One repeated complaint was the recording of a jaundiced view of taxpayers their

One repeated complaint was the recording of a

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were described where ATO staff was seen as less than fair or professional. One repeated complaint was the recording of a ‘jaundiced view of taxpayers’, their honesty or their lifestyle, in internal memoranda obtained under Freedom of Information and even in position papers. Given the frequency with which this kind of taxpayer will use Freedom of Information to gain more insight into the ATO analysis of their case, especially in the context of settlement negotiations, more consideration may be needed in expressing opinions about taxpayers. Some of the assessments were very positive: ‘He was very good, commercial, understood the realities of going offshore...Compared to other audits I’ve experienced, it’s been very professional’. In response to the question, ‘Can you think of any instances where the ATO has not honoured the Taxpayers’ Charter in its dealings with your HWI clients?’, there was only one specific complaint. In 26 out of 27 cases, the answer was no, though in some cases this was qualified by the concern that the general lack of communication in the program or aggressive assessments to bring the taxpayer to the negotiating table may be Charter issues. Generally, the Charter did not seem to mean a lot to these advisers. One was brutal about it: ‘The Taxpayers’ Charter is a motherhood document that is really bullshit in the marketplace’. The generally positive results on fairness and professionalism are important because the literature of the social psychology of procedural justice shows that when people believe they are treated fairly, they are more likely to comply with the law (Tyler, 1990, 1998; Tyler and Dawes, 1993; Makkai and Braithwaite, 1996; Lind and Tyler, 1998). The fact that HWIs often have a sense of fairness that
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252 Taxing Democracy contributes to compliance, and therefore must be sustained, is illustrated by the following kind of request that advisers said they commonly received: I want a tax plan that will get my tax down to X per cent, say twenty. I want to pay my fair share. But not that much. Then others will say I want a total tax wipe-out and even pay a ridiculous amount of money to get it. Some advisers were critical of a failure of taskforce staff to work with other sections of the ATO (for example Transfer Pricing, Small Business, an industry segment of Large Business and International) to avoid turning over the same issues with different sets of ATO people. On the technical questions, one suggestion was that audit staff be more willing to call in more senior technical people when the issues got thorny, and in such cases, for the ATO technical expert to have sign-off on position papers. There are already three levels of sign-off on HWI risk assessments (analyst, team leader, manager/director), which are often applied to position papers. On the other hand, sign-off rules may be too formal an approach to something that is fundamentally a cultural challenge for the taskforce. On all aspects of audit, communication is needed to improve quality. Getting position papers technically correct is just a small part of this. The taskforce must be careful in its quality
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  • Fall '16
  • tax authority, Australian Taxation Office, Tax Office, Compliance Model

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