A government-backed investigation into the tax office appears to have stalled, despite numerous accusations of ATO bullying and heavy-handedness against SMEs prompting an initial flurry of action.
In April, the Australian Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman (ASBFEO) revealed that it would join forces with Treasury and the Inspector-General of Taxation to investigate SME dealings with the ATO, at the request of Minister for Revenue and Financial Services Kelly O’Dwyer.
It followed serious claims made by business owners against the ATO that it unfairly acts as “investigator, prosecutor, judge, appeal judge and sentence.”
Yet as one astute My Business reader noted, “It has been four weeks since this [issue was raised] and the immediate O’Dwyer promise of an investigation into ATO abuse … has since gone very quiet”.
“The budget has just given ATO another $130.8m to ‘increase compliance activities targeting individuals’ so [it] looks like ATO will have more money to keep doing the same thing,” the reader said.
My Business attempted to get answers from the ASBFEO on where the investigation is at, as well as the number and type of submissions it had received from business owners.
However a spokesperson said they were unable to provide an update on the investigation, insisting that any response would come from Ms O’Dwyer.
The minister’s office also said that no update was available.
While Ms O’Dwyer has been out spruiking the budget, including tax evasion measures and curbs on the black economy, no statements have been issued on the inquiry into the ATO since it was first announced.
The lack of transparency as to what is happening with the investigation — if anything — raises questions of how serious the government was in examining the tax office’s dealings as well as the impacts its judgements (and the accuracy of those judgements) have on the viability of SMEs.
For its part, the ATO has strenuously denied accusations of impropriety and that its actions are “killing small business”.
My Business will continue to follow the issue.
Regulator scrutiny is a hot-button issue at present, with ASIC and APRA facing calls for greater oversight after a perceived weakness to act on misconduct within the banking and financial services sector.
Adam Zuchetti is the editor of My Business, and has steered the publication’s editorial direction since early 2016.