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ATO gives BHP special million-dollar deal

Friday, November 23, 2018

You may have seen the big ‘win’ by the ATO against BHP which has agreed to pay an extra $529 million in tax. In a statement an ATO spokesperson said: “I want to assure the Australian community the ATO does not settle matters at any cost or give favourable settlements to the large end of town.” Ummm? Let’s look at the evidence.

The ATO was claiming $661 million in tax plus $343 million in interest and penalties from BHP. The settlement means that the ATO has written off $475 million. BHP is paying NO interest, NO penalties and $132 million less tax than the ATO was claiming. That looks like a screamer of a deal for BHP.

When we compare this to the way the ATO treats small business people, the difference is massive. Based on the numerous cases we’ve seen, the ATO regularly claims that it can’t give BHP-type deals to self-employed ordinary people in dispute with the ATO.

The BHP deal reinforces the points we’ve made in our September 2018 report ATO Rules for the Rich. The evidence is stark that the ATO gives special treatment to the wealthy and the powerful.

It’s not that the we object to the ATO’s applying common commercial sense to tax disputes which can be very complex. It’s the double standard that is objectionable. One rule for the rich. A different rule for ordinary Australians!

But here’s a strange curiosity! Why does the ATO see its relationship with Australians as so dysfunctional that it wants to give its staff portable panic buttons for their phones?

Perhaps it reflects the comments of top tax jurist, retired Federal Court Judge Richard Edmonds, who wrote that the ATO sees taxpayers as “…cheats and liars and anything the ATO does to bring them to account can be justified…” Perhaps the ATO is scared of how its attitude to Australians will cause some Australians to respond?

For Australia and the ATO, join our campaign to reform the ATO.

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