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  • Open and transparent operations

    Along with supporting legislative requirements to promote a more open and transparent government, such as the Freedom of Information Act 1982 (FOI Act), we provide additional support to people who want to better understand their rights and obligations under the tax and superannuation systems.

    Taxpayers’ Charter

    We support taxpayers in having a clear understanding of rights and obligations, by setting these out in the Taxpayers’ Charter. The Charter describes the relationship we seek with the community – one based on mutual trust and respect. It outlines our commitment to act professionally, treat taxpayers fairly and reasonably and help taxpayers to meet their obligations by providing accurate, consistent and clear information. The Charter sets out how we conduct ourselves when dealing with taxpayers and explains:

    • taxpayers' rights
    • taxpayers' taxation obligations
    • what taxpayers can do if they are not satisfied with our decisions, actions or service
    • the standard of service taxpayers can expect from us.

    The seven documents that describe how the Charter applies, for example, in an audit, are available on ato.gov.au. The Charter is being reviewed and release of a revised version is expected towards the end of 2018.

    Complaints

    The number of complaints received is only a small proportion of our interactions with the community, representing 0.1% of the total tax returns lodged in 2016–17.

    In 2017–18, the ATO received 20,241 complaints (inclusive of Inspector-General of Taxation complaints).

    Complaint processing performance was 90% resolved in 15 business days (or within the date negotiated), which exceeded the benchmark of 85%.

    The largest proportion of complaints received related to form processing, which includes flow-through impacts to speed of refunds.

    FIGURE 4.2 Top complaint issues, 2017–18

     The 17,270 top complaint issues related to: form processing 3,096, registrations 2,447, guidance and information 2,219, account management 2,011, superannuation 1,662, debt and payments 1,488, access and services 1,121, pre-issue audit 979, people 867, post-issue audit 549, lodgment and penalties 533, interpretative assistance 298.

    Note:
    The total number of complaint issues is different to the total number of complaints, for the following reasons:
    • a single complaint may include multiple issues
    • a complaint issue may not have been captured
    • data on the complaints issue is not captured for complaints resolved when the client first calls us (approximately 1,300 in 2017–18).

    Freedom of information

    Australia’s tax and superannuation systems are community assets. Access to information about these systems enhances transparency and leads to increased levels of trust and respect. From our website, people can access documents and policies that we use in making decisions. In addition, we provide information under the Freedom of Information Act 1982 (FOI Act). Past documents released under the FOI Act are publicly listed on our FOI Act disclosure log, other than documents that are exempt from this requirement.

    As an agency covered by the FOI Act, the ATO is also required to publish information to the public as part of the Information Publication Scheme (IPS), displaying on our website a plan showing what information we publish in accordance with the IPS requirements. The ATO IPS plan is available at ato.gov.au.

    The IPS is a requirement in Part II of the FOI Act, and has replaced the former requirement to publish a ‘section 8’ statement in an annual report.

    External scrutiny

    External scrutineers provide an avenue for people who remain unsatisfied with the outcome of an ATO complaint or dispute. They also provide independent reviews of the ATO operation – either as the result of their own annual program of work, or in response to concerns raised by members of the public and the Australian Parliament. Reviews give us the opportunity to identify options for improving services to our clients, addressing potential barriers to willing participation, and ensuring the successful delivery of outcomes in our administration of the tax and superannuation systems.

    Judicial reviews and administrative tribunals

    The courts may be called upon to determine the application of tax law. See Appendix 4 for a list of significant cases decided by the courts and the Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT).

    Australian Information Commissioner

    The Office of the Australian Information Commissioner (OAIC)External Link, established under the Australian Information Commissioner Act 2010, provides independent oversight of privacy protection and FOI Act access. (See above for more on FOI.)

