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COMMITTEES: Standing Committee on Tax and Revenue

27 March 2014


Mr ALEXANDER (Bennelong) (10:09): On behalf of the Standing Committee on Tax and Revenue, I present the committee’s report entitled:2013 annual report of the Australian Taxation Office:first report, together with the minutes of proceedings.

Report made a parliamentary paper in accordance with standing order 39(e).

Mr ALEXANDER: by leave—I am delighted to table the first report of the Standing Committee on Tax and Revenue. The committee has hit the ground running with this report into tax administration. Firstly, I wish to note the achievements of the Joint Committee of Public Accounts and Audit in its previous inquiries into tax administration between 2007 and 2013. Simply put, we are building on the work of the Public Accounts Committee. We will have regular hearings with the Tax Office and other bodies such as its scrutineers. We will also work through issues with the Tax Office over a series of meetings to follow them through and ensure action is taken.

This inquiry has come at an opportune time for the committee and for the tax office. The tax office has undergone significant change in senior management over the last two years. New leadership has brought new goals to the organisation. Commissioner Chris Jordan’s aim of transforming the tax office into a contemporary service organisation is admirable and should be supported. I am optimistic about what can be achieved in simplifying the tax system through innovations such as pre-filing and streamlining the online process for those with uncomplicated affairs.

It is pleasing to see the tax office looking overseas to countries like Norway and Denmark for examples of best practice and ways to improve the Australian system. Streamlining tax administration and how taxpayers engage with the system should be seen as a priority. It will be a focus of mine as chair of this committee. One of the areas we scrutinised was how the tax office estimates the tax gap—that is, the difference between what is actually collected and what should be collected. The tax office is consulting and conducting research to develop a position later in the year. I look forward to the tax office providing further information to the committee on this issue in the near future. One of the benefits of estimating the tax gap is that the tax office has a starting point for reducing it. Collecting more revenue more efficiently would be of benefit to all Australians.

Separately, budget pressures appear to be the challenge to the commissioner’s attempt to modernise the tax office. Budget reductions can deliver savings in the short term; however, this needs to be balanced against retaining the capacity necessary to achieve larger long-term benefits. Realising benefits in the future may require continued investment in the short term. The tax office’s determination to prioritise revenue collection in the face of staff reductions should be commended. It should remain the priority of the tax office to collect revenues due within the absolute principle of fair treatment and respect to taxpayers.

We covered many other topics in the hearing and the report. These include the recent capability review by the Public Service Commission, the internal review of disputes with the tax office and services for small businesses. I look forward to returning to these issues at our next hearing in August. Finally, I thank all witnesses, committee members and the secretariat for their help in the public hearing and preparing the report. I commend the report to the House.

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