Outgoing ATO boss calls for greater tax office powers

The outgoing head of the ATO has called for the tax office to have the power to collect evidence as part of criminal investigations.

In a speech to the National Press Club, ATO commissioner Chris Jordan said the organisation should be given powers similar to those of tax bodies in other countries to assist with their investigations.

Mr Jordan gave the speech coinciding with the end of his 11-year tenure as the head of the tax office, with him stepping down from the organisation at the end of February.

“Unlike many revenue authorities around the world, we do not have criminal investigation powers. This means we rely on others such as the Australian Federal Police to be able to do our job,” he said in the address on Wednesday..

“Unfortunately, this also means we have to get in line with (the AFP’s) priorities.”

Mr Jordan said such powers would allow the ATO to crack down on tax fraud.

“I would like to see more alignment with our counterparts across the majority of revenue agencies, including France, Germany, New Zealand, the UK and even (the US Internal Revenue Services) are authorised to obtain third-party documentary information and conduct searches to obtain necessary evidence,” he said.

The call come as Mr Jordan warned fraud attempts and data theft would continue to grow.

He said the ATO was defending itself against 4.7 million cyber attacks each month.

“What is of concern to me now is what I refer to as the industrialisation of identity theft through large scale cyber breaches,” Mr Jordan said.

“This is scary stuff, these are things that we really have to keep on top of, we really have to keep investing in.”

The commissioner also denied the ATO had a cosy relationship with major consulting firms, following revelations from the PwC scandal.

Mr Jordan said it was not the responsibility of the tax office to regulate the size of consulting firms.

“I don’t think that it is up to the government or regulators to determine the size of private enterprises,” he said.

“I don’t think that people ever thought years ago that there would be partnerships of nearly 1000 partners, that they would be doing work across such an extremely broad area … way beyond the traditional audit and tax work.”

While the outgoing tax office boss said while a stand alone regulator may not be the answer to the issue, the idea was worth examining.

“Other countries have clearly looked at this and they’ve got a rotation of auditors … but it’s a matter for government.”


Andrew Brown
(Australian Associated Press)


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