Federal Financial Services Minister Kelly O’Dwyer has launched an investigation into the Australian Tax Office (ATO) following reports of vulnerable small businesses and individuals being targeted to help meet revenue goals.
A joint investigation by ABC-TV’s Four Corners program and Fairfax Media has revealed unethical tactics, including an ‘hour of power’ in which tax collectors were instructed to seize funds from the bank accounts of taxpayers assessed to owe the ATO money, regardless of their personal circumstances.
Ms O’Dwyer has told the ABC she is deeply concerned by the allegations raised in the investigation and has requested a thorough investigation of all allegations raised.
“The government will be responding once it has had the opportunity to consider that investigation in detail,” she said.
Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman Kate Carnell welcomed the opportunity to provide input into the investigation.
“The asymmetry in power between this large and powerful organisation and the small-business sector has left these particular small businesses, and individuals, in a devastating financial position,” she said.
“The ATO’s new small-business area is doing a good job in terms of working with small businesses to make sure they’re able to meet their obligations, and its culture towards the small business sector has improved markedly.
“However, when the ATO does make a mistake or is behaving particularly heavy-handedly, it can take a long time to fix and the financial impacts are huge. It doesn’t take long for a small business to go broke.”
The ATO has released an executive statement, strongly rejecting the allegations put forward by the Fairfax and ABC reports.
“The media have taken a handful of isolated cases, presented only one side of the story, and then extrapolated these to suggest systemic issues with our administration of the tax and super systems,” the ATO said.
“It is our view the coverage includes unbalanced commentary and opportunistic journalism, as well as ill-informed analysis of the facts.”
The ATO says fewer than 0.1 per cent of all interactions result in a complaint or an objection and “no review, scrutineer or credible source has ever found a pattern of abuse towards small-business owners by the ATO”.
“There is absolutely no evidence that in roughly five per cent of cases the Tax Office gets it wrong,” the ATO said.