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Watch out! Here comes a cascade of thanks. Major ATO reform for the self-employed seems to be here

Monday, March 25, 2019

Okay, get ready for it. In this update we’re going to praise a lot of people.

The reason is that it’s looking as though the sort of reform we need from the ATO in its treatment of small business people is actually happening. See this article in today’s Australian.

It's all to do with this document released on the ATO’s website last Friday (22 March). Frankly, we’re surprised how far this is developing. We’ll explain this in detail tomorrow with the key being the operation of the Small Business Tax Tribunal.

But today we’re going to congratulate the players in this process of change. There’s a lot of them. And it’s almost a study in how an effective democracy works!

From about 2015 we’ve been gathering case studies of small business people who’ve been badly treated by the ATO. We started publishing their stories and analysing the ATO’s tactics. See here.  This was picked up by mainstream media, in particular by Robert Gottliebsen (The Australian) and Adele Ferguson (Fairfax/ABC) and then the team at Four Corners (ABC). After the Four Corners show 'Mongrel Bunch of Bastards' (April 2018) the stream of media stories about the ATO’s small business mistreatment became a flood.

Parliament became involved. A string of Parliamentary hearings had the ATO being called to answer. Mistreated small business people gave evidence. The Coalition Government commissioned departmental inquiries. These provided detailed ‘inside’ analysis. The ALP responded by calling for ATO reform and proposed a model for change. Again, see here.

To this point, until late 2018, the process had involved substantiating that the ATO mistreats self-employed, small business people.

Who to thank?
  • Those courageous small business people prepared to have their stories told in public. These include Rod Douglass, Peter Fortunatow, The Pike family and their ABN contractors, Michael Shord, Helen Petaia and more. They prove the point that bad things happen if good people don’t speak out. Good on the good people!
  • The Fourth Estate – Robert Gottliebsen, Adele Ferguson, the Four Corners team and the many journos at ABC, Fairfax and News; Ross Greenwood (Macquarie Radio), Ten News, Radio Cairns, Smart Company, Leon Byner (Radio 5AA) and more. Let’s be clear. Without the persistence of these quality Fourth Estate players, this change would not be happening.
  • The many nameless ATO people who privately told us the truth. Massive thanks and admiration to ATO whistleblower Richard Boyle. He’s been prepared to have his career trashed for the sake of the truth. He’s a real hero and he needs justice from the ATO.
  • The Federal Parliamentarians. Lots of them, but particularly MPs Chris Bowen (ALP), Andrew Leigh (ALP) and Jason Falinski (LP), as well as Senators David Leyonhjelm (Liberal Democrats), Ian Macdonald (LNP) Louise Pratt (ALP), Jim Molan (LP), Eric Abetz (LP) Kristina Keneally (ALP) and many more. Yes, our parliamentarians do work hard and are concerned about the state of our society.
  • Government agencies with the absolute standouts being the Inspector-General of Taxation under the leadership of Ali Noroozi and the Small Business Ombudsman under Kate Carnell. Their research and reports have been essential to the establishment of the facts.
All these groups/people ensured that the truth was researched and exposed. Highly important was Shorten’s Labor announcing that ATO reform was needed. This meant that the issue was not party-political divided.

Then the Morrison government took action (February 2019) announcing the establishment of a Small Business Tax Tribunal and that it would start on 1 March 2019. This was a huge step. Tomorrow we’ll explain the details and why it’s so significant. But special thanks and congratulations must go to Small Business Minister Michaelia Cash and Assistant Treasurer Stuart Roberts. Achieving this reform without legislation has without doubt required a massive effort of behind-the-scenes persuasion within the federal bureaucracy. This is real leadership!

Big thanks also to the ATO. Evidence so far is that there is a ‘sea change’ in attitude occurring within the ATO. The big ATO cultural problem toward small business in the ATO looks like it is being addressed. Have no doubt. This would not be occurring without the full backing of Tax Commissioner Chris Jordan. The journey has begun. We’re hopeful, but cautious. Follow-through and substance both matter.

More tomorrow…

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