From the Crikey grapevine, the latest tips and rumours …

Purge at the ATO? A tax type is concerned about changes at head office, following on from our story yesterday about the ATO haranguing people with a very scary letter for not submitting tax returns up to 13 years ago (they might send you a letter threatening large fines or prison):

“It’s ironic reading today about the ATO’s heavy-handed non-lodgement letter to individuals. Right now, the ATO’s legal/technical areas are buzzing with indignation and rumour as some of our most senior and most respected (internally and externally) leaders are being gently pushed out the door, or if they can’t be encouraged to retire, quite blatantly shunted into sidings to make way for up to a new hand-picked SES team. These will be, as we understand it, more ‘flexible’ — particularly with large taxpayers. Those being eased off the stage are, we’re told, not capable of ‘communicating the message of change’. Enough of the legal/technical people round the traps were already angry or depressed about the discrepancy between our treatment of large and small taxpayers. No one seems optimistic that this will improve over this Commissioner’s tenure.”

So, the ATO is finding it easier to target small taxpayers who didn’t file a tax return in 2003, when they were 14, rather than large taxpayers with very expensive lawyers, who can be so very troublesome? Tips also heard from a well-regarded accountant from a southern state, who told us this:

“The tone of this letter is offensive and intimidatory. We assume this is a new approach for 2014. I have had suggestions from ATO staff, unattributable of course, that the ATO will be taking a much tougher line on unpaid tax to help fix Joe Hockey’s testosterone problem. No more Mr Nice Guy from the ATO auditors.”

Crikey wants to find out more about what the ATO is up to. If you’ve received the letter or know more about what’s going on inside the ATO, let us know or comment on the story.

You’ve gotta be kitten me. The Stop Tony Meow plugin for web browsers Chrome, Safari and Firefox we mentioned in yesterday’s Tips has well and truly gone viral. In case you missed it, the plugin uses a script to replace all images of Tony Abbott (i.e., images with “Tony Abbott” in the image alt tags) with pictures of cute kittens. This morning, one of its co-creators tweeted that the Liberal Party is trying to remove all image alt tags to outsmart the plugin. A number of public servants are saying the plugin isn’t working on their work computers, but that’s probably to do with the strict IT network settings on all government-owned computers, rather than deliberate censorship by the Coalition government. For what it’s worth, the Liberal Party’s official site is still an Abbott-free-zone when viewed from computers in the Crikey bunker:

ABC / Oz all loved up. Next week’s Four Corners promises to be interesting. It’s an investigation into how the Israeli army treats children in the West Bank. And get this: it’s a joint investigation between Four Corners and The Australian. The Oz’s Middle East correspondent John Lyons travelled to the West Bank to investigate the story. The Oz has been railing against perceived ABC bias and inaccuracy of late, so let’s hope this piece is an olive branch. And can we expect senior Australian journo Nick Leys to collaborate? He’s heading to the ABC soon to be a spinner, so he’s perfectly placed.

IT workers sacked? We’ve heard a rumour that some staff at the NICTA Victoria Research Lab — an ICT research program funded by the federal and Victorian governments, among others — have lost their jobs. Sounds like there are some ill feelings around. We’ve put that claim to NICTA but haven’t heard back yet.

Reef debate. Conservationists were not happy when the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority recently approved a plan to dump dredge spoil from the expansion of Queensland’s Abbot Point coal port into the marine park. A reader suggested we ask some questions about a relationship between two people who work in the field. We can confirm that someone quite senior at the authority is married to someone who works for oceanographic consultancy RPS/Asia-Pacific ASA (again, in quite a senior role). According to its website, “RPS is providing ongoing survey services” for the commercial projects that will increase the size of Abbot Point. RPS has done work relating to “onshore storage and processing facilities and the offshore loading components” of the port.

So is this a conflict of interest? The authority told us it was satisfied that the manager who works there “has declared all relevant conflicts of interest,” and also said that the decision to approve the disposal of dredge material had been made at a general manager level (the person in question is not at that level). A spokeswoman for RPS said she was unable to comment due to contracting arrangements. We asked both organisations if the people in question had worked on the process to approve dumping dredge spoil in the marine park, but those questions were not answered.

There is therefore no evidence of a conflict of interest affecting the decision to approve the project, which is why we have not named the people involved. But thanks to the reader who alerted us to the situation, as these queries are worth looking into.

Anyone missing an arm? Tips has been running your pics of interesting graffiti, signs etc. We enjoyed this one from a reader — “I took this one with my iphone in Ulmarra in NSW, and had great difficulty getting a tree into the picture.” 

“Beware of trees” indeed. Although readers of Seven Little Australians may wish Judy Woolcot had seen such a sign …

Who’s the primitive? Alarming to read this Twitter contribution from David Oldfield, who worked for Tony Abbott before helping Pauline Hanson set up One Nation in the 1990s (he was a radio broadcaster till fairly recently, if you’ve missed him). As his Twitter bio states, he’s “still fighting for our Nation” …

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