• The ATO Consultation Hub

    The ATO Consultation Hub (Hub) is the focal point for administration and transparency of the whole consultation system, providing a focus for both internal and external stakeholders and the public.

    The Hub provides support and guidance on better practices, maintains a systemic view of ATO consultation with the Australian community and records consultation arrangements on the ATO website, promoting transparency and accountability of the ATO with the community.

    Support function

    The Hub supports the ATO’s consultation initiatives by:

    • providing a contact point for associations, practitioners and members of the community
    • providing advice to help ATO staff who are considering or undertaking consultations to understand what they are expected to do and explain their reporting obligations
    • using the stakeholder register to support chairs and leaders with guidance on who to consult with
    • maintaining the Hub's SharePoint site providing better practice information, issues under consultation and contact information for stewardship committees and other consultation groups.

    Coordination function

    In its coordination role the Hub:

    • maintains the consultation page on the ATO website, including publishing monthly updates of matters under consideration, matters under consultation, completed matters and matters actioned through other processes
    • receives and registers requests and submissions from the community requesting consultation on a particular matter, whether received via the web form or through other channels and identify appropriate decision makers and ensure they receive timely attention
    • manages the Hub’s database to:
      • ensure that requests and submissions are registered on the database and are managed efficiently
      • ensure that all internally initiated consultation is registered on the database
      • maintain the register of community members with relevant expertise or experience who seek to be involved in ATO consultation.
       

    Reporting function

    In its reporting role the Hub prepares and provides reports on the health of consultation and priority matters each month to:

    • the Consultation Steering Group
    • stewardship committee chairs for dissemination to their members
    • stakeholders on our register who have nominated to be involved in consultation.

    Given the broad scope of ATO consultative arrangements, the coordinating and record-keeping role the Hub plays is quite crucial to the efficient functioning of the system. The ATO’s approach compares very favourably with the way in which other agencies interviewed managed their consultative arrangements.

    An internal audit report in December 2014 noted that the Hub is one of the three critical elements of the internal processes used by the ATO to support external consultation arrangements. The internal auditors reported that the ATO Consultation Hub framework has a robust design. The review agrees with that assessment. It was clear to the review, from both the interviews and the survey, that the Hub is a strong contributor to the success of the system.

    Consultation guides

    The 12 ATO consultation guides are a very useful aid to those involved in the consultation process, both externally and within the ATO. They are both clear and contain the right amount of information, including reference to how to obtain clarification or further information.

    In the time permitted for this review it was not possible to test the extent to which the guides are appreciated or used within the ATO, or whether there is a need for a further communications effort in relation to them. That could be a task for the CSG.

    Monthly reports

    The monthly reports on ATO consultation arrangements provide concise, well-written summary of current consultation activities and outcomes. The reports include useful statistics on consultation arrangements, including the number of matters received, number of matters in progress, matters completed, etc. They also contain statistics on turnaround times.

    The reports are uploaded to the ATO website, but there is a delay. They are also emailed to the chairs of the stewardship groups for distribution to members and emailed direct to >300 people on the stakeholder register. Some of the professional associations draw on them as a source of information for their wider membership.

    Reporting in this way is good practice. It accords with the COAG transparency principle. These reports provide an important overview, both internally and externally, and for the CSG.

    The delay in uploading the reports to the ATO website is unfortunate. As at May 10 2015 the last report uploaded was for February 2015. It would be desirable to upload them more promptly.

    Benchmarking progress

    The survey conducted as part of this review provides a valuable opportunity to benchmark the ATO’s consultation arrangements and measure future progress. Conducting a survey using the same questions on regular intervals (for example every two years) would enable the ATO to track progress over time.

    Suggestion 12

    For benchmarking purposes, the Hub should conduct a survey using the same questions as those used in the survey for this report at regular intervals and report to the ATO Executive and the CSG on the outcomes.

