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Redressing the imbalance - Challenging the effectiveness of the Australian taxpayers’ charter


The Australian Taxpayers’ Charter was introduced in 1997 to redress what the Joint Committee of Parliamentary Accounts (‘JCPA’) in its 1993 report into the Australian Taxation Office (‘ATO’) saw as an imbalance between taxpayer rights and ATO powers. It has since gained ATO and taxpayer acceptance and has been widely hailed as one of the world’s best examples of a charter of taxpayer rights.

This paper qualifies the apparent success of the Charter. It demonstrates that the primary success of the Charter has been its effectiveness in setting out and raising ATO service standards and improving the relationship between taxpayers and the ATO. Equally, however, the analysis reveals that the Charter has been far less effective in directly protecting and promoting Australian taxpayer rights. To address this relative ineffectiveness, this paper introduces fresh evidence to renew calls for an independently administered and legally enforceable Charter. In particular, the paper uses recent legal developments to cast doubts on the public policy concerns raised by the JCPA in rejecting calls for an independently administered legally binding Charter. It also uses recent legal developments to challenge the assumptions about the adequacy of taxpayer common law rights which the JCPA also saw as obviating the need for a legally binding Charter.

The paper also outlines recent developments in the recognition and protection of taxpayer rights in the United States and the United Kingdom - the two jurisdictions studied by the JCPA in determining the most appropriate model for an Australian charter. The analysis reveals that taxpayers in each of those jurisdictions now enjoy additional legal protections not yet available in Australia, raising further doubts about how successful the Charter has been in protecting and enhancing the rights of Australian taxpayers.

Author profile

John Bevacqua
John is a Senior Lecturer, La Trobe University, School of Law, Faculty of Business, Economics and Law. - Current at 01 July 2013
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