As tax filing time comes around again, and the now-ritual complaints about the Australian Tax Office’s discrimination against Mac and Linux users are uttered, Crikey has learnt the Australian Tax Office is one of the few developed world tax offices that refuses to accept online tax form lodgement from non-Windows users.

The ATO paid a remarkable $32 million to Melbourne-based company DWS (owned by Danny “1 cent” Wallis) for its e-tax software, which will only operate on Windows systems and Windows emulators, although the ATO doesn’t guarantee success with the latter.

Complaints about the ATO’s refusal to acknowledge the existence of Mac and Linux have been rife for a decade or more. Initially, the ATO dismissed non-Windows users as too few to worry about. When quizzed at Senate Estimates by Labor’s Kate Lundy, a regular pursuer of the issue, in 2004, the ATO’s then Commissioner Michael Carmody told her:

“I know that we have regularly surveyed the demand for the Mac product. Given where we are now, to meet that accessibility would be costly. The feedback has been that it is very marginal demand. So while we are in the state we are in it does not seem to us to be a good use of taxpayers’ funds to bear that cost.”

Eventually the ATO abandoned its state of denial and accepted it would at some point have to provide online filing for non-Windows platforms. In 2007, it proudly announced in a media release:

“… we will redevelop e-tax to make it compatible with any computer system that has internet access. We will test this with a small group of users in 2008, aiming to make it available more broadly in future years — pending the success of the trials.”

Well, not so much — a year later, it was all too hard. The ATO was telling Mac users in 2008 that “the project identified a number of challenges and complexities. These challenges were so significant that the Tax Office is not in a position to offer a redeveloped e-tax product for testing in 2008.”

In March this year, nearly four years later, the ATO announced it was spending another $155,000 on trying to find a way to remove its inbuilt discrimination against Mac users. But that project only applies to the desktop OSX, not to proliferating platforms like iPads or iPhones, and not Linux.

Next year, perhaps?

Crikey did some checking on how you can file online overseas.

In Canada, you can use a range of third-party software like this one that complies with Canada Revenue Agency requirements to file, or use the CRA’s own NETFILE system. In the United States, you can use third party browser-based tools like this one to file with the IRS. In Singapore, you can use myTax Portal, although Mac users are urged to use a browser other than Safari (good advice generally, in any event). In the UK you can file for a huge range of taxes online. You can also do so in Malaysia via a browser — indeed the Malaysian Revenue Board is now offering filing from mobile devices. France also has a browser-based filing system. In Germany, you can’t use the official software to pay income tax if you’re a Linux or Mac user, but there is other software available to do so.

In short, pretty much every other country surveyed has conquered the apparently insurmountable problem of allowing non-Windows users to file their tax online. But here in Australia, if you use Linux or a Mac, you may as well be filing in 1989, yet again.

The ATO did not respond to Crikey‘s request for comment.

*Disclosure: Bernard Keane is, yes, a Mac user

Peter Fray

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