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  • Tax & Super Australia – 100-year anniversary

    Presentation to Tax & Super Australia

    16 December 2019

    Graham Whyte, Assistant Commissioner, Superannuation and Employer Obligations,

    ATO

    (Check against delivery)

    Introduction

    I’d like to respectfully acknowledge the Traditional Owners and Custodians of Country throughout Australia and recognise their continuing connection to land, waters and community. I pay my respects to them and their cultures, and their Elders past, present and emerging.

    Thank you for the opportunity to speak to your members on such an auspicious occasion.

    I congratulate Tax & Super Australia on its 100-year anniversary.

    Traditionally, it’s customary for someone reaching their centennial to receive a message from the Queen. Unfortunately, we couldn’t quite get Her Majesty on this occasion, but we do have a message from the Commissioner of Taxation, Chris Jordan AO:

    I want to congratulate Tax & Super Australia on your 100th birthday.

    As the oldest taxpayer organisation in Australia, you not only have your own list of significant achievements over the past 100 years, but also a distinguished history working with the ATO.

    We thank you for kick-starting the collaborative culture between the ATO and consultative groups that has helped shape the tax system of today and we look forward to continuing to work well together into the future.

    During my time as Commissioner I have seen first-hand the value Tax & Super Australia brings to the table as a representative of tax and super professionals, through your role as a member of the Tax Practitioner Stewardship Group and your many other contributions on behalf of your members. I want to personally thank you for the part you play in maintaining a healthy tax system and congratulate you on 100 years of excellent work.

    Alison Lendon, Deputy Commissioner Individuals and Intermediaries, and Chair of the Tax Practitioner Stewardship Group, has also sent a message of congratulations:

    Tax & Super Australia has made a valuable contribution to the ATO through its active participation as members of our Tax Practitioner Stewardship Group and various other working groups for many years.

    As members of the stewardship group, Tax & Super Australia provide a valuable contribution to the ATO and the tax and super system, providing insights about what they see in practice, informing our strategies, as well as how we can better work in partnership when administering changes.

    We look forward to continuing our productive partnership into the future.

    The journey begins …

    As we know, Tax & Super Australia dates back to May 1919, not long after the end of World War 1. Your history is well-documented. The ATO (then known as the Federal Land Tax Department) had been formed only nine years earlier with the appointment of George McKay, the First Commissioner of Taxation.

    As a bit of an amateur student of history, I wondered what working in tax was like 100 years ago. I found an original, somewhat dusty, copy of the Commissioner of Taxation’s Seventh Annual Report, (covering the years 1916-17 and 1919-20) in the ATO library; it holds a few clues.

    The Income Tax Act of the time was only 22 pages long. Total ATO staff numbered just 1,500. There were some interesting memos from the Commissioner to staff. Secrecy and privacy were at the forefront of the ATO’s values. The Commissioner issued a directive that ’Over-indulgence in intoxicating liquors often leads to indiscreet utterance and possibly to violation of the declaration of secrecy’.Footnote1

    Many tax officers at the time left the ATO to become advisers to businesses on the wartime profits tax that was one of the drivers for the creation of the organisation. Unfortunately, the behaviour of some of these ’tax experts’ was called into question by the then Commissioner as they were looking for ’errors in the calculation’ on which to make fees.

    I have to admit I’ve worked at the ATO for some time; not quite 100 years. As a young tax official I certainly remember Eric Ristrom AM who was a regular tax commentator on TV and in the publications The Taxpayer, with St George and the dragon on the cover, and Tax Summary.

    The journey of the ATO is about the development of our tax system from 1919 to the present. It’s important to look back at that history and your input into the most significant changes in Australia’s tax system. As John Maynard Keynes said, ’Ideas shape the course of history’. Your history and accomplishments are a great illustration of this. Your association has been at the forefront of major changes; for example, the introduction of pay-as-you-go (PAYG) tax withholding, the introduction of ’self-assessment’ of tax, the introduction of the goods and services tax, and more recently, you’ve helped design Single Touch Payroll.

    History and longevity have proved that your association, through its 100-year existence, is an important and integral part of Australia’s tax and super ecosystems. Your role in supporting and educating tax and super professionals is essential. The tax and super systems only function efficiently and effectively with empowered, ethical and educated tax and super professionals. Your association’s mission ’to educate and empower today's tax and superannuation professionals’ is central to the operation of the tax and super systems.

    Tax & Super Australia has been a strong advocate, representing your members’ views to the ATO over a long period of time. For example, the Sydney Morning Herald, in August 1943, quotes a report from the Taxpayers Association on the ATO’s enquiries area and what we would call service standards today. That is the timeliness of the ATO addressing taxpayers enquires. What’s interesting, from the report that went to the Commissioner, is that the ATO worked with the association to get a clear understanding and agreement on the issue.Footnote2

    Your association, as a recognised Tax Agents’ Association under the auspices of the Tax Practitioners Board, also plays an important role in maintaining an ethical tax and super profession; to ensure the system operates on a level playing field. As Commissioner Jordan has said, ’High integrity agents encourage, enable and ensure their clients do the right thing’.Footnote3

    As part of our Tax Professionals Stewardship Group, Tax & Super Australia helps to shape the future direction of the tax and super systems. Your support has ensured the success of some important improvements to our systems and services.

