• Health check outcomes

    Overview

    The ATO has come a long way since the 2013 Review. The consultation system, as it operates today, is far more effective than it was in 2013. It is focused on more significant issues, and more collegiate.

    There is much less duplication, much less meetings for the sake of meeting and much more focus on achieving outcomes, especially with the use of issue-specific working groups. There is much more of a sense that external stakeholders and ATO executives are working together for a common purpose than was previously the case. Overall, the feedback from stakeholders, both internal and external, has been very positive.

    The ATO Consultation Hub has improved transparency and accountability significantly.

    It was clear that, by the time of the 2013 Review, the many forums, committees, subcommittees and working groups that then existed were not as effective and efficient as either the ATO or external stakeholders thought they should be. In 2013 the ATO Review Panel found that:

    • the current approach to consultative arrangements was diverse and disparate
    • there was no holistic view of the intelligence derived from consultations
    • there was no systemic view of the contribution consultations made to the administration of taxation and superannuation systems.

    Much has changed for the better since then. This was confirmed by the responses to the online survey by members of the stewardship groups and through the interviews.

    Survey and interviews

    An online survey was conducted, seeking responses to 13 questions designed to gauge the health of the consultation system overall. It was sent by email to stakeholders (internal and external) serving on the stewardship groups and working groups. Interviews were also conducted with internal and external stakeholders serving on the stewardship groups. They provided an opportunity to interpret and test the survey responses and to add a qualitative dimension to the assessment.

    This section of the report summarises the results of the survey and the interviews and draws conclusions based on those results. It does not cover all of the questions in the survey, but they are set out in Appendix 2, as are the results. The survey included an opportunity for respondents to provide an overall comment and those comments are in Appendix 3.

    Table 4 shows the number and distribution of the stakeholders and others engaged in the review.

    Table 4 - Survey and interviews

     

    Online survey respondent summary

    No.

    Cohort

    188

    ATO

    52

    External

    136

    Responding

    82

    ATO

    27

    External

    55

    Meetings, interviews and discussions

     

    Cohort

    39

    ATO

    14

    Other stakeholders

    22

    Other agencies

    3

    The fact that 82 stakeholders (30% internal and 70% external) responded is, in itself, a good indication of strong engagement. This was confirmed by feedback in the interviews.

    Table 5 - Survey snapshot

    Stakeholders expressing themselves as 'very satisfied' or 'satisfied'

    Averaged 78%+ overall, with a high of 90% and a low of 70%, depending on the question

    Stakeholders expressing themselves as 'dissatisfied'

    Averaged 5% overall, with a high of 9.75% and a low of 2.5%

    Stakeholders expressing themselves as 'very dissatisfied'

    Only on five of the questions
    Average of <2%, the highest being 2.5%

    The survey showed that there were high levels of satisfaction with the consultation arrangements overall, and that was also the overall message from the interviews. However, as will be clear from the above table, just over15% of respondents was neither satisfied nor dissatisfied overall.

    The constructive comments made in interviews indicated that those who expressed dissatisfaction with one or more element of the group on which they served were seeing differences between the ways the groups operated. Differences in practice in different groups are not necessarily a negative. Indeed, given the scope of ATO consultative arrangements differences are inevitable. However, there are some areas where changes could improve efficiency and outcomes.

    A cross-section of comments from the interviews is included below in relation to each of the survey outcomes, but only to provide context. In later sections the report draws on the interviews to make some suggestions for improvement.

    Inputs to effective consultation

    The outputs of an effective consultation process depend, first, on the quality of the inputs, so the survey sought feedback on that issue. Questions were directed to whether the people engaged in the process were the right people, whether they were being consulted on the right matters, whether the matters on which they were being consulted were sufficiently clear and whether the agenda (briefing papers) were conducive to a robust discussion. Table 6 shows the survey results.

