ATO to focus on $50 billion collectible debt, Chris Jordan maps out in final public address as Commissioner
MELBOURNE, Wednesday, 6 September 2023: Australia’s 12th Commissioner of Taxation Chris Jordan AO revealed he is unapologetic about the ATO’s firmer pursuit of outstanding debt, during his keynote session at The Tax Summit 2023, hosted by The Tax Institute. In his final speech[SA1] to the Tax Institute as Commissioner, Jordan sharpened his focus on the growing issues of fraud and debt avoidance along with improving digital uptake among Australian taxpayers.
While he recognised the challenging economic climate Australians are operating in, Jordan emphasised that the ATO is cracking down on deliberate attempts to defraud the Australian taxpayer, which is “nothing more than theft from the community”. In response to increasing fraud attempts, the ATO is embedding fraud prevention methods into its systems and increasing detection capabilities, including the establishment of the Fraud and Criminal Behaviours Group with 500 dedicated staff.
“Integrity is also front and centre for us,” said Jordan, indicating his support for actions, such as the review and consideration of current limitations within tax secrecy laws and the ATO’s investigative powers, although he said this focus must be grounded in strong legal and ethical frameworks.
When addressing the $50.2 billion of outstanding collectible debt, of which $33 billion is owed by small businesses and $23 billion in unpaid BAS (business activity statements), Jordan called out the growing number of profitable businesses of all sizes choosing not to pay their bills and asked the tax profession for support.
“Businesses appear to be de-prioritising payment of tax and super,” Jordan said. “The vast majority of taxpayers pay on time, and it’s unfair to them that some choose not to. We are hearing more and more from tax professionals that some businesses are rolling the dice, treating ATO liabilities like a free loan. This is not acceptable.”
“You can reinforce to your clients they are only the temporary custodians of GST, pay-as-you-go withholding and super guarantee – it’s not theirs,” Jordan asked of tax professionals.
Championing a digital mindset
When Jordan first joined the ATO in 2013 – the first Commissioner to be appointed from outside the organisation in its over 100-year history – he set out the vision to ‘Reinvent the ATO’. The decade since has seen the ATO successfully modernise and bring its service in line with community expectations, although, he reiterated that a mindset shift is still needed for these increased digital services to take off.
“We know the future of tax is digital and data-driven,” said Jordan. “Together, we need to get taxpayers to change their mindset around going digital and getting to a point where everything is built into a wider system and is instant.”
This change must be collaborative. Jordan called on tax professionals to strengthen digital capabilities, bolster system safeguards against fraud and work together to change taxpayers’ mindset around going digital. “There needs to be an increased uptake of our digital services – it’s 2023, we can’t still be receiving close to 1 million paper activity statements and sending out cheques.”
This mindset shift must include tax professionals own businesses. Jordan revealed that more than one in five of the 1.4 million calls the ATO answered this financial year – around 220,000 calls – have been from tax professionals, many regarding activity that can be self-served through the ATO’s online services. Improvements are on their way to make this easier, like a new website coming later this year, featuring an improved look and feel to improve access to information.
As these services increasingly move online, the ATO plans to extend its digital security to help tax professionals address issues like identity theft and fraud. “Our client-agent linking is soon to be rolled out to all companies, trusts, and partnerships with an ABN. While it adds an extra step to the agent linking process, it’s about strengthening the security of our online services by making sure all parties – including agents and their clients – can be confident only authorised people have access to client information.”
With only six months left at the helm of the ATO, Jordan is determined to not slow down. “My focus is on making decisions to set the ATO up for continued success and maintain the strong foundations we built.”
As he prepares to pass the baton, he reflected on progress made since 2013 and his vision for the future, which is to be not just the best revenue authority in the world or Australian public service agency but to be measured against the private sector, the best companies with a complex client base.
“Achieving the highest satisfaction rating of 82% of people dealing with us is a good indicator of us moving towards this vision… I hope the lessons of the last decade will mean in future we will all be faster to adapt, more willing to innovate, and ready to continue moving forward together.”
The Tax Summit 2023
Commissioner Jordan joined a compelling speaker lineup of the nation's most forward-thinking minds, including David Thodey AO, Xero Chair; Karen Payne, CTA, Inspector-General of Taxation and Taxation Ombudsman; Victoria Lanyon, Senior Associate at King & Wood Mallesons; Australian Sporting Legend Kevin Sheedy; and many more.
The Tax Summit 2023 brings together taxation specialists, lawyers, accountants, newcomer tax professionals and business leaders as well as anyone with an interest in the latest issues impacting businesses on a local and global scale. For more information on The Tax Summit and its line-up of more than 70 expert speakers, covering topics including economics, property, business, global tax developments and technology, please see the full program.
About Chris Jordan AO
Chris Jordan AO, CTA, Commissioner of Taxation, Australian Taxation Office
Chris Jordan AO was appointed as the 12th Commissioner of Taxation on 1 January 2013. Chris joined the ATO with broad and lengthy experience in tax policy and law development and implementation, having held influential roles in the private sector and as an advisor to both Labor and Coalition governments.
He was Chair of the Board of Taxation from June 2011 to December 2012 and a member of the Board since its inception in 2000. He also served as Chair of the Business Tax Working Group in 2011–2012 and as Chair of the New Tax System Advisory Board from 1999-2001. He was a member of the group that consulted with the mining industry about the resource rent tax in 2011–12.
Chris has more than 40 years of experience in the tax profession; starting his accounting career with the firm Arthur Andersen in 1979, spending a few years as a senior lecturer in taxation at Sydney’s University of Technology and then working at KPMG for more than 25 years. From 1995 to 2000, he was Partner in Charge of the NSW Tax and Legal Division of KPMG and from 2001 to 2012 was Chairman of Partners for KPMG NSW.
Chris has a Master of Laws (Sydney University) and Bachelors of Commerce and Law (University of NSW). He is a Fellow of Chartered Accountants Australia and New Zealand, a Fellow of the Australian Institute of Company Directors and a Chartered Tax Adviser with The Tax Institute.
In 2005, he was recognised in the Queens Birthday honours as an Officer of the Order of Australia (AO) for the provision of high-level advice to government in relation to the development and implementation of taxation legislation and reform of Australia’s taxation system.
In 2022, he received an honorary doctorate in Business from UNSW in recognition of his service to the community and his role as a leader and innovator in the Australian Public Service.
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