• Media expectations

    Introduction

    The ATO acknowledges the importance of public comment in promoting willing participation in the Australian tax and super systems. Media coverage of tax and super-related issues can help or hinder our efforts to contribute to the economic and social wellbeing of all Australians by fostering willing participation.

    We have developed these media expectations to outline how we will engage with the media.

    • working with the media to educate the public and promote balanced conversations about Australia’s tax and super systems, and various entities’ rights and responsibilities
    • upholding our obligations under relevant legislation, and
    • providing transparency around ATO compliance activity.

    Limits on informing the public of our activities

    There are a number of topics on which we can provide only limited information or commentary.

    For example, laws prohibit us from commenting on the tax affairs of any individual or entity. This includes not commenting on the status of audits and investigations, and legal proceedings currently before the courts. We are also unable to comment on ATO staff members.

    As an administrative agency, we are unable to comment on the development or efficacy of policy, or speculate on potential law changes. Such questions are best directed to the Department of the Treasury, or to government.

    Code of conduct

    In order to deliver on the ATO’s commitments to the community, we will work with the media in good faith.

    The ATO will:

    • respond to media enquiries in a timely manner
    • provide factual, detailed responses to media enquiries, subject to the limits outlined above and that are endorsed by senior management
    • arrange for appropriate spokespeople to undertake interviews where available
    • distribute relevant information to media as appropriate, and
    • cultivate productive working relationships with journalists.

    Further, the ATO will:

    • Engage the media proactively when:
      • a change in the law impacts taxpayers
      • we develop a new service for taxpayers
      • a key due date or milestone relevant to taxpayers is approaching
      • the Commissioner or a senior leader makes a significant presentation, or
      • new information which is of public interest becomes available and can be disclosed.
       
    • Engage the media reactively when:
      • the integrity of the tax system or the ATO has come under question,
      • there is a risk to the ATO’s reputation, or
      • there is a need to correct the public record due to incorrect or misleading statements made by third parties.
       

    We expect that media will:

    • respect when the ATO is unable to comment or can only provide limited information
    • treat the Media Unit and ATO spokespeople with respect, and
    • report on the information provided by the ATO accurately.

    Audits and investigations

    The ATO generally does not comment on individual, ongoing investigations. However, the ATO acknowledges that there may be times at which it is in the public interest to provide general commentary. In determining whether to make a statement about a particular investigation, the ATO will consider a range of factors, including whether:

    • the ATO has been publicly called upon to respond to an issue or undertake an investigation
    • making a statement is in the interests of maintaining public confidence in the ATO, or
    • comment will aid the investigation.

    We may provide updates on the progress of a particular investigation if it is in the public interest to do so.

    The ATO will also answer questions or provide information regarding its activities to parliamentary committees as appropriate. In such cases, these comments will form part of the public record.

    In some instances, the ATO will release anonymised data about ongoing investigations, so that the parties involved are not identified, for the purposes of providing statistical information or to communicate about the ATO’s broader compliance objectives. Examples of such data include the number of entities investigated, audits undertaken, or monies recovered.

    The aim of releasing anonymised information about investigations is to inform the community of the ATO’s work to reduce tax crime and dissuade others from engaging in such behaviour.

    Legal proceedings

    The ATO will sometimes publicise the outcome of legal proceedings by issuing media releases which provide factual information about the history and results of the proceedings. ATO spokespeople may also refer to these outcomes in later statements or interviews.

    The ATO will report on relevant outcomes in a balanced, factual manner, drawing upon public judgments and limiting opinion. This applies regardless of which party is successful, or where the proceedings are withdrawn.

    Commentary will seek to link the relevant issues and crimes noted in the judgement to how the ATO works to level the playing field and manage these risks to the tax system more generally.

    Where a matter is appealed, we will note the appeal if media enquiries are received and take care to ensure ATO messages do not prejudice ongoing court proceedings.

    Spokespeople

    The ATO’s authorised spokespeople are the Commissioner of Taxation, Deputy Commissioners, Second Commissioners, Assistant Commissioners, and the ATO Media Unit. In matters with a regional or specialised focus, a senior manager may also be authorised to speak on behalf of the ATO.

    Contact the ATO media team

    Media can contact the ATO’s Media Unit at:

    Phone: 02 6216 1901

    Email: mediaunit@ato.gov.au

    After hours: 0401 147 127

    For more information

    Visit the ATO media centre on our website: ato.gov.au/Media-centre

    Last modified: 04 May 2017QC 51926