A perspective from outside government

Tax barrister Michael Inglis comments on Project Wickenby.

We asked tax barrister Michael Inglis to share his views on project Wickenby.

I have advised and represented many Wickenby and other SNC* targets in recent years, ranging from tax reviews and audits all the way through to persons charged by the Australian Federal Police with indictable tax crime offences.

In light of that work and experience, I would like to make three points.

First, it's now quite clear to me that the Tax Office and its many partner agencies are simply not going to die on the journey.

Tenacity is a great ally, and the Wickenby agencies have now clearly withstood the storm of years of court challenges and collateral political and other attacks. Wickenby is still afloat, forward funding is secure, and the case officers are starting to really hit their straps.

This totally unprecedented Australian (and international) inter-agency cooperation, combined with the recent and spectacular OECD and G20 achievements, have all now sharply increased the risks and consequences of any potential Wickenby target actually being detected.

Second, the Wickenby agencies all need to do a lot more, I respectfully suggest, to effectively communicate the grave consequences for any Wickenby targets, of not getting very real very quickly, once they know they are being looked at.

Anyone who hears from the Tax Office or other Wickenby agencies has just had any relevant non-compliance risk go through the roof.

Yet, time and again, I see cases where the game plan in response has been, for many months, to just 'sit tight, she'll be right' or to just 'hang tough'.

Once an overt Wickenby tax review, audit or criminal investigation commences, the turbulent river, in which the target then finds themself, can (and usually does) get deeper, faster and wider very quickly.

Third, the Tax Office and other Wickenby agencies need to publicise more effectively the benefits where a potential, but yet undetected, Wickenby target chooses to mitigate their non-compliance risk aggressively, that is, to make their own full and complete disclosure to the Tax Office rather than simply waiting to be detected.

I have repeatedly found that those persons, who have the courage and good sense to do this sort of thing, are treated fairly and with consideration by the Tax Office and, if relevant, other Wickenby agencies.

In addition, they usually end up reducing any relevant penalties and interest significantly, and minimising (as far as may be) the risk or consequences of any relevant criminal investigation, or prosecution, as well.

    Last modified: 28 Jan 2010QC 28247