes. Guilty or not, the PR war paid off yesterday, as Hoges -- complete with fake moustache -- flew out of Sydney airport after his classification as a flight risk was rescinded.


Mike Smith, director of Inside PR, told Crikey that Hogan’s handling of the media during the stand-off was a "big success" and that his use of a disguise to leave the country was a "nice touch". “Hogan has always been pretty good on the PR front, but I think he’s done especially well in the last week," Smith told Crikey. "He’s got a pretty decent well of good will to tap into and he sure did tap it.” Hogan has been unambiguous about his efforts to cash in on his public image during the two week stand off. When quizzed this morning on why he was allowed to leave the country, Hogan told reporters that the ATO let him go “...because of the bad publicity around the world.” Hogan is right about the bad press. For the ATO, not him, that is. The Logie-winning actor has been a fixture in tabloid and broadsheet papers both in Australia and overseas since the order was handed down.


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16 thoughts on “How Hoges used PR to beat the taxman

  1. zut alors

    In a popularity contest between the ATO and Jack The Ripper the latter would be the outright winner. Against Hogan they have no hope. If they prosecute in court (as with Glenn Wheatley) it will be more fun for the public than Ashton’s circus.

  2. John Passant

    As I wrote on my blog article Paul Hogan, hype and paying tax, ( the idea that Hogan has had a win is ridiculous. He has been hit for a tax bill for a tax bill of millions for matters from 1986 on. Normally the ability to go back in time is severely limited – 2 and 4 years, unless there is fraud or evasion called in which case there is no time limit.

    This means the ATO is alleging fraud or evasion and has raised the multi-million dollar assessments on that basis. So Hogan has objected and in good time the allegations against him (eg his supposed British Virgin islands companies and payments to them, his residency game playing and so on) will come out. In the context of his tax bill these I should stress are civil matters. Hogan has the onus of showing the assessments are excessive.

    The ATO lifted the Departure Prohibition Order because Hogan paid a security against the tax bill. A hard hitting journalist might have questioned him about that. How much, of what nature, what conditions attached and the like. They might also have questioned him about Trelene and GB Films in the British VIrgin islands and Hogan’s connections or lack thereof to them.

    It is interesting Hogan didn’t seek a curt order to have the DPO lifted. It may be he didn’t want the reasons for the imposition of the order made public and preferred the secrecy associated with negotiations with the ATO. It is of course a criminal offence for a tax officer to reveal details about a taxpayer.

    This is the fake war. The fun will begin when the objections against the assessments are heard and he case for and against the tax bill goes public.

    I think a lot of this pro-Hogan hagiography is part of a wider campaign by the rich and powerful to derail projects like Operation Wickenby as it raises more liabilities and collects more tax and the long slow process of the criminal and tax matters begin to gather steam.
    This is indicative of a wider problem. Tax policy and tax administration are infected and infested with bodies that represent the interests of the rich and powerful.

    The time has come to fund the ATO adequately and to cut the chains of advisory and other bodies designed to hamstring its every move. Maybe then we could see the 40 percent of big business which pays no income tax begin to pay some. Tax policy changes too might be needed to ensure that happens.

    I have to declare an interest of sorts here. I am a former Assistant Commissioner of Taxation but want to stress I have no knowledge of the Hogan issue other than what I have read in the newspapers and I would not comment if I did have ‘inside’ knowledge.

  3. Socratease

    When it comes to Hogan, methinks he dost protest too much.

    Meanwhile, look for the Swiss bank account.

  4. Robert Garnett

    Tom, What evidence have you got that shows it was PR that influenced the ATO and not legal advice? Your’s is a ripping yarn, but without some real evidence it sounds like you ar part of Hogan’s PR team.

    Another one of Hoge’s trimphs of style over substance?

  5. Socratease

    I back the ATO to go as hard as it has to to to rein in those big shots who attempt to fly below the radar with their offshore schemes. It’s easy for clowns like Hogan and his ilk to paint the Commissioner as the Sheriff of Nottingham but, let’s face it, without its power to stamp on tax cheats with a heavy foot, it would be open season for everybody to treat their tax obligations as optional at best.

    Frankly, I think Hogan should face the same process as Wheatley. Once Hogan has paid his dues he can stay in the USA for all I care, however as I understand it, the IRS are now interested in him as well.

  6. zut alors

    Would a flat tax (on individuals, corporations, family trusts etc) go some way towards solving evasion?

  7. Bobalot The Great

    “Would a flat tax (on individuals, corporations, family trusts etc) go some way towards solving evasion?”


  8. jeebus

    @Zut Alors, when people talk about a flat rate, the real question they are asking is – will rich people pay more tax if they are required to pay less tax.

    We know that a market economy needs profit incentives to encourage people to become entrepreneurs and put in their best work, but the truth is in the numbers. Most people would read your question and answer it by guessing the psychology of the wealthy.

    I would say that this question can’t be answered without research and evidence. Look into tax collection rates in high tax and low tax countries, and the revenue changes resulting from major tax reforms around the world.

    Tax policy should not be based around glib ideology or gut instincts.

  9. freecountry

    ZUT ALORS: “Would a flat tax (on individuals, corporations, family trusts etc) go some way towards solving evasion?”

    I hope John Passant will correct me if I’m wrong here, but tax evasion is not really a major problem in Australia. The major problem in Australia is tax avoidance – people and companies making economic decisions, not to pursue the most efficient means to increasing productivity, but to pursue the means to paying less tax.

    For example, people buy second-hand investment homes instead of investing more productively — in bank deposits, shares, bonds, or building of new homes — because they can:

    – reduce their income tax, even on their salaries which have nothing to do with
    – avoid GST and infrastructure levies on building new homes
    – avoid Capital Gains Tax by reborrowing later to realize capital gain, instead of selling the asset

    This and other patterns of tax avoidance (regardless of Bob Hawke’s “tax avoision”laws), result in economic distortions which substantially reduce the productivity and living standard of Australia, compared to its potential.

    Compared to that, the cost of cheating by a few high-flyers would be more symbolic than anything else. Still very important to enforce the law, to demonstrate to other taxpayers that everyone is subject to the same laws. But in financial terms, any action against Hogan would be mainly symbolic.

  10. Elan

    Good article. Hogan has played us like a fiddle! He’s damn good at it.

    Aren’t we a funny lot? We loathe the ATO for taking our dosh, yet when it sees a case for alleged massive tax evasion, we cheer this bloke on-and snigger at the ATO!

    Yet the ATO is simply treating ALL taxpayers equally! (‘Witch hunt’ my rrr’s!)Why do the rich and powerful invoke the Leonora Hemsley Syndrome?

    All power to the ATO! IF there is a matter here that needs further scrutiny-and legal action, then good for them!

    My fear over this is that in the pursuance of it the ATO will be criticised over mounting costs;-and drop the case. That will infuriate me.

    Hogans smooth charm doesn’t impress me one bit.

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