The Australian Taxation Office should be able to intercept stored phone calls, emails and SMSs as part of its efforts to crack down on serious criminal behaviour and tax fraud, a parliamentary committee has recommended.
As the ATO plans to target up to 90,000 small businesses that are deemed to be failing to comply with their tax obligations, a report by the law enforcement committee into financial-related crime released on Monday recommends the ATO be listed as a criminal law-enforcement agency under metadata retention laws passed last year.
The change would give the ATO the power to investigate serious criminal actions taken by financial institutions and the committee suggested the ATO should be granted similar powers to those used as part of Project Wickenby, the largest tax-evasion investigation in Australia.
“Wickenby was specifically raised by submitters as an example of an effective taskforce that drew together expertise and staff from different agencies, working collaboratively to achieve common goals,” the committee said.
The report also looked at the threat of technology-based financial crime, including money transfers and thefts, and recommended the Australian Securities and Investments Commission improve its response times to prevent internet scams.
Paul Drum, head of policy at CPA Australia, told SmartCompany a case could be made for the ATO’s powers to be expanded.
“The ATO already has extensive powers to tackle tax evasion and tax avoidance,” Drum says.
“If there’s a case for those powers to be expanded, as suggested by Parliament’s Law Enforcement Committee, it should be thoroughly looked at.”
Drum says the proposal is really about “sharing information”.
“And ensuring the ATO can access relevant metadata already in the possession of law enforcement agencies,” he says.
“These powers may be useful in the most serious of cases, such as those being pursued by the multi-agency Project Wickenby task force.”
SmartCompany contacted the ATO but a spokesperson said the tax office would not make comment at this time.
SmartCompany contacted the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Law Enforcement for comment but did not receive a response prior to publication.