    ATO consultation website

    The ATO website contains a wealth of accessible consultation information, including guidance materials, stewardship group meeting agendas and minutes and summaries of issues under consultation, or on which consultation has occurred. This is an important part of the ATO’s transparency obligation. The site is easily accessible and:

    • is well organised and easy to navigate
    • is expressed in plain language
    • sets out the ATO’s commitment to consultation and the principles it applies in doing so
    • encourages public involvement in the process and explains how to become involved
    • contains information about the stewardship groups and working groups, including outcomes of their meetings
    • it is up-to-date (although meeting outcomes are not always uploaded as promptly as desirable).

    When it comes to matters under consultation (and matters for which consultation has closed) the website contains an excellent summary showing the date on which consultation commenced, the purpose and an outline of the subject matter, who is being consulted and the name of the ATO contact officers and their contact details.

    A review of the websites for the ACCC, ASIC, the UK’s HM Revenue and Customs, the Canadian Revenue Agency and Revenue New Zealand, discloses that none of those agencies has as much consultation information on their websites as the ATO. The review concludes that the ATO’s consultation website meets, and in many respects exceeds, best practice standards for transparency.

    Promoting the Consultation website

    Feedback from interviewees indicated that knowledge about the availability of this information is lower than it should be and that, as a result, use of the ATO website as a source of consultation information is not optimal. As one interviewee, who was more informed than most on this put it ‘use of the Consultation site is limited, but we monitor an issue if we have an interest.’

    Table 11 shows the number of hits in 2014–15 from outside the ATO, up to May 4 2015.

    Table 11: Website visits

    Matters under consultation

    Visits

    Current – technical

    1276

    Current – compliance

    716

    Current – administration

    1120

    Completed 2014–15

    911

    Completed 2013–14

    425

    It is desirable for the ATO to promote the site. This was discussed with most of the chairs of the stewardship groups who agreed that presentations could be made at forthcoming meetings.

    Suggestion 13

    Consideration should be given to the ATO publicising the Consultation section of its website by having short presentations made on its function and content at consultation meetings, preparing a briefing pack for ATO executives to use at town hall meetings and enlisting the support of stakeholder associations to publish targeted articles informing members of the existence of the site and what it contains.

    The Australian Government website, australia.gov.auExternal Link, contains a section on public consultations in the ‘news and media’ section. Although the site contains entries from a number of consultation hubs, including AUSTRAC, ACCC, CASA and ASIC (to name a few), the only link on the site to the ATO is to the ‘Let’s Talk’ section.

    Suggestion 14

    The ATO should arrange to have its matters under consultation linked to australia.gov.auExternal Link

    ATO Consultation Hub and internal inconsistency

    An internal audit report on the consultation framework in December 2014 provided positive assurance in relation to the ATO Consultation Hub.

    The team did, however, note that there were inconsistencies in the way in which ATO business areas managed consultations for which they are responsible. The review sees this as a matter for the business areas themselves. The Hub can provide guidance and support, and does so, but consistency and timeliness are matters within the control of the business areas. While inconsistency was not seen by interviewees as a significant problem, it was an issue on which comment was made. The impression gained by the review was that some business areas have embraced consultation quite openly, while others have been less supportive than might be optimal.

    Suggestion 15

    In addition to the guidance materials the Hub produces and the regular stewardship committee secretariat meetings currently held, consideration should be given to conducting periodic training sessions for those in the business areas responsible for administering consultation groups and arranging induction and chairmanship training for new chairs of stewardship groups.

    Consultation register

    The consultation register contains details of community members who have expressed an interest in becoming involved in the consultation process. However, as at 28 February 2015 only 322 people were registered, although they cover a wide range of backgrounds and interests. Nevertheless the total number would seem to be low.

    While the register is used to some extent, it could be used more effectively to expand the list of possible invitees to join ad-hoc working groups and the stewardship groups. A communication effort to publicise the role of the ATO Consultation Hub, internally and externally, could draw welcome attention to the register and greater use of it.

      Last modified: 22 Sep 2015QC 46926