    Table 6 – Survey: inputs to consultation

    Relevance of matters

    %

    Positive

    88

    Neutral

    10

    Negative

    2

    Clarity of matters

    %

    Positive

    90

    Neutral

    6

    Negative

    4

    Briefing paper quality

    %

    Positive

    83

    Neutral

    9

    Negative

    8

    Stakeholder experience and knowledge

    %

    Positive

    81

    Neutral

    15

    Negative

    4

    Right people

    The positive response in relation to stakeholder experience and knowledge reflected a generally held view that the right people are engaged in the process. As one interviewee put it the ATO is ‘engaging with the right trusted practitioners’. Nevertheless there were some who thought that not all attendees at meetings of some groups contributed sufficiently to warrant continued participation, and a sense that some who do participate might not be in the right group to optimise their contribution. As one interviewee put it, it is quality, not quantity that is important. A view expressed by a number of external interviewees and echoed by some internal interviewees, was that participants should ‘present credentials and earn a place’.

    Involvement of government representatives from The Treasury, the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority (APRA) and ASIC in the National Superannuation Industry Advisory Group and the Office of Small Business Commissioner in the Small Business Liaison Group was commented on positively, although some thought that APRA and ASIC could engage in discussion more effectively. One interviewee suggested that the NTLG might benefit from the involvement of some government agencies in addition to The Treasury.

    Agendas and briefings

    There were mixed reactions in relation to agendas. There was some comment on the difficulty some external organisations had earlier faced in getting matters on agendas, but that has changed. Some thought agendas (including briefing papers) were about right, appreciating the use of pre-meeting phone hook-ups to formulate the agenda for their group. As one commented, most agendas seem to now be ‘focused and appropriate‘. However there was also comment that, in some groups, agendas were too crammed and that there was insufficient time for all items to be discussed properly. Yet another acknowledged that agendas had been too bulky but have improved.

    One external stakeholder referred to the tendency to produce large amounts of paper for meetings, commenting that ‘the agenda is fit for purpose but don’t print me another copy on the table – we often get a large amount of paper’.

    As to timing, most thought that the timetable for development of the agenda for their group, including the timeframes for members to put forward items, was appropriate. However that was not the universally held view. Some external stakeholders thought timeliness in some groups could improve, stating that there needs to be sufficient notice of meetings – three to four days is insufficient time or notice for the agenda to do it justice’.

    Meetings

    Next the survey asked a series of questions about the stewardship and working group meetings themselves, to gauge the level of discussion and perceptions of the quality of outcomes.

    Table 7 – Survey: meetings

    Quality of discussion

    %

    Positive

    78

    Neutral

    15

    Negative

    6

    Quality of outcomes

    %

    Positive

    71

    Neutral

    22

    Negative

    8

    There was very little difference between the perception of ATO respondents and external stakeholders in relation to discussion quality, as the following tables show:

    Table 7.1 – Quality of discussion

    ATO

    %

    External

    %

    Very satisfied

    20.00

    Very satisfied

    25.93

    Satisfied

    56.00

    Satisfied

    53.70

    Neither

    12.00

    Neither

    16.67

    Dissatisfied

    12.00

    Dissatisfied

    3.70

    Very dissatisfied

    0.00

    Very dissatisfied

    0.00

    Interviewees reported that a significant change had occurred in the dynamics of meetings since the 2013 changes. As one put it ‘it was previously one-way dialogue whereas now we are doing a lot more consulting’.

    Some commented that, in their group, there was still too much time taken up with lengthy presentations. They would prefer to have less presentation time and more time to discuss the issue being presented. As one interviewee put it, the group ‘should not spend time at meetings receiving information. Information should be provided prior to the meeting. Assume that it is read and members should understand their obligation to read the material’.

    As to whether size impeded discussion, feedback was that, for some groups there were too many people in the room to have a dynamic discussion, although others thought that size did not matter – the important thing was to get the right people engaged. One external stakeholder said that in their group there are ‘robust and adequate discussions’. Another interviewee stated that ‘meetings are always interesting and it helps my perceptions and broadens my knowledge base to take back to members’.

    All interviewees thought that the use of working groups, set up for a specific and limited purpose, was a significant improvement, but some were concerned that this meant that discussion in their stewardship group was at too high a level. The willingness of The Treasury (and to a lesser extent other agencies) to participate in groups was seen as very positive. As one interviewee commented ‘the way consultation is happening – tripartite activity with The Treasury – is a positive to come out of the new arrangements and it makes a lot of sense to put policy and administration together’. Some thought The Treasury might be encouraged to become more engaged in groups on which they serve.

