NTLG minutes - 10 September 2015 meeting

Meeting details


Australian Taxation Office – Melbourne
L9.716 Ewing Boardroom,
747 Collins Street, Docklands, Melbourne CBD


10 September 2015






Andrew Mills, Second Commissioner, Law Design and Practice Group





  • Chris Jordan, Commissioner of Taxation
  • Neil Olesen, Second Commissioner, Compliance
  • Thomas Ryan, Assistant Commissioner, ATO Corporate
  • Annalissa Alexander, Director, Corporate Committee Services (Secretariat)



  • Rob Heferen, Deputy Secretary, Revenue Group
  • Louise McCulloch, General Manager, Corporate & International Tax Division


Chartered Accountants Australia and New Zealand

  • Michael Croker
  • Grant Wardell-Johnson


Corporate Tax Association

  • Michelle de Niese


CPA Australia

  • Paul Drum


Institute of Public Accountants

  • Tony Greco


Law Council of Australia

  • Mark Friezer
  • Adrian Varasso


The Tax Institute

  • Tim Neilson
  • Arthur Athanasiou
  • Stephanie Caredes (Professional Bodies' Coordinator)





The Tax Institute

  • Stephen Healey


Australian Taxation Office

  • Jorge del Busto


Additional guest attendees



Australian Taxation Office

  • Shirley Forlin, Senior Director, ATO Consultation Hub
  • Greg Williams, Deputy Commissioner, Smarter Data Program (Agenda item 1.1)
  • Mark Konza, Deputy Commissioner, Public Groups International (Agenda item 1.4)
  • Jacqui Curtis, Deputy Commissioner, ATO People (Agenda item 2.1)
  • Adam Condipodero, Functional and Efficiency Review, ATO Corporate (Agenda item 2.2) (via teleconference)
  • Fiona Dillon, Assistant Commissioner, Tax Counsel Network (Agenda item 2.3)



Meeting open - attendance and apologies

End of example
  • Chair’s introduction and opening remarks
  • Confirmation of agenda, attendance and apologies

The Commissioner opened the meeting at 9.30am and discussed with members a number of recent activities including:

  • he is visiting a number of ATO offices, with the next visit being to Geelong
  • negotiations for the new Enterprise Agreement are continuing
  • The Reinventing the ATO Program is progressing well. New rounds of ‘client experience’ workshops are being held
  • MyTax is going well, with over one million returns lodged to date
  • we have had over one million voice prints for voice authentication, which is proving itself as a useful tool
  • the myDeductions app is also a very useful tool
  • the Senate Inquiry into Tax Avoidance is still ongoing. The interim report has been released and the ATO may be called back to the Senate Inquiry
  • in November 2015 he will be attending the Annual meeting of the Study Group on Asian Tax Administration and Research (SGATAR) in Singapore and the Forum on Tax Administration (FTA) in Paris.

The Commissioner noted he was pleased with the outcomes in the report by Russell Miller, AM of the Review of the ATO Consultation Arrangements. The consultation arrangements are working well with some refinements yet to be made. He noted that the ATO has an ongoing conversation with our clients so that we understand what guidance is needed by the community, welcoming proactive input or suggestions.

The Commissioner advised members that going forward Second Commissioner Andrew Mills will take over the role as Chair of NTLG. He noted that he and the Second Commissioners will endeavour to attend stewardship committee meetings as opportunities arise.

The new Chair Andrew Mills welcomed everyone and noted the refreshed membership of the NTLG. He welcomed new NTLG members Paul Drum, representing CPA Australia and Thomas Ryan, who replaced Peter Coakley as Assistant Commissioner in ATO Corporate.

The Chair also welcomed Arthur Athanasiou, representing The Tax Institute and Shirley Forlin, Senior Director, ATO Consultation Hub. Apologies were noted from Stephen Healey for The Tax Institute and Jorge del Busto, Senior Executive Advisor, Tax Counsel Network.

As part of the review of membership, the Chair asked members to think about whether the group continues to be known as the NTLG or whether a change of name would be better to reflect its role as one of eight stewardship committees across a range of markets and products. The Chair noted all suggestions would be welcomed and that there would be space for discussion under ‘Other Business’.

Open NTLG action items

Members agreed that the following action items will remain as ongoing.