    The health of the tax system depends on a successful working partnership between tax professionals and the ATO.

    And the journey continues …

    The development of the tax system is ongoing and there are a number of changes affecting the tax profession. We’re working with you on these changes through forums such as the Tax Professionals Stewardship Group. Tax professionals are a vital part of the tax system, and our commitment to provide you with a more streamlined and integrated experience motivated a number of changes during 2019. I’d like to touch on three of these.

    Online services for agents

    As you’ll be aware, Online services for agents (OSFA) replaced the Tax and BAS agent portals on 2 December 2019 when we successfully closed our legacy tax practitioner portals and transitioned all users to the new service. This is a big part of our switch to more streamlined and improved services, designed in consultation with agents.

    Through OSFA we’ve been able to create an improved experience for tax professionals thanks to consultation with you, beta testing, and feedback from professional associations. We’ll continue to take that approach, asking for and listening to your feedback so our solutions are workable, practical and meet your needs.

    Activity statement financial processing (ASFP) – one system for all tax accounts: upgrade

    During our December shutdown period we’ll undertake a major system change to move most taxpayer financial information into a single accounting system. Our Activity Statements Financial Processing (ASFP) project will provide one ATO accounting and debt system, resulting in better client oversight and providing a platform for future improvements.

    The ASFP change will transfer activity statement accounts and franking deficit tax accounts into the more modern accounting system we currently use for income tax processing.

    ASFP will transition about 17 million accounts and 6 billion account transactions. The project will also facilitate Single Touch Payroll outcomes, meet a key objective of the ATO’s 2024 Integrated Road Map to deliver ‘a reliable and contemporary client experience’ and allow us to meet an Inspector General of Taxation recommendation to have a ’single accounting system for administering Activity Statements regimes’.

    The ASFP upgrade will be a welcome one for all the agent community. To enable this major change we’ll need to close our systems between Christmas and the New Year. We know agents use this shutdown to catch up on work they haven’t been able to complete, in preparation for January when a lot of agents take a break. We haven’t taken this decision lightly and recognise there’ll be some inconvenience. But it will be a good time to take a break and recharge for the coming year.

    This change is an important step in improving our digital services, delivering efficiencies and reducing administrative processes. It will assist us to deliver a reliable, contemporary client experience and provide us with a foundation for future service enhancements.

    AUSkey transition to MyGovID

    We’ll also be replacing AUSkey with myGovID and Relationship Authorisation Manager (RAM) at the end of March 2020, to provide a more secure environment for you and the taxpayers you represent.

    From the end of March 2020, access to the ATO’s online services will require every end user to be individually verified and authorised to act on behalf of a business. AUSkey will be replaced with myGovID and RAM, which together give authorised users a secure, simple and flexible solution for accessing Online services for agents.

    MyGovID is a credential that is unique to an individual, thereby creating greater confidence in the identity of the end user. So far, over 80,000 myGovIDs have been created and over 50,000 businesses have used RAM to link their MyGovID to an ABN.

    Agents will be encouraged to transition early to avoid last-minute problems.

    Information and support is being ramped up for agents, through conversations with professional associations, stewardship groups, direct contact, newsletter articles, and a dedicated landing page for tax professionals on our website. We’ve also released ‘how-to’ videos and have webinars planned.

    The near future

    We’re investigating communication preferences through a private beta of around 6,000 tax agents testing the system. This is something you’ve asked for; it will allow your clients to either have all communications sent to them, have all communications sent to their registered agent or have some communications sent to them and others to their registered agent. The public beta will go live in March 2020 and will be open to all agents in Online services for agents.

    We’re also developing a ‘roadmap’ which will articulate these and future changes and the impacts on tax agents from now and into the future.

    Conclusion

    We look forward to working with Tax & Super Australia for at least another 100 years.

    I congratulate you on your 100th birthday.

    I also wish you all a merry Christmas and a wonderful 2020.

    Thank you for the invitation to celebrate with you!

    Footnote 1
    Leigh Edmonds, Working for all Australians, 1910-2010: a brief history of the Australian Taxation Office, 2010.

    Return to footnote 1 referrer

    Footnote 2
    Leigh Edmonds, op cit.

    Return to footnote 2 referrer

    Footnote 3
    Tax Institute, 33rd National Convention, Cairns, 15 March 2018

    Return to footnote 3 referrer

    Last modified: 31 Jan 2020QC 61311