Chris Jordan makes first speech as ATO commissioner, promises to “drive change” to improve tax system

The new commissioner of the Australian Taxation Office will outline several ways he intends to make the nation’s tax authority more open and willing to experiment with new ways of dispute resolution, in his first major speech in the role.

The comments from ATO commissioner Chris Jordan are set to have a positive impact on small business, with experts already praising the apparent change from within the ATO to be more open and transparent.

“I think it’s a watershed moment, in that [the commissioner] is looking to give more transparency and access into what they do,” says CPA head of policy Paul Drum. “That’s only a good thing.”

Jordan will say he wants to “drive change to directly improve the tax system”, giving hope to industry that the ATO will take on a more open, consultative approach under his tenure.

The comments from Jordan come just a few days after he confirmed the ATO would open a totally new, independent appeals division and start working with Treasury more closely.

In his speech to be given this morning at a Tax Institute event in Perth, Jordan will outline a number of key initiatives, including comments on how the ATO could keep its eye on multinationals avoiding tax.

But one bigger area of comment was dispute resolution, which he notes as an area of business “I believe can be improved”.

“Resolving disputes is a significant investment for the ATO and for taxpayers: it can be costly, time and resource consuming, and a potential risk to our relationships and reputation if not well handled.”

The ATO will work with consultants from the business sector to start developing a more streamlined dispute resolution process, Jordan will say. One particular area of concern Jordan notes is when a taxpayer seeks clarity following a legislative change, but the ATO hasn’t defined its position on that legislation just yet.

An early engagement model is being developed to provide “full disclosure on both sides at the beginning of the process”.

“Where there is a need for speedy turnaround on a complex matter, I would not discount drawing on external independent advice, to assure the ATO has all relevant facts and technical issues are identified. This may even involve a fee-for-service arrangement, to cover the cost of independent advice.”

The other major area Jordan will touch on concerns community engagement, saying he wants to better focus on the consultation process.

“It may mean the people involved in consultation would vary over time and according to the issue,” he will say.

“One group may not necessarily be the right group for every change or every aspect of a change. I want consultation focussed on problem solving with the right people, at the right time, on the right matters.”

The comments are a rare treat from a tax commissioner, with some experts becoming weary of how much the ATO has holed up in the past decade.

Drum says the new direction is welcome, although suggests the ATO could look at some other aspects of the consulting process in the future.

“From a point of view of efficiency, and the appropriate use of scarce resources, we’ve written to [the commissioner] to ask whether it’d be timely to have a look at some consultative processes to see how they could be enhanced.”

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