NTLG 0312/4

Rethinking Compliance

Members noted that this action was planned to be discussed at the 3 December 2015 NTLG meeting.

NTLG 1506/1

Providing website access to previous NTLG minutes

Members noted the update provided.

Members agreed that the following action items could be closed as they were completed.

NTLG 1506/2

Inviting feedback from NTLG members on communication protocols between RDR and compliance staff

Members noted that an out of session teleconference discussion on the draft Communication Protocols between RDR and compliance staff was held on Friday, 26 June 2015.

NTLG 1506/3

Providing NTLG members with the list of initially identified tax rulings to be updated

Members noted the updated list of initially identified rulings was circulated to members on Monday, 24 August 2015.

NTLG 1506/4

Confirming arrangements regarding future membership of the NTLG

Members noted this process was completed by Thursday, 20 August 2015.

Segment 1: Issues of significance in the tax law interpretation, policy and law design space

Agenda item 1.1: Changes in environmental factors "On and Over the Horizon"

End of example

Presentation by CPA Australia on ‘Business and Big Data’

This discussion was led by CPA Australia representative Paul Drum on ‘Business and Big Data’ with Deputy Commissioner Greg Williams in attendance.

The group viewed a YouTube video called Did you Know? This video was about the rapid pace of change affecting the way we have used data technology over the years.

Key discussion points included:

  • the challenges facing the ATO to keep up with the community’s technology expectations and whether the ATO will build capability in-house or go to market and the short shelf life of tools
  • the level of agility within the tax system as technology changes
  • the importance of how the ATO addresses the risk of confidential information being released when analysing data
  • the value of data and the importance of articulating the problem properly to gain the most from the data.

Members thanked Paul Drum for his presentation and noted that Greg Williams will provide an overview of the Smarter Data strategic program of change at the 3 December 2015 NTLG meeting.

Agenda item 1.2: Update on key events September to December 2015

End of example

Members noted the update provided.

Agenda item 1.3: The Tax White Paper process / other updates from Treasury

End of example

Update on The Tax White Paper and the Reform of the Federation White Paper processes

Rob Heferen noted that the submission period for the Tax White Paper Discussion Paper had ended and that very useful and sophisticated submissions had been received.

Next steps were now being considered by Government. To progress discussions, the Treasurers from State and Territories governments will meet again in October, leading to further discussions at another Council of Australian Governments meeting in November.

Update on Board of Tax activities

The role of the Board has shifted from undertaking long-term reviews to provide real time advice with a focus on complex issues.

The Board’s focus includes small business, FBT simplification and has also created a tax policy development working group that is looking at the drivers of complexity in the system.

Members commented that with the change in focus to short term projects there was a need for the tax community to move more quickly in providing their considered views.

Other updates (including on legislative program)

There might be scope to aggregate the remaining announced but unreacted measures that are to proceed, but will require availability within a busy legislative program. Follow on work from the reviews on the financial system and competition policy will have priority. The measure dealing with the Commissioner’s statutory remedial power is still scheduled for the Spring 2015 sitting.

Agenda item 1.4: Update on international related activities

End of example
  • ATO update on compliance activities and ATO input on policy developments related to BEPS:  
    • Progress on implementation of the OECD BEPS action plans
    • Update on JITSIC / ISaPS / Project DO IT / foreign investment reforms
  • Update on country by country reporting by large multi-national enterprises
  • Update on tax transparency measure by large corporates
  • Report to 30 June 2015 on Advance Price Agreements (APA)

Mark Konza attended via teleconference and provided members with the following update:

  • the Multinational Anti-Avoidance Law (MAAL) was likely to go to Parliament next week and it is expected that the legislation will be effective from 1 January 2016. Members noted that the ATO has assisted in consultation. There are two classes of taxpayers affected, those to whom legislation directly applies and those who will need to consider if legislation applies, for example for FIN 48 declarations. The ATO may also need to provide additional guidance after the legislation is passed, for example, what comprises ‘substantial activity’ in another country and the extent that Part IVA provisions may be applied
  • transfer pricing documentation safe harbours – good progress has been made on international matters identifying further low risk transactions
  • the Digital Economy Taskforce has completed its work. The report will include options on how countries can deal with digital economy issues within their treaties, such as the definition of a permanent establishment
  • the reduced penalty period for foreign investors to voluntarily disclose breaches of Australia’s foreign investment rules for residential real estate ends on 30 November 2015
  • the APA (Advance Pricing Arrangement) Program Reinvention & Annual Report 2014/16 was tabled.

