Report on the Tax Office

01 June 2015

Dr CHALMERS (Rankin) (10:31):  I am pleased to report to the House and respond to the House Standing Committee on Tax and Revenue Report titled: 2014 annual report of the Australian Taxation Office: first report on behalf of my colleagues the members for Hotham, Gellibrand and Griffith. I also acknowledge the chair, who is here and who just spoke, the member for Forde, and the former chair, the member for Bennelong, who also joins us in the House.

When it comes to the implementation of Australia's economic and fiscal policies, we focus a lot on the challenges before us, which is appropriate, but too often we ignore the tremendous advantages we have. One of the advantages we have when it comes to fiscal policy, and particularly revenue policy, is an absolutely first-class tax office, the Australian Taxation Office, led by some remarkably capable people. It is a professional outfit. It is extraordinarily well led by Chris Jordan, the Commissioner of Taxation, and also all of the other senior executives and staff who make up the ATO. I want to begin by thanking them for being so generous with their time with the committee so that we could really get through some of the issues covered in their annual report. I also want to thank the witnesses, people like the Inspector-General of Taxation, Chartered Accountants Australia and New Zealand and also the Council of Small Business Australia. I think the Council of Small Business led by Peter Strong is a remarkable institution in our country. I thank all of the witnesses for the time that they spent with the committee. I also want to thank the staff of the committee and, as I said before, the chair, the member for Forde.

In this place we quite often have very big, very vast differences on tax policy, particularly when it comes to things like superannuation, multinational tax or consumption tax. There are a whole range of issues where my side of the House would disagree vehemently with that side of the House, but I think it is important to note that when it comes to our regard for the ATO and when it comes to some of the issues covered in this annual report and in our inquiry into the annual report, there is a great deal of bipartisanship. That is partly reflected by the way that the member for Forde and, before him, the member for Bennelong go about chairing the meetings in a bipartisan way. Also, a lot of the issues covered are not partisan issues; they are issues that go to making our tax office as efficient and effective as possible as it goes about fairly collecting the tax that Australia needs to fund the public services in this country.

We did not issue a dissenting report. There are probably a couple of areas where we might not have an identical view but we did not dissent from the report. It does remain to be seen whether some of the fairly substantial resourcing cutbacks in the ATO will have an impact on compliance. I am aware of the evidence that was given, but time will tell whether there will be a compliance cost to some of the fairly drastic staff cutbacks in the ATO. We also have some differences around the policy development function, particularly when it comes to multinational tax, as I said. 

There are some really important bipartisan issues in this report around the relationship between clients and the ATO, administration of the ATO, compliance strategies and crowdfunding—all kinds of issues that are very important in making the tax system one that people can interact with more easily and one that, as I said, collects more efficiently the right amount of tax in our community.

Like the member for Forde, I do want to acknowledge that the tax commissioner and his team have already taken some fairly substantial steps towards improving the ATO's performance and its performance indicators. We have some suggestions around measuring fairness and perceptions of fairness, but overall the commissioner, Chris Jordan, has done a terrific job. I think that this is one of the more inspired appointments of the former Labor government. He was appointed during the Rudd-Gillard years and he is just doing a tremendous job for Australia. I want to mark that in this place.

As I said, we might disagree on a lot of matters of tax policy but we agree not just in this report but more broadly, that the tax office is doing a terrific job. The feedback from our community is as always—you get some people who would prefer a better experience with the ATO and others who are very positive about their interaction. But, overall, I think that they should be commended for the work they have done. I look forward to working with the member for Forde and my other colleagues on the tax committee, as well as the tax office and Chris Jordan as we continue to work out the best way to collect tax in this country.