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Tax commissioner sceptical of Labor’s deduction cap

Jotham Lian
Jotham Lian
15 March 2019 2 minute readShare
Chris Jordan

Labor’s proposal to limit the deductibility of the cost of managing tax affairs to $3,000 has been met with scepticism from the tax commissioner.

While the policy announcement was made back in 2017, it has received increasing attention as the federal election draws closer.

The Institute of Public Accountants (IPA) has previously criticised the plan to cap deductions for managing tax affairs at $3,000, labelling it “genuinely and obviously a revenue grab” that would have a “disastrous impact” on the community.

The basis of Labor’s proposal comes from analysis of ATO data that showed that in 2014–15, 19 people claimed an average of $1.1 million in deductions for the use of “the lawyers and tax advisers that helped them pay no tax”.

Its costings show that the proposal will rake in $1.8 billion to 2028–29, and will only affect less than 1 per cent of all taxpayers, roughly 90,000.

The proposal covers expenses relating to preparing and lodging tax returns and activity statements that include the costs of lodging tax returns through a registered tax agent, obtaining tax advice from a recognised tax adviser, appealing to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal or courts in relation to tax affairs, interest charges by the ATO, and dealing with the ATO about tax affairs.

Speaking at the Tax Institute’s National Convention, ATO commissioner Chris Jordan said that the millions that Labor points to were probably down to general interest charges in large settlements.

“When people see a quick headline, ‘millionaires paying millions not to pay tax’, there might well be some other reason entirely, like GIC, and I think we’re trying to break that box down now,” Mr Jordan said.

“For this one, it is the label on the tax return and in that label, it is not just tax agent fees but penalties and deductible interest. If you’ve got all that GIC and you’ve paid an enormous settlement, you can claim the GIC as a tax deduction, so yes, you might have millions of dollars of income, but I can’t see any rational, or even irrational person, spending over a million to not pay tax on a million.

“Just like in the work-related expenses area, to give them a better feel to see what is the tax agent fee versus what is the big GIC, and it is the big GIC figure and settlement figures that drive these amounts, but again policy is formed on a perception.”

The Tax Institute’s senior tax counsel, Professor Robert Deutsch, who previously labelled the proposal as “outrageous”, revealed that 87.6 per cent of its membership either disagreed or strongly disagreed with the proposal.

“It seems to me that measure has come about because there is a handful, perhaps two handfuls, of people who have done the wrong thing by overclaiming deductions in this space, and I think they need to be addressed head-on, but I don’t think it is fair to penalise the entire community by limiting deductions in this way to a particular figure,” Professor Deutsch said.

“It is distortionary.”

Tax commissioner sceptical of Labor’s deduction cap
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Jotham Lian
Jotham Lian

Adam Zuchetti is the former editor of MyBusiness and a senior freelance media professional, specialising in the fields of business, personal finance and property. In 2020, he also embarked on his own business journey – inspired in part by the entrepreneurs and founders he had met through his journalistic work – with the launch of customised pet gifting and subscription service Paws N’ All.

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