Segment 2: Strategic initiatives to improve the tax system and its administration

Agenda item 2.1: The Reinventing the ATO program

End of example

Update on the Reinventing the ATO program

Neil Olesen provided members with an account of recent activities, including:

  • working with different client groups to work out changes over the next four years to address the specific client groups’ needs
  • holding workshops with the individuals and small business markets, with more workshops scheduled over the next couple of months for the rest of the market segments
  • three key themes were identified from these workshops:  
    • fix the basics, for example, make the ATO website more user-friendly, have the portal available and accessible and improve correspondence with the community
    • address the fear element from taxpayers which drives up the cost of compliance - the ATO needs to reposition itself as a trusted authority instead of a feared regulator
    • promote awareness of the services offered by the ATO – there is lack of awareness of new tools and online apps
  • workshops are scheduled with tax agents to design solutions to address issues with MyGov correspondence – ensuring tax agents also get notifications that taxpayers get via MyGov.

Neil Olesen invited Jacqui Curtis to present on the Optimise Workforce Capability and Culture strategic program of change.

Update on the Optimise Workforce Capability and Culture strategic program of change

Jacqui Curtis provided members with an overview of the Optimise Workforce Capability and Culture (OWCC) strategic program.

Members noted that the OWCC program is the only strategic program focussed inwardly with external implications for clients. The program drives a program of work that delivers improvements to staff experience, which enables improvement in client experience and aims to build and embed a culture where the ATO’s workforce is trusted and respected both internally and externally.

Feedback from staff and clients was that the ATO’s internal culture needed to change. The Culture Strategy outlines the desired future culture and approach for achieving change. It is about an easier, contemporary and more responsive way of doing business and the way we work.

Jacqui Curtis provided an example of how we are driving internal cultural change for staff in call centres where they have moved away from rigid, scripted telephone discussions to more natural conversations. Staff are able to deal with clients and the situations they present in a more responsible and empathetic way. Feedback from staff has been very positive.

Members noted that the ATO is focusing on continuing professional development and improving staff capability. The ATO is reviewing collaboration options with external providers to support provision of continuing professional development.

Members were very supportive of the changes and thanked Jacqui Curtis for her presentation.

Agenda item 2.2: Functional and Efficiency Review

End of example

Thomas Ryan provided a debrief on the Functional and Efficiency Review.

The review is considering:

  • whether current functions performed by the ATO align with the Government’s priorities and policy commitments
  • whether our resourcing levels are appropriate for what we are expected to deliver
  • any barriers preventing us from achieving our current intended outcomes and, where relevant, propose solutions to address these concerns
  • the feasibility and efficiency of alternative approaches to address Government priorities
  • the proposed transition path to implement preferred alternative approaches to performance management, staffing, capability considerations and potential governance arrangements.

Members queried whether it extended to whole of government functions, such as in the area of government debt collection. It was clarified that the review is part of a broader contestability review, that there are opportunities to review whole of government processes, but in the first instance the focus was on ATO’s activities.

The interim report will be provided at the end of September 2015 with the Review report to be finalised by mid October 2015.

Agenda item 2.3: Review of ATO Guidance and Advice

End of example

Update on the ATO’s future public advice and guidance

Fiona Dillon provided members with the update on the ATO’s future public advice and guidance, including initiatives to improve the effectiveness of, and client experience, in relation to the ATO’s public advice and guidance.

Members noted that the ATO will be providing corporate oversight to implement the changes from the review that include:

  • earlier consultation and engagement
  • prioritise providing advice on the right issues - looking at topics people are interested in, making better use of data ATO already has to guide the priorities
  • more timely advice when people need the advice, for example, developing guidance at the same time the law is being developed
  • advice that is more tailored, easier to understand and written for the right audience
  • presenting advice and guidance on the website that is layered, allowing access to suit different clients’ needs.

Members welcomed the changes from the review and noted that it will be important to set out clearly the level of protection the different products of advice and guidance offer. It was noted that while explanatory memorandums explained the policies contained in legislation, ATO’s advice explained how policies apply in practice.

Update on the review of private advice

Tim Dyce attended to provide the update on the review of private advice.

