The Crest of the Commonwealth of Australia Treasury Portfolio Ministers
Picture of Helen Coonan

Helen Coonan

Minister for Revenue and Assistant Treasurer

26 November 2001 - 17 July 2004

Media Release of 29/05/2002

C62/02

29 May 2002

A NEW TAX ADVOCATE

The Minister for Revenue and Assistant Treasurer, Senator Helen Coonan, today released a consultation paper outlining proposals for a new taxpayers' advocate to act as a key independent adviser to Government on tax administration and process.

The Inspector-General of Taxation will be established as a statutory authority in the Treasury portfolio, with wide investigative powers to examine the operation of the current tax administration system and improve fairness, efficiency and integrity for taxpayers.

Senator Coonan said the establishment of an Inspector-General of Taxation was a key Coalition election commitment, and for good reason.

"It is apparent to me that Australian taxpayers have some legitimate concerns arising from their dealings with the Australian Taxation Office," Senator Coonan said.

"Taxpayers have continually raised concerns about matters such as delays in processing, the provision of inconsistent advice and the lack of certainty surrounding their taxation obligations.

"I believe there is scope to improve the responsiveness of the tax administration system to the needs of taxpayers, and the Inspector-General of Taxation will have an important part to play in achieving a fairer system.

The Inspector-General will also be expected to conduct reviews of systemic problems in the tax administration system and could consider matters including:

  • The operation of the self-assessment system, the compliance obligations it places on taxpayers and the clarity of the information provided to taxpayers about the system.
  • The ATO's processing of tax returns including the efficiency of the system and compliance costs;
  • The system of public, private and oral rulings how the system can be improved;
  • The administration of penalty and interest provisions including remission criteria; and
  • The appropriateness of ATO audit guidelines, their application and timeliness.

Senator Coonan said she was keen to see a system in place where genuine problems could be identified and addressed quickly, resulting in an improved operating environment and a win-win situation for the ATO and taxpayers.

"Where taxpayers feel that their tax affairs have not been dealt with fairly, there needs to be appropriate mechanisms to resolve those concerns within a reasonable timeframe," Senator Coonan said.

The Inspector-General will not replace existing points of review but rather will fill gaps that currently exist and help guide further improvements to them.

The objective is to enable the Commissioner of Taxation to continue to independently administer the tax laws, while strengthening the framework for reviewing systemic issues arising from tax administration. It is also a means of improving the way the Commissioner interacts with, and is perceived to interact with, taxpayers.

In making inquiries the Inspector-General will be able to respond to requests from the Treasury Ministers or act on his or her own volition.

In establishing a program of priorities the Government would expect the Inspector-General to consult the community and consider requests that come in from other sources including Parliamentary inquiries, the Commissioner of Taxation or taxpayers.

"The Inspector-General will be responsive to the community and when deciding which matters deserve his or her attention, I would expect priority to be given to those issues that, potentially, would have a positive impact on the largest group of taxpayers," Senator Coonan said.

"To ensure the new Inspector-General can operate effectively he or she will require broad investigative powers, although it is obviously vital that confidentiality is observed in respect to any taxpayer information obtained in the course of an investigation.

"The Inspector-General will be an advocate for taxpayers but individual complaints will continue to be dealt with by the Ombudsman."

The consultation paper will be presented to the Board of Taxation to undertake public consultation on the final form of the Inspector-General before the Government's model is finalised.

"It is important that taxpayers with an interest in this take the opportunity to provide some input and let the Government know what is right or wrong with the model and how it might be improved," Senator Coonan said.

"Consultation on such matters is vital in ensuring that the Government taps into the wealth of experience and knowledge in the community, and that we get it right in the beginning."

 

The Inspector-General of Taxation Consultation Paper is available on the Board of Taxation website at www.taxboard.gov.au/consultation.html