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The Australian Tax Office/Tax profession partnership: Lessons from a pilot interview program


The hierarchy of the Australian Tax Office (ATO) presents a picture of the ATO being in a partnership with the tax profession. It is suggested that the relationship is, or should be, one of co-operation with the aim to maximize voluntary compliance with the tax system by taxpayers. This model is in contrast to the traditional adversarial model and questions arise as to whether such a relationship is workable. The partnership model presents ethical conflicts, the possibility of regulatory capture and issues of transparency. In any event, it is not clear whether the rhetoric of the ATO hierarchy is, in fact, implemented in practice. To test whether a partnership style relationship does exist between the ATO and the profession, the limits of the relationship and how it might be improved, the views of the profession and employees within the ATO need to be considered. With the prospect of an extended interview program a pilot program was conducted interviewing a sample of the profession. The experiences in conducting these interviews are instructive for establishing a methodology for any wider program. Furthermore, the observations of the, admittedly small and arguably unrepresentative, sample provided some evidence that the implementation of the partnership model remains problematic. In particular, observations were made to suggest that current structures within the ATO may inhibit the organisation’s ability to embrace, at all levels, a partnership style approach. Also, it might be that the profession does not share the same view as to its obligations within the partnership as does the ATO.

Author profile

Dr Justin Dabner CTA
Justin ia an Associate Professor, Law School, James Cook University, Cairns, Australia; Adjunct research fellow in Business Law and Taxation, Faculty of Business and Economics, Monash University, Australia. - Current at 01 April 2016
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