Tax Commissioner Chris Jordan copped plenty of grief yesterday for refusing to release details of the 10 resource companies that had transferred tens of billions of dollars to Singapore to avoid Australian tax. The Labor chair of the current Senate committee inquiry into tax avoidance, Sam Dastyari, has vowed to go after the information.

We’ll leave others to debate the merits of Jordan’s decision — some key figures believe he is justified in invoked a public interest immunity to protect the confidentiality of the information — but Jordan did do something quite odd. In his letter to Dastyari, Jordan said “the treasurer has been consulted about making these public interest immunity claims, and has endorsed them being made by me as an independent statutory office holder”.

This immediately dropped Hockey in it, making it look like the Treasurer himself had intervened on the decision. That prompted media stories such as this one from Fairfax in effect suggesting Hockey was intervening to shut down transparency, and much excited tweeting, including from Crikey’s Bernard Keane. But in fact Hockey had nothing to do with the decision. As Jordan’s letter noted, and then Hockey himself said later in a media release, “the decision to disclose the information of taxpayers is entirely a matter for the Commissioner of Taxation as an independent statutory office holder”.

Jordan told Dastyari during the hearing that Hockey didn’t even know what the specific information in question was. In searching for political cover for a decision he knew would be controversial, Jordan exposed his boss to hostile fire that, regardless of Hockey’s broader performance on the issue of tax avoidance, appears quite unjustified — and that’s a cardinal sin for even the most junior public servant.

Peter Fray

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