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How we interpret and apply the law

Interpreting and applying the law is central to our administration of the tax and super systems.

Last updated 25 September 2018

Products to help you

We offer a range of advice and guidance products to help you understand how the law works and how it applies to you:

If the law is clear

We have a duty to apply the law. If the law is clear but gives rise to unintended consequences, anomalies, or significant compliance costs inconsistent with the policy intent, we advise government – usually through Treasury. We do this whether the existing law favours taxpayers or the revenue; giving the government the opportunity to consider legislative change.

In limited circumstances, the Commissioner of Taxation can use a discretionary power to resolve unforeseen or unintended outcomes in the law to create certainty.

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We are committed to consultation as a means of improving the administration of tax and superannuation systems.

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If the law is open to interpretation

If the law is open to interpretation, our approach is to adopt the interpretation consistent with the policy intent.

Where more than one of the available interpretations achieves the policy intent, we will generally apply the interpretation more favourable to you.

A document containing a precedential ATO view provides our interpretation of the laws we administer in relation to a particular interpretative issue.

Precedential ATO view documents are published on our Legal Database so you can access the same information we use when resolving interpretative issues. It also allows you to easily find our interpretation of the law.

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You can

  • engage with us for advice to get certainty about a complex transaction or arrangement you are considering from one of our ATO experts.

New legislation

We ensure new legislation is implemented efficiently and effectively by consulting with you, your tax advisers, professional associations, industry bodies and Treasury.

Depending on the nature of new legislation, we may publish a law companion guideline to give our view on how the new law applies. We usually publish a law companion guideline when the new law introduces a new regime, or new and unfamiliar concepts.

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