    As to quality of outcomes, there was more of a difference between ATO respondents and external stakeholders.

    Table 7.2 – Quality of outcomes

    ATO

    %

    External

    %

    Very satisfied

    16.00

    Very satisfied

    9.26

    Satisfied

    52.00

    Satisfied

    62.96

    Neither

    20.00

    Neither

    22.22

    Dissatisfied

    8.00

    Dissatisfied

    5.56

    Very dissatisfied

    4.00

    Very dissatisfied

    0.00

    Stakeholder feedback included that ‘external members now focused on strategic importance’. There was some comment, in relation to some groups, that there was less than optimal clarity on what was decided at the meetings. This was not related to the accuracy of the record (see Table 8) but seemed to indicate that attention might be given, in some groups, to the way in which discussion is summed up at the end of each agenda item.

    As noted earlier, some interviewees reported that, in some groups, set piece presentations continue to take up the time of the meeting. Where the main objective is liaison, briefings in this way have a role, but where the objective is for the ATO to seek advice, the emphasis should be on providing briefing papers in advance, expecting everyone to have read the papers and come prepared for discussion, having a very brief introduction to the subject and encouraging dynamic discussion. In this way valuable time is not taken up unnecessarily.

    Records

    Next the survey tested impressions of the documentary record of stewardship groups, with questions about accuracy and timeliness. Accurate and timely records not only serve to record what stewardship groups decide. They also serve to inform a wider audience both within the ATO and externally, who either need to know the outcomes or need to have access to them under COAG transparency obligations.

    Table 8 – Survey: the record

    Accuracy of records

    %

    Positive

    77

    Neutral

    20

    Negative

    3

    Timeliness of records

    %

    Positive

    72

    Neutral

    22

    Negative

    6

    Feedback from the interviews was that timeliness of records of meetings is an issue in some groups. There was positive comment about the practice, in at least one group, of issuing a note of meeting outcomes (and draft minutes) within six weeks of meetings. As one interviewee put it ‘outcomes are recorded and communicated and things are moving quicker – minutes are less laborious’. Another said that minutes produced are accurate and complimented by a summary received within a week of the meeting’. On the other hand, there was comment that some groups take very much longer to issue them, and in some cases draft minutes not arriving until just before the next meeting.

    Outcomes and transparency

    Finally, the survey sought views on whether respondents were satisfied with how the outcomes are taken into account and how satisfied they were with the overall transparency of the consultation arrangements.

    Table 9 – Survey: outcomes and transparency

    Outcomes taken into account

    %

    Very satisfied

    14

    Satisfied

    57

    Neither

    20

    Dissatisfied

    8

    Very dissatisfied

    1

    Overall transparency

    %

    Very satisfied

    14

    Satisfied

    57

    Neither

    20

    Dissatisfied

    8

    Very dissatisfied

    1

    There was a slight difference between ATO respondents and external stakeholders in relation to whether outcomes are taken into account, as Table 9.1 shows.

    Table 9.1 – Outcomes taken into account

    ATO

    %

    External

    %

    Very satisfied

    16

    Very satisfied

    13

    Satisfied

    56

    Satisfied

    57

    Neither

    16

    Neither

    22

    Dissatisfied

    8

    Dissatisfied

    7.4

    Very dissatisfied

    4

    Very dissatisfied

    0.0

    There is no objective measure for determining how useful consultation is. However the above data provides support for the proposition that the ATO participants thought the outcomes worthwhile and 70% of external stakeholders were satisfied that they were being listened to. Feedback from the interviews with external stakeholders was that they feel that, as one interviewee put it ‘we are being listened to now’.

    Conclusion

    The changes instituted in 2013 have produced a significantly improved consultation system. Overall satisfaction is high and there is strong support for the working group model.

    Bedding down the changes and transitioning to the new governance model has been a challenge, but it is clear from both the survey and interviews that the changes have produced positive results. Nevertheless, with stewardship groups meeting only a few times each year, in some groups the benefits of the new arrangements are yet to be fully realised.

    Finding 1:

    The current consultation system is fit for purpose. No significant change is required. The focus should be on continuing to refine the ATO’s consultation processes to improve the efficiency of the system and the outcomes it produces.

      Last modified: 22 Sep 2015QC 46926