• The role of the Consultation Steering Group

    The terms of reference include reviewing the role of the Consultation Steering Group (CSG) in guiding the ATO to improve informed and timely decision making and delivering system-wide dividends.

    The CSG is an interesting innovation, providing an opportunity for external stakeholders to participate in oversight of the whole ATO consultation arrangements and to provide input to ATO management on the health and direction of the consultative processes.

    The CSG has a clear and appropriate charter. It is described as:

    • overseeing the ATO consultation process
    • ensuring that agreed matters for consultation receive priority, timely attention and involve the right people.

    In a nutshell, the CSG’s purpose is to advise on the effectiveness of the system, including what is coming in through the ATO Consultation Hub.

    Interviewee views

    Although on paper the charter for the CSG is clear, it was evident from interview comments that it has taken a little time to sort out in practice the respective roles of the CSG and the stewardship groups (especially the NTLG). As one interviewee commented, there was confusion initially between NTLG and CSG’s distinct roles – 'they seemed to discuss similar issues and gather similar people' - but most agreed that delineation of the roles has improved. It is not surprising that it has taken a little time for the CSG to settle into its role.

    As one interviewee put it the CSG is about the governance of consultation arrangements’. Another described its role as to ‘take a Board of Directors’ overview’.

    Some expressed the view that the working groups had not been the CSG’s focus, although most acknowledged that it is ‘beginning to work as a steering group’. Another external interviewee was very positive about the CSG, seeing it as the group from which more benefit is derived because ‘the key people are there to have a more focused conversation fundamentally on the health of the tax system’.

    A number of suggestions for improvement were made by interviewees, including that the CSG should ‘go through the list individually, note issues, timing and outcomes and build parameters around what members do to contribute to the consultation’. Another interviewee put it this way: ‘the design of the information that should be going to the members regarding the working groups should be by exception reporting – what is not on schedule? What is not working and why? What are the working group’s agenda and successes in consultation to date?’

    Other suggestions for improvement included ensuring that the agenda and supporting reports provide the tools necessary for CSG members to judge progress of consultations, and that ‘the agenda should focus on consultation rather than updates on the environment’. The latter suggestion was made on the basis that those attending the CSG meetings should be well aware of the environment, either through discussions in the stewardship groups or through their own knowledge and experience.

    Review comment and suggestions

    The breadth and depth of the ATO’s consultation task is significant. Engaging internal and external stakeholders in a forum that oversees the whole system is a positive. The CSG has a useful role to play in oversighting provision to the ATO of the collective views of the professions, community sectors, business and The Treasury on priorities and progress with current consultations.

    It is understandable that it has taken time for the CSG to settle in to that role. Based on interview feedback it has made real progress and is heading in the right direction.

    The following areas may assist the CSG to more effectively undertake its role.

    Focus

    The focus of the CSG is, as it should be, on the operation of the consultation system, rather than on the substance of any particular matter under consultation. Substance is for the relevant stewardship groups and working groups.

    In undertaking its oversight role the CSG’s point of reference should be on the seven COAG principles, continually asking, for instance, whether the process is ensuring that consultations are targeted, timely, consistent, accessible and transparent. Measurement and evaluation of the overall outcomes are further important areas for CSG focus (Suggestion 12). While that should be the main focus, this does not mean that, on occasions, a session on the broader context in which the ATO is operating is not a useful input for the CSG in determining priorities, even accepting the point made in relation to the stewardship groups.

    Suggestion 8

    In fulfilling its role, focusing on the operation of the consultation system, the CSG’s point of reference should be the seven COAG principles.

    Inputs

    The monthly reports on ATO consultation arrangements, particularly the key statistics, provide a useful input to CSG discussion. Those reports could be supplemented by an exception report on progress with current matters under consultation. It is understood that the CSG currently receives a report covering all matters under consultation, but whether that is helpful is questionable. Replacing that report with an exception report, showing only those that have not been concluded by the due date and those likely not to do so, would provide a better tool for CSG oversight.

    A further input might be to ‘spot check’ progress with a cross-section of initiatives by inviting to each meeting the ATO executive responsible for one of the working groups to give a report on progress.

    Finally, the CSG should consider developing a methodology for evaluation and review of the overall outcomes of the consultation system and report those outcomes to the ATO Executive.

    Suggestion 9

    An exception report, showing those matters under consultation that have not been concluded by the estimated completion date and those likely not to do so is likely to be a better tool for CSG oversight than the matter list it currently receives. This exception report would be in addition to the concise monthly report provided to the CSG and stewardship groups.

    The CSG should consider instituting a rolling program of ‘spot checks’ on a cross-section of the more significant initiatives by inviting to each meeting the ATO executive responsible for one of the working groups to give a report on progress.

    Meetings

    As the role of the CSG is essentially operational it should be chaired by a Second Commissioner rather than an external stakeholder. The CSG is well placed to have regular short, focused meetings. The charter states that the CSG will be convened approximately every two to three months, or as required.

    If the other suggestions made in this section were adopted, the CSG could meet for shorter time on each occasion, more regularly, and may find video-conferencing or even tele-conferencing a more convenient and efficient way to meet on many occasions. If it adopted that approach it might have an occasional face-to-face meeting to take a holistic view of the system.

    Suggestion 10

    The CSG is likely to effectively fulfil its operational role if it has regular short, focused meetings most of which might be by video-conference and the occasional face-to-face meeting to take a holistic view of the system.

    Outputs

    Currently the CSG produces minutes that accurately summarise the discussion. Consistent with the general suggestion above in relation to meeting outcomes, the CSG should consider providing stewardship groups and ATO executives with advice on specific areas and issues requiring attention, drawing on best practice from across the ATO consultation system. In addition the CSG should give guidance to those ATO executives who attend for a ‘spot check’ review, as the need arises.

    Suggestion 11

    The CSG should consider providing feedback to both the stewardship groups and ATO executives responsible for relevant business areas when consultation activities are at risk of not achieving timely outcomes.

      Last modified: 22 Sep 2015QC 46926