2. The ATO’s new consultation and engagement arrangements
Shirley Forlin, Senior Director ATO Corporate attended the meeting to provide members with an overview of the ATO’s new consultation and engagement arrangements.
As context, Shirley advised that the ATO commenced a review of its consultation arrangements in early 2013. The intent of the review was to establish more effective and dynamic consultation arrangements. The review was delivered on 28 May 2013 and new arrangements have been introduced from 1 July 2013.
As a result, the large number of forums which had previously operated are being reduced to eight permanent stewardship committees, and other engagement arrangements are being put in place. One of the ongoing stewardship groups will focus on individual taxpayers.
The aim of the new arrangements is that the issues the ATO consults on are relevant to the stakeholders involved, that consultation is undertaken in a timely manner and that the ATO is consulting on issues that are overall in the national interest.
Shirley indicated that in relation to stewardship groups:
- memberships will be determined in the context of other stewardship groups, but remain at the discretion of the Chairs
- guiding principles for membership include an optimum size of around 7-12 members; reflective of a sizeable proportion of the taxpayer community or a significant voice, and capable of contributing suggestions for improvement of operation of the system
- there will be a single protocol for all groups instead of the separate Charters under the prior arrangements, supported by a streamlined role statement for each group.
The ATO is establishing arrangements to enable people to advise it about issues that are seen as significant to them. These can be raised via a form that will soon be available on the ATO’s website or with the Chairs/Secretariats of stewardship groups.
An ATO Consultation Hub will collate the issues raised with the ATO into a central register and identify if there are similar issues being considered elsewhere within the ATO. It will work with ATO business areas in a timely manner to determine what action is required.
When a matter is raised for consultation, registered stakeholders will be alerted and asked to nominate if they are interested in being involved in consultation. A small group of interested stakeholders will then be brought together for a short period to consider the issue and finalise it. The outcomes will be summarised and published on the ATO’s website.
The new model could result in more consultation rather than less, but is aimed at ensuring that the consultation which is undertaken is more relevant and timely.
Performance measures are being developed that focus on whether the ATO has consulted on those matters it should have.
- While recognising the ATO’s desire for timely consultation, there was feedback that this depends on community capacity, and community organisations have differing capability to reach their memberships and seek their inputs on ATO consultation matters. It was felt that the ATO should recognise these limitations and have realistic expectations around the timing for community inputs to be provided.
The ATO acknowledged these concerns and advised it would monitor how the arrangements were operating. It also recommended that associations encourage their members to proactively raise issues for them to bring forward to the ATO.
- It was queried whether there was scope for anyone in the community to raise issues for consultation. This was confirmed by the ATO - a definition of ‘national interest’ will be included on the ATO website, and the ATO Consultation Hub will filter issues to ensure they met the criteria as it is not intended for this process to be used as an alternative mechanism for the resolution of individual client matters.
- Feedback was also provided that the ATO should attempt to articulate the implications of issues, given that these may not be immediately apparent to community organisations.
- The need for the ATO to be mindful of the potential costs relating to its consultation requests also noted.
- Some disquiet was expressed about the significant reduction in the number of existing forums and membership numbers resulting from this change.
The ATO commented that a number of these forums were stakeholder groups which met infrequently and some were working groups whose purpose had been realised and therefore it was timely for them to close. The new framework includes scope for some stakeholder management groups that will meet occasionally or as required.
Further information about the ATO consultation framework, how to register as a stakeholder,and is now available on the ATO’s website.