The Australian Tax Office has been attacked for its level of power and unfair legal advantage in deterring SMEs and less wealthy individual taxpayers from disputing inaccurate judgements against them.
Liberal Democrats Senator David Leyonhjelm suggested the ATO wields too much power for the good of the country.
“As taxpayers we are at the mercy of an entity with unparalleled power to act as investigator, prosecutor, judge, appeal judge and sentencer,” Senator Leyonhjelm said in a statement.
“The ATO assesses what an individual or business must pay and it’s too bad if that assessment is wrong. The current system demands the taxpayer to pay up anyway, then go through the courts to seek justice.”
He added: “Those with deep pockets can send in the big legal guns but there are myriad examples of small businesses and individuals who have either been sent to the wall fighting their case or simply paid up because they know to take on the ATO would financially ruin them.”
According to the Senator, there are “too many stories of the ATO getting it wrong and leaving a trail of devastated businesses and individuals in its wake, and offering paltry financial compensation that is too little too late”.
The comments follow a joint investigation by Fairfax Media and the ABC that revealed multiple examples of people suffering enormous financial, and emotional, distress in seeking redress for mistakes by the ATO.
“In dealing with the ATO I’ve never come across such a mongrel bunch of b*****ds in my entire life,” the ABC quoted one affected business leader disputing a reported $250,000 tax bill.
The ATO, however, denied it was “anti-small business” or heavy-handed in its activities.
“We are concerned this program will focus heavily on a very small number of atypical cases and extrapolate these across the entire system, alleging that the ATO is anti-small business, wields too much power or is solely focused on collecting revenue,” deputy commissioner, small business at the ATO, Deborah Jenkins said in response to the reports.
“The feedback I consistently receive from credible sources – like small businesses themselves and their key industry associations – is positive about how we listen and respond to their needs.
“While we do sometimes make mistakes, we acknowledge those specific instances and we always welcome external feedback and constructive critique.”
Ms Jenkins added that the hype surrounding these cases may “create tension and worry for small businesses where it did not previously exist — and perhaps even stop people from coming to us to have questions answered or issues resolved.”
However, a statement purportedly from the ATO to all staff, posted on Twitter by the ABC before My Business received Ms Jenkins’ comments, suggested no staff should speak to the media and that any official response to the claims could be some days away.
“This coverage is a timely reminder of the need to maintain the highest standards when it comes to meeting our secrecy obligations,” the statement said.
“Once the show airs we will take the appropriate steps next week to ensure the community conversation is balanced.”
Adam Zuchetti is the editor of My Business, and has steered the publication’s editorial direction since early 2016.