Blatant, artificial and contrived

Former Commissioner Trevor Boucher has written a book about his experiences and the ATO's perspective on the infamous evasion and avoidance schemes of the 1970s and early 1980s.

Released on 17 June, Blatant, artificial and contrived describes this unprecedented challenge to the integrity of the tax system, and to revenue, a key period in Australian taxation and legal history.

This period became known for the 'bottom of the harbour' schemes - where promoters would, figuratively at least, send the company records to the bottom of Sydney Harbour. During this time Trevor Boucher was involved in creating the legislation which helped to stop these schemes, making him ideal to author a book on the subject.

When writing the book Trevor drew on his personal involvement, recollections, conversations (with serving and former tax officers and tax practitioners) and access to official records. The book also details how the schemes were finally snuffed out and is enriched by original material from parliament, the courts, the public service and the media.

The idea for the book came to Trevor after reading a biography of former Prime Minister John Howard. The biography took Trevor's mind back to the late 1970s when he was Second Commissioner in charge of legislation and Mr Howard was Federal Treasurer in the Fraser Government.

"That book sent my mind back to particular events in that period-some of them known only to me," Trevor said.

"So I thought there's a story there and why don't I write it?"

Many people within the ATO were involved in stopping the schemes, working together with legislators and prosecutors to put an end to the Illegal practices. Some were engaged in detecting and analysing the schemes while others had roles helping to draw up the remedial laws that were enacted and in implementing those laws. Even our current Commissioner Michael D'Ascenzo was involved in work to combat these schemes at the time.

But Trevor hasn't just written about the 'bottom of the harbour' days. He has also written about the precursor to these activities - avoidance schemes, which were mass-marketed across Australia from the mid-1970s.

"These were paper schemes that were utterly artificial and people managed to produce deductions out of thin air. It was unprecedented in tax history," Trevor said.

The era of 'blatant, artificial and contrived' schemes was an infamous and significant period in Australia's tax history. It was a time when the perspectives and ethics of some in the community seemed to go awry and this factual account helps us remember the lessons of the past.

You can download a free copy of Blatant, artificial and contrived or order a copy via our online ordering service. The book will not be sold commercially.

Tax evasion taxonomy

Bottom of the harbour: a tax-evasion scheme whereby a company with a tax liability is sold and then resold, so that the records… for that company seemingly disappear, and the tax is not paid.

The Macquarie Dictionary

Some excerpts from Blatant, artificial and contrived:

Schemes of tax evasion - conduct that meant that tax escaped by illegal means. Evasion is broadly synonymous with fraud. It is criminal in nature.

Word got around. 'Act quickly' was the message - the authorities will be slow to act. A momentum builds up. If people see others in the community engaging in a particular form of unaddressed avoidance (or evasion) they too can feel warranted in taking steps to reduce or eliminate their tax.

Former Commissioner O'Reilly wrote: I repeat that the only way to curb white collar crime - of which these practices are an integral and costly part - is by imposing criminal penalties and the threat of gaol. Unless something effective is done along the lines proposed, we may almost as well not bother with anti-avoidance legislation. I say that advisedly.

    Last modified: 04 Aug 2010QC 28250