Critical voices not so muted

THE lack of criticism of the Australian Tax Office may have more to do with fear of scrutiny than a lack of any real complaints. And while few things worry Australia businesses as the tax man, there appears to be a rising tide of complaint among tax practitioners, many of whom believe the ATO is wasting resources and is not user friendly.

Most accountants, however, fear speaking out publicly about their concerns with the ATO.

Their belief is that the ATO would be less than arbitrary in dealing with a firm that spoke out against it, regardless of whether the firm was breaking the law or not.

“Talking about the ATO is a bit of a lose-lose situation,” said one spokesman from a big-four accountant firm in Perth, who wished to remain anonymous.

“If we say what we really think we would be in trouble with the ATO, and if we say something nice we would be kidding ourself,” he said.

“You don’t want to get the ATO offside. The ATO does good things but they also do stupid things. If one of our partners says something and the ATO takes offence to that, they [the tax office] could do anything. Our partners are not about to change the world.”

Some accountants were even unwilling to speak off the record about their fears of the ATO. One of the key concerns raised was the proliferation of documents being churned out of the ATO on a daily basis, most still relating to interpretations of the new simplified tax system and the GST.

More than two years after the GST’s implementation the ATO remains overwhelmed by the enormity of its implementation.

“There is a huge avalanche of these documents coming through. There seems to be a proliferation of rulings that the ATO is churning out,” PricewaterhouseCoopers director Michael Webb told WA Business News.

“It makes it very difficult for us to keep up with. Some of them are very important key rulings but then there are many others that are largely irrelevant. Its impossible to differentiate between the two.”

p See Investor, pages 32-33.

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