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Australia Reviewing ATO Mandate

by Mary Swire,, Hong Kong

22 April 2014

Australian Tax Commissioner Chris Jordan has spoken of his desire to "reinvent" the Australian Taxation Office (ATO) to make it a contemporary and service-oriented organization.

Speaking at a conference in Sydney, Jordan admitted that this reinvention is likely to be a "long term journey." He acknowledged that "building trust in a tax administration is not a simple or quick effort, nor one that you can let up."

Jordan has given the ATO a new mission statement: "To contribute to the economic and social wellbeing of Australians by fostering willing participation in the tax and superannuation systems." He rates the current level of "wiling participation" as good, with more than 95 percent of revenue collected coming in voluntarily.

Jordan argued that the ATO must now ask itself "how do we design the system so that it suits the 95 percent." It will need to strike the right balance of investment in compliance enforcement, help and education, and in systems that save time, effort and money, he said.

The Commissioner has also set the ATO the goal of being "a leading taxation and superannuation administration known for our contemporary service, expertise and knowledge" by 2020.

An Integrated Tax Design Unit will ensure that requests to the Treasury are prioritized and presented from a holistic perspective. Likewise, the ATO is in the process of streamlining its consultation arrangements. The Office also recently launched its first app, which enables taxpayers to track the progress of returns, and has created an interactive online product, Small Business Assist, to provide access to information and tools with the option of an after-hours call-back service.

Australia is also at the forefront of international efforts to crack down on tax avoidance and evasion, with the Government using its presidency of the Group of Twenty (G20) nations to push forward a number of initiatives.

Jordan explained that the ATO is "already working collaboratively and collectively with other tax administrations to share intelligence, undertake risk assessments and compliance action. For Base Erosion and Profit Shifting (BEPS) and multinationals involved in the digital economy we are putting together top down, global pictures of these companies so we can understand what that means for each of our jurisdictions."

"We are also looking at international restructures that involve service hubs in low tax jurisdictions, where the profits shifted do not match the economic activity and reality."

Earlier this month, the ATO announced a limited offer disclosure facility that enables those with offshore assets to make a voluntary disclosure and escape tough penalties. To date, there have been 16 disclosures and 33 expressions of interest, Jordan said.

TAGS: compliance | tax | investment | tax avoidance | tax incentives | revenue guidance | Australia | enforcement | tax authority | offshore | education | multinationals | tax planning | transfer pricing | Jordan | G20 | revenue statistics | tax reform | penalties | Tax | Tax Evasion

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