ATP Wickenby developmental research 2013
In 2013, developmental research was conducted by Colmar Brunton Social Research (CBSR) to better understand community attitudes towards compliance behaviour and perceptions of ATO effectiveness in detecting, deterring and dealing with the spread of tax avoidance and offshore secrecy arrangements.
The research involved both qualitative and quantitative phases, and provides an evidence base to inform the ATO’s future strategy for communications and administration of the program of work for Aggressive Tax Planning (ATP) and Serious Non-Compliance (Project Wickenby).
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End of attention
The research identified the following key findings to inform future communications:
- There is strong interest from the ‘at risk’ group in terms of being able to better recognise investments that may carry significant tax risk, including practical steps to help make more informed investment decisions.
- There is almost universal condemnation of deliberate tax avoidance, and awareness that tax crime impacts negatively on our broader society.
- The complexity of the system gives rise to perceived inequity between those that have limited scope to reduce tax and those with the means to access expert advice and structure their affairs to reduce their overall tax liability.
- A key theme that emerged from the research for both Project Wickenby and Aggressive Tax Planning was the importance of system integrity and a fair system.
- Research participants indicated that evidence the ATO is taking action to ensure all Australians pay what they are legally obliged to pay and keep the tax system fair for all would assist in sustaining their willingness to comply with their own obligations on a voluntary basis.
- There is sufficient interest across all target groups to warrant a communication campaign.
From a Project Wickenby perspective, there is a desire to know the ATO is taking steps to ensure all Australians pay their taxes and that the very wealthy cannot use or abuse the system to their advantage. In terms of aggressive tax planning, there is a desire for the ATO to play a central role in facilitating more informed investment decision making to ensure people are aware of any tax compliance risk they may be exposing themselves to – especially among those ‘At risk’. The vast majority of taxpayers want to comply and avoid what may be viewed as illegal or illegitimate behaviour.
- System integrity - keeping the system fair for all - and ensuring there are sufficient taxes collected to fund government’s delivery of essential services, is a uniting feature of both topics that can be leveraged as the cornerstone of an overarching campaign.
The ATO is seen as the agency with prime (and almost sole) responsibility for ensuring all Australians meet their obligations in a fair, equitable and timely manner, including supporting taxpayers in getting it right.
- Rather than focusing on achievements of either program to date (which are widely contestable, depending on how effectiveness or return on investment is viewed by an individual taxpayer), the focus of the overarching campaign should be on the ATO’s evolving capacity and capability to ensure the system remains fair for all.
There have always been threats to the tax system and will be into the future as a small minority seek to advantage themselves at the expense of the broader community, but the ATO is well aware of this and is continually improving its ability to both prevent and detect activities that are designed to deliberately avoid tax. This is not done in isolation, but in partnership with, and on behalf of, the broader Australian community.
- Under this broader umbrella campaign, the ATO can show that threats to the system emerge at multiple levels.
There are those who will seek to deliberately hide income or assets in offshore tax havens to reduce the amount of tax they are liable for in Australia. The ATO is working in partnership with other government agencies, including the Australian Federal Police, to better detect where this occurs and to take swift action against those involved. We are improving our systems and processes to ensure all taxpayers meet their obligations, which in turn ensures there are sufficient funds for essential services including schools, hospitals and police. Some will seek to use grey areas of the system to devise schemes or investment structures that appear to offer great tax outcomes, and then offer these to unsuspecting investors. When these schemes are found to be a form of tax avoidance, it is often the individual investor that will be stuck with a large bill for back taxes and potential penalties.
- There is strong support from intermediaries for ATO action in relation to countering both offshore tax havens and aggressive tax planning.
Intermediaries play a significantly influential role in relation to tax matters and there is an opportunity to leverage that influence to deliver on campaign objectives.
How the research is being used
The research will be used to inform marketing communications activities in 2014-2017. It is proposed that the campaign will include a program of limited paid advertising and communication, supported by below the line activities that utilise the ATO’s in-house channels and products, with the internet as the primary reference point for more information.
The campaign will be subject to compliance with the Australian Government Guidelines on Information and Advertising Campaigns by Australian Government Departments and Agencies (the Guidelines) and ministerial approval is currently being sought to progress with campaign development.
Contact the Corporate Research Centre