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Shaping community beliefs, attitudes and norms

This page summarises research on beliefs, attitudes and norms of the Australian community.

Last updated 3 December 2023

The following information outlines the research findings for Shaping community beliefs, attitudes and norms to achieve willing and correct participation in the tax & super systems.

1. Executive summary

1.1. Introduction

Colmar Brunton was commissioned by the Australian Taxation Office to undertake research to identify current beliefs, attitudes and norms which drive the compliance intention and behaviour of the Australian community in regard to participation in the tax and superannuation systems. This included the specific target audiences of the broader Australian community, youth, new migrants, people participating in the cash economy and individuals who were not in business. The research will be used to inform current and future strategies which aim to encourage willing participation with the tax and superannuation systems.

1.2 Methodology

The research program consisted of qualitative and quantitative research. This included 8 community focus groups and 8 youth focus groups, covering 4 metropolitan locations (Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Adelaide) and 4 regional locations (Dubbo, Ballarat, Bundaberg and Mount Gambier). In addition, 8 new migrant and 12 cash economy in-depth interviews were conducted with participants from around Australia. Further, quantitative data collection occurred via the use of an online survey of 2,157 Australians sampled from an online panel. All stages of the research were conducted between April and July 2018.

1.3 Key findings

1.3.1. Behaviour

People were more likely to self-report positive tax compliant behaviours than behaviours associated with actively managing super or doing something if they became aware someone else was cheating the tax system.

Overall, 46% of respondents self-reported they were tax compliant – that is, in the last 12 months they had done all of the compliant tax behaviours ‘all of the time’:

  • 75% of respondents reported they had ‘paid all tax owing on time’
  • 74% of respondents reported they ‘honestly declared all of their income in their most recent tax return’
  • 66% of respondents reported they had ‘only claimed deductions for costs related to their employment or business and excluded costs that related to private expenses’
  • 62% of respondents reported they had ‘kept receipts needed to correctly lodge a tax return’.

15% reported they had undertaken superannuation activity ‘all of the time’:

  • 30% of respondents reported they had reviewed and managed their super funds
  • 24% of respondents reported they made their own super contributions.

Even fewer (5%) self-reported acting ‘all of the time’ if they became aware of someone cheating the tax system:

  • 10% of respondents reported they had ‘let the ATO know if they knew someone was cheating the tax system’
  • 8% of respondents reported they had ‘said something to someone who they believed was cheating the tax system’.

The most common reason reported for doing any of the 8 behaviours ‘all of the time’ was ‘I always try to be honest’ (61%). This was followed by ‘it’s the right thing to do’ (58%), ‘it is the law’ (55%) and ‘I have peace of mind knowing I’ve done the right thing’ (52%). Conversely, the most common reason for doing any of the 8 behaviours ‘some of the time’ or ‘none of the time’ was ‘my financial situation’ had prohibited this from happening (16%). This was followed by ‘I want to get a refund when I lodge my tax return’ (14%), ‘I do not want to get caught/penalised’ (12%) and ‘I need more information’ (11%).

1.3.2. Attitudes, beliefs and norms

Overall, most participants recognised the benefits of the tax and superannuation systems when prompted, however, this was not top of mind and did not prevent them from being inactive, avoiding or leaving it all with the ‘experts’. People generally felt less knowledgeable and confident about actively managing their super but most agreed that it is important to have savings when they retire.

The research identified a broad range of beliefs and attitudes that drive compliance with tax and the active management of super. The attitudes and beliefs most frequently selected included:

  • it is everyone’s responsibility to contribute to tax and super (64%)
  • everybody should pay the right amount of tax to support the Australian Way of Life (63%)
  • the tax system unfairly advantages big business and wealthy people (56%)
  • it is important to contribute to my super as the age pension may not support me when I retire (56%)
  • it is very important that people who do not pay the right amount of tax are caught and punished (56%)
  • it is my responsibility to review and manage my super (51%).

The research found a relationship between compliance behaviour and specific attitudes and beliefs. Those who were compliant with tax and actively managing their super were more likely to believe in the importance of tax and super and the individual role they need to play. Conversely, those who were non-compliant with tax and were not actively managing their super were more likely to be focused on the negative aspects of tax and super (for example, they felt they had to pay too much tax or that big business don’t pay the correct amount so why should they).

1.4 Recommendations

The research provided insights about the kinds of communication messages that were reported to be more or less effective in encouraging willing participation in the taxation and superannuation systems. The research identified the following messages as most effective:

  • Australia’s tax system benefits us all, giving all Australians access to health care (for example, hospitals, Medicare), education, infrastructure (for example, roads), security (for example, police) and social safety nets
  • not declaring income is a criminal offence
  • most Australians try to do the right thing and pay their fair share of tax
  • not paying the right share of tax results in less money for education, hospitals, Medicare and roads
  • services you value, such as schools and hospitals rely on you paying the right amount of tax.

The research suggests messages would be even more effective if they personalise both the benefits of paying tax and the negative consequences of not paying tax in terms of both appealing to personal interest, societal benefit and social norms. Messages which focus on a specific behaviour, promote benefits (as well as evidence the benefit will be experienced) and include a call to action are the most likely to change behaviour and increase compliance. Other strategies to consider include communications to counter the negative perceptions in the community about corporate compliance.

The principles described above equally apply to the active management of super where the research identified the following messages as most effective in encouraging people to actively manage their super:

  • The more super you have the better your retirement will be.
  • To get maximum benefit when you retire you need to start thinking about super now.
  • If you consolidated your super into one fund, you will be saving on fees and have more money in your retirement.

Credible messengers about taxation compliance and the active management of super included accountants and tax agents, everyday relatable people and the ATO as a direct authority on tax and super compliance. Preferred channels included online, television and social media if messages are targeted and relevant. Communicating with young people at school and during the transition to work was also suggested.