Feb 5, 2013

The tax office, ‘hired assassins’ and how to gag dissent

The nation's tax office has been accused of hiring psychiatrists to diagnose and even coerce complainants during legal disputes. Crikey's freedom of information requests and interviews reveal a worrying culture.

Chris Seage — Tax consultant and former ATO audit manager

Chris Seage

Tax consultant and former ATO audit manager

The Australian Taxation Office has been accused of sending employees to “hired assassin” psychiatrists to silence dissent, discredit whistleblowers and terminate their employment. Taxation professionals say the ATO has not only ignored calls for tighter regulation of these powers but appears to have intensified its use of psychiatry to label taxpayers they are in legal dispute with as “high conflict people”.

Crikey has obtained information under freedom of information about psychiatric seminars rolled out last month to ATO legal and HR managers by psychiatrist Dr Kipling Walker from the National Health Group. An email exchange between Dom Sheil — a senior principal lawyer in the ATO, who oversees compensation for taxpayers — and Dr Walker reveals the arrangement. Sheil writes:

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14 thoughts on “The tax office, ‘hired assassins’ and how to gag dissent

  1. Dogs breakfast

    “In a bizarre twist, the worker that abused Strelecky was provided with a generous taxpayer-funded redundancy package to exit his employment.”

    I would be surprised if this wasn’t also pushed through as a ‘bona fide’ redundancy which also then attracts highly advantageous tax breaks. The problem is that this would not be a bona fide redundancy under the, gulp, tax office legislation.

    But what the hey, employers are doing this all over the place. The easiest way to get rid of someone is often to pay them a redundancy, and call it a ‘bona fide’ redundancy regardless of circumstances.

    The most laughable thing is the idea of HR practitioners and lawyers making judgements about others mental fitness, and subsequent need for psychiatric attention. As a former HR practitioner of 32 years, I could hardly think of 2 professions more likely to be filled by narcissistic and borderline personalities.

    But I’m just a trouble maker.

  2. ianjohnno

    How very Stalinist.
    This is the way modern management is going and I think the ATO is only one of many.

  3. Andrew McMillen

    Excellent story, Chris.

  4. bluepoppy

    This is common in many departments. The golden handshake payout to get rid of ‘controversial’ senior managers. I once asked what KPIs were met for one departing manager to receive his performance bonus (under FOI) and no information was forthcoming. Didn’t even ask how much just what the KPIs were. The SES network looks after it’s own similar to the largesse and pig swilling at the corporate trough.

  5. Dr Dagg

    It sounds like the ATO has a shocking case of projective identification. It is engaging in the behaviour that it is accusing its employees.

    It’s not the referral powers that are at issue. Every systems is only as good as the people inside of it. You could change the powers and they would only find another way. The people need to be changed.

    There is the irony that as someone who works for an organisation similar in culture to the ATO, if you decide to become a whistleblower, you probably are a bit crazy.

  6. duncan stephens

    Excellent – but depressing article. The same toxic behaviour of large corporates well and truly present in our public service. I hope Mr Bradbury takes time out from boring us on Qanda to read this !

  7. sparky

    I’m always interested at the motivation of health professionals to become involved in the Stalinist( thank you ianjohnno) machinations of powerful organisations. There have been countless books/ movies/ cultural artifacts on the subject. Is it a sociopathy of the weak who want to be aligned with the powerful or just to be liked, or just greed?

  8. Moira Smith

    I believe the use of ‘hired asassin’ psychiatrists is also common with employers seeking to win Comcare cases (or is it Comcare that has them all lined up).

  9. Madonna

    Definition of Irony – ATO management sending staff to get their head read!

  10. iPinque

    No surprises, unfortunately – the ATO is a poorly-run outfit, with management practices mired in the worst excesses of 80s Harvard-style corporatism, and a forest of deadwood in middle-management.

    Technologically crippled by incompetent ICT leadership (they still use Windows XP fer chrissakes, with no chance of moving wholly to Win 7 [never mind 8!] until 2014) they are floundering. Don’t expect a Mac-friendly version of eTax any time soon, either.

    “Blame-the-victim” has always been a preferred tactic, rather than shouldering the responsibility for decisions. Calling your critics crazy is just another aspect of that – Yossarian would feel right at home there.

    New Commissioner Chris Jordan has a big job ahead of him, cleaning up the mess Mike D’Ascenzo left behind.

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