Australia's new tax commissioner says cultural shortcomings at the nation's tax agency, including a reluctance to embrace face-to-face meetings, are partly to blame for the drawn-out decision-making that frustrates many taxpayers.
Chris Jordan told an audience in Perth yesterday the Australian Taxation Office had "a culture embedded around a lack of willingness to make a decision, because there's a fear of making a mistake".
And he suggested some matters would be resolved quicker if staff relied less on protracted written communication and made better use of face-to-face meetings.
The former KPMG partner has landed in the job promising the tax office will be more open and transparent under his stewardship.
However, the commitment to institute cultural change at an organisation Mr Jordan likens to a ship "which does take a while to turn around" was greeted with some scepticism by the tax professionals in yesterday's audience.
In the first keynote address of his tenure to the Tax Institute's national convention, Mr Jordan outlined his vision to bolster confidence in the tax office and the tax system via a renewed focus on results rather than process, committing to quicker turnarounds on tax decisions, speedier guidance on new tax laws, a streamlined dispute resolution process and improved engagement with taxpayers.
But questions from the audience, suggested that while the industry does not doubt his intent, it queries whether his message will filter down to the tax office' 25,000 staff.
Several delegates were critical of tax office dealings with small business and the interminable time taken to rule on tax matters.
Mr Jordan admitted he also was at a loss to explain why audits often took so long to resolve.
"How can any set of facts be that complex that it takes six, nine, 12 months for a decision to be made?" he said. "You can have a transaction between Australia and the UK, equally complex on both sides, equally comprehensive tax systems. In the UK, you deal with one or two people, you get a decision in a month, maybe two. In Australia, you may deal with a multitude of tax officers and 12 months later you still don't know where you stand. How can that be?"
Mr Jordan also confirmed that complaints from Australian companies had prompted the tax office to take a closer look at big-name multinationals suspected of evading tax. He said the tax office would not "just accept an assertion" from offshore-based companies with "aggressive" tax structures that they "don't have any source of tax here in Australia".How can any set of facts be that complex?"Chris Jordan
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