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Tax man plans for busy time

CHANGING from the old tax system to the new promises to be a big job and in WA that task has fallen to Brian Fitzgerald.

Mr Fitzgerald is the Australian Tax Office’s assistant commissioner GST for WA and reckons his section and the community have “one hell of a job between now and July”.

In WA alone there are potentially 250,000 businesses.

Not all of these will have to register for the GST because some have a turnover of less than $50,000 but many will be suppliers to other businesses and need to register for PAYG and withholding tax concerns.

If a business does not receive an Australian Business Number on an invoice from a supplier, it is required to withhold 48.5 per cent of the payment as tax.

However, one thing Mr Fitzgerald does not want to see is a huge rush of GST registrations just before 30 June.

“Businesses need to look at registering for the GST now because the rest of this financial year will go very quickly,” Mr Fitzgerald said.

He said the ATO was not driving the forthcoming tax changes, opting instead for a consultative approach with business.

Mr Fitzgerald said the more communicative approach was one he liked in the ATO.

“I remember when I came into the ATO it had a quite internal, defensive culture,” he said.

“I’ve seen it open up. Now the culture is more about partnering with the community.”

He said the Small Business Development Corporation’s GST Transition Centre was an excellent example of the ATO partnering with a business organisation.

Mr Fitzgerald said the ATO was also sending field officers to businesses that were having problems with the tax changes.

There are about 140 field officers in WA for those visits. Of those 60 are in training. By April there will be 300 officers making the field visits.

The tax office is also moving to an electronic communication footing.

“The new tax system is geared around an electronic tax footing,” Mr Fitzgerald said.

He believes the ATO’s approach will help businesses become more electronically minded and more prepared to become involved in electronic commerce.

After all, the ABN will play a part in a business’s digital signature.

It will also be the key to a single gateway to government agencies and services, meaning a business will only have to report its information once instead of having to report to each individual agency it deals with.

After spending most of his working life “in tax” Mr Fitzgerald said a lot of his time was now spent “out of tax” working with other people.

“I like that aspect of the job,” he said.

“I haven’t seen the old concept of an office for at least a year. I’m probably here for about one third of the time. That’s the same with a lot of the people involved in the GST.”

Before heading up the ATO’s GST unit Mr Fitzgerald was involved with the Ralph business tax changes.

“That was very interesting but a lot of the work was in Canberra. I think I had about thirty flights between Perth and Canberra from March last year.”

Mr Fitzgerald came into the tax office twenty-five years ago after studying accounting.

“In those days it was a period of full employment in the accounting industry so I went into the ATO.

“Since then I have found a great diversity. I’ve not been in the same job for more than two years.”

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