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Explosive, gobsmacking statements by Tax Commissioner raise serious concerns about democracy, the rule of law and cover-up

Friday, October 25, 2019

Perhaps we thought we’d seen just about every ‘trick’ by the ATO, but the statements by the Tax Commissioner to the Senate on Wednesday (23 October) go to an entirely new level. The ATO ‘battle bar’ has just been raised, big time!

What has motivated the Commissioner is the ‘Right to Know’ public campaign being conducted by a large coalition of Australian media interests against the government’s suppression of free speech. This week ‘Right to Know’ released its first television/on-line advert. The opening ‘punch’ in the advert asserts that the ATO can take money directly out of people’s accounts “but you’re not allowed to know…”

The Tax Commissioner denies that the ATO does this. He said to the Senate  “We use garnishees and other firm actions only after these attempts to engage the taxpayer have failed.”

We can advise Senators that this statement by the Commissioner is wrong and misleading.

We have firm, documented evidence of at least one occasion where the ATO emptied someone’s bank account without telling that person. The person did not even know that the ATO had raised a debt against them. The person did not receive notice from the ATO until ten days after the ATO cleaned out their bank account. This evidence has been supplied to a formal government investigation into the ATO.

The Tax Commissioner went further. He attacked the two public ATO whistleblowers. He divulged highly personal information which, in the case of Richard Boyle, is subject to criminal court proceedings.

The printed version of The Commissioner’s statement is here. An online video version is available here. You can access the key comments in the video by going to the following time-marks:
(duration time) 01:03:00 — Commissioner denies Right to Know allegation of ATO taking money without people knowing.
(duration time) 01:06:30 — Commissioner begins attacking Richard Boyle.
(duration time) 01:15:20 — Commissioner claims IGT report cleared the ATO. (Note: This is untrue.)
(duration time) 01:22:00 — Commissioner finishes opening statement.
(duration time) 01:25:30 — ALP Senator Katy Gallagher asks questions.
(duration time) 01:28:30 — A shocked Senate Committee suspends proceedings to privately consider what to do.
(duration time) 01:37:45 — The hearing restarts. Centre Alliance Senator Rex Patrick makes comments.
(duration time) 01:46:20 — Finishes.
Note the restrained but shocked reaction of the Senators.

There has been massive media coverage. Including The Australian (‘Tax Commissioner Chris Jordan flays media over ‘whistleblower’ coverage’), The Age/SMH (‘Tax Commissioner attacks 'out of control' press over whistleblower reporting’), The Mandarin (‘ATO responds to press freedom campaign’),  the ABC (‘Tax boss Chris Jordan hits back at ATO whistleblowers and media reporting’), the AFR (‘ATO boss Chris Jordan attacks whistleblowers’), the SMH/Age ('”Absolute devastation”: The whistleblower who will “never work again” after helping tax watchdog’), the SMH (‘ATO appalling in its treatment of public servant, says Fair Work Australia’)  and the SMH/Age (‘ATO's Chris Jordan seeks to shoot the messenger’).

Following the Senate hearing, Greens Senator Whish-Wilson has asked for the Tax Commissioner’s statements to be ‘expunged’ from the official Hansard. The media report states that “Senator Whish-Wilson requested this happen given information provided by Mr Jordan ‘went beyond what was public knowledge’, was subject to pending court proceedings, and the individuals named had no immediate right of reply”. But can what has been said so publicly be ‘undone’? Justice is at stake!

It would be for a court to decide, but has the Tax Commissioner just made a fair trial for Richard Boyle now impossible? Has the course of justice been perverted under parliamentary privilege?

The behaviour of the ATO reminds us repeatedly of the banks denying financial misbehavior, the churches denying sexual abuse by clergy, large firms denying underpayment of workers and more. In those instances the large organizations’ behaviour seems to fit a set pattern which involves:
  • Denying the evidence of their bad behavior.
  • Attacking the people who expose the bad behavior.
  • Claiming the organization is nonetheless good.
Every time the pressure builds until there is an explosion. When that happens:
  • The truth overwhelms the denials by the large organization.
  • All hell breaks loose.
  • The top people in the organization are forced to resign or are sacked.
  • The task of cleaning up the organization begins.
Because the ATO is an arm of government, ‘all hell breaking loose’ will not happen until the government considers that the ATO is doing damage to it politically. Events are inevitably heading in that direction. The question is: How long will it take for the Morrison government to reach that conclusion?



Comments
Annette Pike commented on 25-Oct-2019 02:38 PM
Organisations, big and small, are subject to the basest of human nature and it's only the brave minority who demand a higher level of integrity and accountability that prevents democracy sliding into a farcical replica. We need more champions for justice and fairness, but more importantly, we need those at the highest levels of government and governance to not only give head accent, but stand up and take strong measures to ensure their voices aren't silenced and their courage is not for naught.
Anonymous commented on 25-Oct-2019 04:20 PM
“We use garnishees and other firm actions only after these attempts to engage the taxpayer have failed.” This is a LIE. I am aware of the ATO not making any contact with an individual, before emptying his bank account fully. A person that only a few weeks before, suffered a massive blow to his health, and needed the money for hospital bills, rehab, rent etc. Leaving him destitute and unable to pay any bills, They even took his Medicare Refunds. They refused to give anything back.
Anonymous commented on 28-Oct-2019 09:41 AM
I have long felt that good people in our parliament in Canberra are being pilloried and shouted down. I see Scott Morrison as the Australian equivalent of Donald Trump. Local MPs take their tone from the Prime Minister and fob off any real responsibility. Unless those of us who uphold truth and justice, and the "fair go" ethic, stand firm Australia will not remain the wonderful country it has been during my lifetime. The warning signs are clear and frequent. Democracy cannot claim to be the easiest form of government, but it IS the best. It deserves fighting for.

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