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Our obligations as a model litigant

How being a 'model litigant' is a mandatory requirement and a natural extension of our dispute resolution approaches.

Last updated 3 May 2023

How we conduct ourselves

As an Australian Government agency, the ATO applies the highest standards of ethical behaviour when it is involved in litigation. Accordingly, our obligations in litigation matters go beyond those imposed upon private litigants.

Conducting ourselves as a ‘model litigant’ is both a mandatory requirement for the ATO and a natural extension of our dispute resolution approaches.

Under the Legal Services Directions 2017External Link we have an obligation to act as a model litigant. This means that in handling claims and litigation, brought by or against us, we are required to act with complete propriety, fairness and in accordance with the highest professional standards.

We are required to act consistently across cases to avoid:

  • relying upon technical arguments unless the government’s interests would be prejudiced by not doing so
  • taking advantage of taxpayers who do not have the same resources to pursue a claim.

We also cannot start legal proceedings until we are satisfied that litigation is the most suitable method to resolve a dispute.

Our policy is to advise taxpayers and their representatives of our model litigant obligations (MLO) as soon as legal proceedings start.

The obligation does not prevent:

  • the Australian Government and government agencies from acting firmly and properly to protect their interests
  • all legitimate steps being taken to pursue claims by the Australian Government and government agencies and testing or defending claims against them
  • pursuing litigation in order to clarify a significant point of law even if the other party wishes to settle the dispute.

Lodging a complaint

We are committed to investigating alleged breaches of our MLO.

Any complaint alleging a breach of the MLO should be made in writing, detailing your concerns and addressed to:

General Counsel
Model Litigant Complaint
Australian Taxation Office
GPO Box 4889

By email:

Assessing a complaint

MLO complaints are assigned to officers within our General Counsel who have had no prior involvement in the matter to ensure that MLO issues are investigated in an impartial manner.

Investigating officers will review your complaint along with any other material provided by you and information held by the ATO. If we need more information from you after we have received your complaint, we will contact you.

Investigating officers will assess the complaint in light of the Legal Services Directions 2017, existing relevant court processes and rules (for example, the Federal Court Rules 2011), and existing relevant ATO litigation processes and procedures.

Processing your complaint

We aim to process MLO complaints within 56 days of receiving them. However, MLO complaint investigations are often complex and, in some cases, may take several weeks or more to complete. If we are not able to process your complaint within 56 days, the investigating officer will contact you and advise you of further expected timeframes.

Once your complaint has been investigated, we will inform you of the outcome of your complaint. If a breach of the MLO has been established, we will consider what action, if any, is necessary to address the breach.

Following an investigation of a complaint, we also send a report to the Office of Legal Services Coordination (OLSC) for their review.

See also