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The Australian Government has launched a consultation on the introduction of new protections for tax whistleblowers.
The consultation is focused upon tax and corporate sector whistleblowers. It is intended to complement the work of a new parliamentary inquiry into whistleblower protections in the corporate, public, and not-for-profit sectors. The inquiry is due to report by June 30, 2017.
The aim of the consultation is to gather information on existing whistleblower provisions already operating in Australia and in major comparable jurisdictions. It canvasses a range of options for reform under the Corporations Act 2001 and under other financial system legislation, and sets out a proposal for tax legislation to introduce specific protections for whistleblowers.
In her foreword to the consultation document, Revenue Minister Kelly O'Dwyer said: "While legislative protections have formed part of the Corporations Act 2001 since 2004, they have been sparingly used and are increasingly perceived as inadequate having regard to recent advances in the public sector and overseas. Currently there are no specific protections for tax whistleblowers, and the range of secrecy and privacy provisions relied upon are incapable of guaranteeing absolute protection."
The Government has therefore proposed that the identity of a tax whistleblower and the disclosure of any information capable of revealing their identity be subject to an absolute requirement of confidentiality. This would prohibit the release of any information by anyone to anyone, including to a court or tribunal unless the whistleblower gives consent to the release of their identity or the relevation is necessary to avert imminent danger to public health or safety, prevent violation of criminal law, or enable whistleblowers to secure compensation for reprisals.
The Government also intends to make it a criminal offense to take or threaten to take a reprisal against a whistleblower. It will be within the whistleblower's rights to be granted compensation if detriment is suffered due to reprisal.
To qualify for these protections, a tax whistleblower must disclose information to the Australian Taxation Office (ATO) and have reasonable grounds to suspect actual or potential tax avoidance behavior or a breach of tax law. The ATO may then disclose the information to government agencies or entities necessary to investigate, without the consent of the whistleblower. The ATO will not be allowed to release any information regarding the progress of any investigation.
Whistleblowers will be able to disclose information anonymously.
The closing date for submissions to the consultation is February 10, 2017.
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