Thursday, January 01, 2009

There's another tax inquiry taking place...

Had a problem with the Tax Office? Ali Noroozi wants to hear from you. Australia's new Inspector-General of Taxation is conducting another (less well resourced) inquiry in parallel with the better-known Henry Review. And he couldn't be happier.

Until November a tax expert with a lobby group, he says at last feels free.

"In my previous role at the Institute of Chartered Accountants, while I always acted in the public interest, I was representing accountants. Now I can promote the interests of the entire tax paying community - representing no-one, or everyone," he says.

"For 5 years I'll answer only to the Governor General. Neither the Minister nor the Tax Commissioner will be able to censor what I write, although I will of course involve them both."...

Labor rode to office in 2007 promising to abolish the post of Inspector General of Taxation. It had been created by the Coalition mainly to investigate the grievances held by big businesses. But over time the view of the incoming Assistant Treasurer Chris Bowen softened. He extended the 5-year term of the first Inspector General David Voss while he sounding out candidates to succeed him for the next 5 years.

As a result the forward work program stalled. "That's completely understandable. My predecessor didn't want to tie me down". But it means the next few years are up for grabs.

"I have put advertisements in the papers asking for ideas, and I will read every one that comes in," he says.

It isn't his job to arbitrate individual tax disputes. "That's for the Tax Ombudsman. But where a individual dispute illustrates a broader systemic problem, that's my area."

Asked for examples, he is not keen to provide them.

"I want issues to come from the grassroots. I shouldn't pollute the process," he says.

Previous reviews have dealt with topics such as debt collection and the administration of audits.

"But the potential range of topics is broader - anything administered by the Tax Office. That covers superannuation and the concessions and grants the the Office administers. It needn't even involve the Office, it could be the tax law it is forced to administer."

Ali Noroozi studied engineering at first "because it was about problem solving", and then obtained a Masters degree in tax law "because it was the most complex legal there is".

He wants ideas by the end of January and wants to announce his work program in March.

He has only six staff and so will have to pick carefully the ideas he chooses to investigate. "But I want to know what can be made better," he says. "Now's the time."