The ATO is undertaking consultation with the community on the review of private advice, including through seminars and webinars. A discussion paper will be issued for comment in the next two weeks, seeking suggestions on how to reshape and improve private advice offerings.

The review is aiming to provide sufficient certainty through tailored, useful and timely advice with a contemporary service. Feedback from NTLG members was invited.

Agenda item 2.4: Red-tape Reduction

End of example

Update on the NTLG ‘safe harbours’ project

Michele de Niese provided members with an overview of the Safe Harbours’ working groups:

  • the Transfer Pricing working group is progressing very well. They are working on extending the simplification document that applies to small businesses to large businesses for simple transactions
  • the FBT and Remuneration working group has put forward an initiative dealing with fleet car log books, but is currently revising its initial compliance cost savings, which appeared to be too low
  • the GST working group is working on a proposal to simplify compliance on barter transactions with further consultation to be undertaken
  • the Excise working group is working on an initiative to simplify compliance with fuel tax credits
  • the SMEs working group has had difficulties in finding implementable initiatives in the near term and is currently exploring an initiative on simplifying compliance regarding home office expenses
  • the Tax and Accounting working group is also finding it difficult to identify appropriate initiatives in the near term, with questions being raised whether this may be too broad an area to address.

Members noted that some groups seem to be more focused on the risks rather than on the compliance cost savings. It was suggested that the groups submit their preliminary ideas to the Safe Harbour Steering Group rather than get immersed in the detail in the first instance.

Update on ATO deregulation activities

Members noted the update provided.

Agenda item 2.5: ATO Consultation Arrangements

End of example

Outcomes of the post-implementation review of the ATO’s consultation arrangements

Thomas Ryan presented members with a summary of the outcomes of the post-implementation Review of ATO Consultation Arrangements based on the report by Mr Russell Miller, AM. Members noted that the presentation is being made at all stewardship committees.

Thomas Ryan advised members that there is a shift away from the hierarchal model to equality of all stewardship committees. He advised that the Chairs of the ATO’s stewardship committees have agreed on a structure reflecting the equality of stewardship committees and their respective stewardship roles for their market or product segment. Members noted the updated Overview of ATO Consultation Arrangements that outlines the ATO’s consultation arrangements’ framework.

Discussion focussed on improvements to the NTLG agenda. Members’ comments were that:

  • the agenda should be co-developed
  • using the word ‘update’ for agenda items gave the impression that members were attending the meeting to listen, and
  • having fewer agenda items would allow time for more robust discussions on key strategic issues.

Members also asked that a standing agenda item be added on the ATO’s digital transformation program.

Members agreed that consideration should be given to appointing an external Co-Chair to the NTLG. Members noted that other Groups were reviewing their membership and considering co-chairing arrangements.

Post-meeting secretariat note: Members have advised that CA ANZ representative, Mr Grant Wardell-Johnson has been nominated as the external Co-Chair.

Any other business

End of example

Change of name for NTLG

Andrew Mills reiterated to members the earlier suggestion of changing the name for the NTLG going forward. He asked members for their views on any suggested names.

Update to NTLG webpage and NTLG Charter

Andrew Mills advised members that we have updated the NTLG webpage with the current and revised NTLG membership. After this meeting we will also be updating the page with the new chairing arrangements.

The NTLG Charter will also need updating to reflect the changes to the chairing arrangements and the ATO consultation arrangements framework in that all eight stewardship committees have equal standing in terms of the ATO’s approach to consultation. The balance across the eight stewardship committees reflects the ATO’s ability to access stakeholder views and inputs from across the Australian community.

A marked-up version of the NTLG Charter will be sent to members for their review and approval out of session. Once approved, the updated NTLG Charter will be republished on the ATO website.

Meeting close

End of example

Closing remarks

There being no further business, the Chair closed the meeting at 3:00pm.

The next NTLG meeting is scheduled for Thursday, 3 December 2015 in Sydney.


NTLG agendas, minutes and related papers are not binding on the Australian Taxation Office (ATO) or any of the other bodies referred to in these papers. While every effort is made to accurately record views expressed, the wording necessarily represents a summary of statements of general position only, and care should be taken in interpreting those statements. These papers reflect the position at the date of release (unless otherwise noted) and readers should note that the position on any issue may subsequently change. These minutes have been formally endorsed by the members.


    Last modified: 04 Dec 2015QC 47442