Thursday, March 12, 2009

Your chance to buttonhole Ken Henry

Practical Australians with ideas about how to improve the tax system will get a once-in-a-generation opportunity to put them to the people who matter Monday week.

Treasury boss Ken Henry and his tax review committee have hired a room in Melbourne's Japser Hotel, next to Queen Victoria Market to hear all comers from 6.00 to 8.00 pm.

Brisbane - Monday, 16 March 2009
Brisbane City Hall - King George Square, Brisbane
Canberra - Thursday, 19 March 2009
Southern Cross Club Woden - 92-96 Corinna Street, Phillip
Darwin - Monday, 16 March 2009
Crowne Plaza Darwin - 32 Mitchell Street, Darwin
Melbourne - Monday, 23 March 2009
Jasper Hotel - 489 Elizabeth Street, Melbourne
Perth - Tuesday, 17 March 2009
Perth Convention Exhibition Centre - 21 Mounts Bay Road, Perth
Geelong - Tuesday, 24 March 2009
Geelong Conference Centre - Adams Court, Eastern Park, East Geelong
Sydney - Wednesday. 18 March 2009
Mercure Sydney - 818-820 George Street, Sydney
Hobart - Wednesday, 25 March 2009
Hobart Function and Conference centre - 1 Elizabeth Street Pier, Hobart
Wagga Wagga - Wednesday, 18 March 2009
Wagga Commercial Club - 77 Gurwood Street, Wagga
Adelaide - Thursday, 26 March 2009
Mercure Grosvenor Hotel Adelaide - 125 North Terrace, Adelaide

"You may remember my conversation with a businessman Jim of Jericho in central Queensland," he says in an message posted on the Henry Tax Review website.

"It drew my attention to some of the tax and transfer complexities ordinary Australians have to deal with in their everyday lives"...

As Dr Henry later explained to the Press Club last year "Jim" taught him that fencing wire could be treated in several different ways for tax purposes even though it was "just fencing wire".

The Treasury Secretary said the conversation helped persuade him that "the bar room conversations of practical people sometimes contain more wisdom than high-brow policy seminars".

The Japser Hotel meeting on March 23 will be followed a meeting at the Geelong Conference Centre pm March 24, one of only consultation meetings outside capital cities.

"We want to approach issues from the perspectives of everyday citizens," Dr Henry says in the message.

The Henry Review is required to report by the end of the year. It will submit a separate report on the tax treatment of Australia's retirement incomes system at the end of this month.


"U-TURNS" and a suspicion that the Tax Office changes its views in a way which is effectively retrospective will headline a work program that will take Australia's new Inspector General of Taxation well into the next decade.

Inspector General Ali Noroozi, formerly tax counsel for the Institute of Chartered Accountants has announced a 7-point program after sifting through more than 50 submissions from taxpayers concerned about Tax Office behaviour.

Heading list will be an inquiry into "the implications of delayed or changed ATO advice on significant issues".

Announcing the program Mr Noroozi said that although the ATO acted as an advisor to taxpayers, it often failed to provide advice for a long period of time in areas of known uncertainly "leaving taxpayers to determine their own view in order to meet obligations".

When it did convey a view it often did so "by stating that it is not changing any pre-existing opinion, but that its view is merely an expansion on what the law has always said".

"This may effectively mean that its view is to be applied retrospectively," Mr Noroozi said.

"Taxpayers may have insufficient time to avoid adverse consequences by changing arrangements they have had in place for some time and of which they believe the ATO was well aware."

"The ATO’s position on whether it has changed its view or not can determine what protection taxpayers have from additional tax, interest and shortfall penalties," he said.

The Inspector General will also examine the administration of the superannuation guarantee charge int he light of complaints that the ATO "doesn't chase up short payments of superannuation charge".

"There’s so little follow-up on the ground, its all done by press release to leverage compliance,” said a submission to the Inspector General.

Also on Mr Noroozi's agenda is the ATO's commitment to finalise large company audits within 2 years.

"A number of concerns were raised in relation to intital delays resulting in truncated processes towards the end of the 2 years in order to achieve the time frame," he said.

Other inquires will examine Australia's private ruling system in which non-binding rulings are published with something approaching the force of law, the fairness of the ATO's focus "the top end of the small and medium enterprise sector", and the effectiveness of the ATO's administration of the rules relating to self managed superannuation funds.

Mr Noroozi said he would set out terms of reference for each review after detailed work to refine its scope and focus. He expected to call for public submissions on each.

Other issues raised in submissions that may later become reviews include the way in which the ATO outsources the collection of tax debts, its administration of personal tax refunds and its use of information gathering powers.

Mr Noroozi has been appointed for 5 years to succeed the first Inspector General David Voss. In opposition the Rudd government had decided to abolish the post of Inspector General, but decided to keep it on taking office.