    In 2017–18, the OAIC notified the ATO of 22 FOI Act decisions made by us for OAIC review. In the same period, the OAIC finalised reviews of 27 ATO FOI Act decisions. Of those, 19 were discontinued or closed by the OAIC or withdrawn by the applicant, and in the remaining 8 the OAIC affirmed the ATO’s decision or found in favour of the ATO.

    Details of OAIC investigations are available at oaic.gov.auExternal Link.

    Auditor-General

    The Auditor-General, operating under the Auditor-General Act 1997, is supported by the Australian National Audit Office (ANAO) to produce independent performance audits, financial statement audits, and assurance reviews.

    The following performance audits concerning the ATO were tabled in 2017–18:

    • Costs and Benefits of the Reinventing the ATO Program (November 2017)
    • The Australian Taxation Office’s Use of Settlements (December 2017)
    • Unscheduled Taxation System Outages (February 2018)
    • Compliance with Foreign Investment Obligations for Residential Real Estate (June 2018).

    The reports on these performance audits are available at anao.gov.auExternal Link. Details of the ANAO financial audit of our operations are provided in Part 3 of this report.

    Parliamentary committees

    Each year, the ATO appears before a number of parliamentary committees to answer questions about our administration of the tax and superannuation systems.

    House Committees

    The House of Representatives Standing Committee on Tax and Revenue is tasked with reviewing the performance of the ATO as outlined in our annual reports. In 2017–18, we appeared before the following House committee inquiry:

    • Tax and Revenue Committee – Inquiry into the 2016–17 Annual Report of the Australian Taxation Office.

    Senate Committees

    We appeared with Treasury before three Senate Estimates hearings, responding to approximately 274 questions on notice, as well as the following Senate Committee inquiries:

    • Economics References Committee inquiry into Corporate Tax Avoidance
    • Economics Legislation Committee inquiry into Treasury Laws Amendment (Enhancing Whistleblower Protections) Bill 2017
    • Economics Legislation Committee inquiry into Treasury Laws Amendment (2018 Measures No.4) Bill 2018
    • Economics Legislation Committee inquiry into Treasury Laws Amendment (2018 Superannuation Measures No.1) Bill 2018 [Provisions]
    • Finance and Public Administration References Committee inquiry into Digital Delivery of Government Services
    • Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee inquiry into the Judiciary Amendment (Commonwealth Model Litigant Obligations) Bill 2017.

    Joint Committees

    We appeared before the following joint committee inquiries:

    • Joint Committee of Public Accounts and Audit inquiry into Australian Government Contract Reporting – based on Auditor General’s report No.19 (2017–18)
    • Standing Committee on Electoral Matters inquiry into all aspects of the conduct of the 2016 Federal Election.

    Inspector General of Taxation

    The Office of the Inspector-General of Taxation (IGT)External Link, established under the Inspector-General of Taxation Act 2003, undertakes reviews and investigations to identify systemic issues in the administration of tax law. These may be at the request of the government or the ATO, or following complaints from the public.

    There were 1,431 complaints received from the Inspector-General in 2017–18. Of these:

    • 831 complaints (58%) had not previously been lodged with the ATO and were subsequently transferred back to the ATO’s complaint-handling process
    • 600 complaints (42%) were referred to the ATO for a response to the Inspector-General for resolution with the client.

    The IGT released one report relating to the ATO in 2017–18: Review into Aspects of the Pay As You Go Instalments System (January 2018). The full report is available at igt.gov.auExternal Link.

    Commonwealth Ombudsman

    While the IGT investigates complaints from the public about administrative actions of ATO and the TPB, the Commonwealth Ombudsman continues to deal with public interest disclosure issues relating to the ATO or TPB made under the Public Interest Disclosure Act 2013.

    Public interest disclosures received by the ATO are managed in accordance with ATO procedures, which meet the requirements of the Act.

    During 2017–18, we:

    • were not the subject of own-motion investigations completed by the Ombudsman
    • received 44 public interest disclosures.
      Last modified: 26 Oct 2018QC 57095