ATO hires big business professionals for advice on business practices

The Australian Taxation Office has once again increased its focus on big business, hiring a group of blue-chip experts to form an advisory panel.

The latest move is unsurprising given the Tax Office’s recent attention to big business issues including offshore tax avoidance schemes, as the G20 looks for ways to stop multinational tax dodging.

A notice has been issued on the AusTender website calling for applications to join the ATO’s “Business and Industry Expertise Multi-Use List”.

However, the attention is purely on big business, as it asks for a minimum of 10 years of senior executive level experience in a corporation turning over at least $2 billion a year, ruling out any small business applicants.

The idea of the panel is to provide the ATO insights into current business practices.

A spokesperson for the ATO told SmartCompany it’s looking for people experienced in the following areas: “senior business or industry roles; provision of industry specific expertise; business, industry or professional associations; tax advisory.

“This tender will establish a list of experts that can provide high level, specialist advice to the ATO.

“It is not about outsourcing work. It will be a panel of experts that we can draw on, as required, to contribute their knowledge of contemporary business practices to our own highly skilled workforce.

Thomson Reuters tax expert Terry Hayes told SmartCompany the ATO’s big business advisory panel is a good idea, but it won’t shift the ATO’s gaze from small business.

“It gives the Tax Office a chance to understand how big business operates and the pressures they’re under, and tax obligations are part of that equation,” he says.

“It’s also probably a two-way street, the guys on the advisory panel will also have a chance to find out more about the Tax Office, although most companies involved will probably already have a relationship with the ATO and communicate regularly.”

Despite the ATO’s crackdown on tax evasion by multinationals, SmartCompany reported earlier this month the Tax Office is considering outsourcing big business tax auditing by allowing corporates to use their own accountants to provide assurance to the ATO on certain issues.

The external compliance assurance process (ECAP) would see basic assurance work being completed by external private sector auditors with experience in auditing big firms which are identified as a low to medium risk and turning over between $100 million and $5 billion.

Hayes says regardless of the ATO’s focus on big business, small business will always be in the Tax Office’s sights.

“Small business makes up the vast bulk of businesses in the country and they do pay a lot of tax. The Tax Office is always keen to make sure these businesses get it right and understand how tax obligations impact these businesses.”

SmartCompany reported earlier this month small business owes the ATO approximately $10.6 billion, making up 60% of the Tax Office’s collectable debt.

Hayes says the ATO’s advice panel, while a new initiative, isn’t a new concept.

“It’s always talking to the business community through tax liaison groups. This panel sounds like a more formal mechanism to talk directly to business, but it’s not new, they do this all the time.”

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