Thursday, November 30, 2023

ATO commissioner says “softer approach” to small business debt collection is officially over

I have been asked several times over the last year – 'what keeps me up at night?’ My response has always been – cyber security.

~ Chris Jordan 


Ten years ago, the profession told me how difficult the ATO was. I now hear stories about the relative ease of interacting with us, and their trust and confidence in our professionalism and fairness.

I was pleased to see the ATO score 79% trust and 81% satisfaction in the Trust in Australian Public Services Annual Report 2023 released by the Australian Public Service Commission. The results position the ATO within the top 3 APS agencies for the second year running. Last year we had the highest score for both trust and satisfaction.

This feedback reinforces what I know about the ATO’s transformation. Tax professionals have been crucial in this journey. It would not have been possible without your resolve and willingness to embrace change.

ATO commissioner says “softer approach” to small business debt collection is officially over

The Australian Taxation Office is “unapologetic” about collecting unpaid debts from the small business sector, commissioner Chris Jordan says, giving one final warning to enterprises deliberately holding on to overdue payments.
In a speech to the Institute of Public Accountants on Thursday, Jordan reiterated how the tax office’s stature to overdue payments has changed over the past 18 months, from pandemic-era leniency to an active collection strategy.
That change is shown by the recent issuance of 31,000 Director Penalty Notices.
Such a transition is necessary to recoup the $50 billion of collectable debt — the majority of which is being held by small businesses, Jordan said.
The majority of small businesses endeavour to do the right thing when meeting their tax and superannuation requirements.
But despite the best intentions of many small businesses, Jordan said the size of the sector’s debt burden requires a concerted response from the ATO.
“Addressing collectable debt is a priority,” he said.
“The softer approach required during the pandemic could not continue indefinitely.”

“The ATO is not a bank”, Jordan says

Jordan noted the efforts of small businesses who seek advice from qualified tax professionals and those who confess their debts to the tax office before they spiral out of control.
“We know owning a small business and cashflow challenges can go hand in hand,” he said.
“We have options available for those experiencing financial difficulties, but taxpayers or their professionals must engage with us prior to the due date.”
However, the commissioner of taxation expressed little mercy for those intentionally gaming the system.
The ATO has reset its debt focus to include “non or late payment across all business segments, including small businesses,” he said.
“I am unapologetic about this.
“The ATO is not a bank offering cheap loans and a cashflow buffer.
“Paying tax isn’t optional.”

Targeting the shadow economy and deliberate non-compliance

The commissioner spared even less mercy for businesses operating in the ‘shadow economy’, which deliberately run ‘cash in hand’ jobs or fail to lodge their tax in order to obtain an unfair advantage.
To make the point, Jordan highlighted the ATO’s Shadow Economy Program, which is dedicated to unearthing those hidden tax obligations, and successfully raised $1.4 billion in 2022-2023.
“I want to reiterate: the majority do the right thing,” he added.
“That’s why it is unfair and unacceptable for the minority to delay or avoid their obligations without consequence.
“If a business takes GST from a customer, withholds tax from an employee’s pay or does not pay super, they must remit it to the ATO – it is not their money.”
Small businesses looking to effectively navigate their overdue payments should consider taking advantage of the Failure to Lodge penalty amnesty, which expires on December 31.
“For those unwilling to work with us, we will take strong and deliberate action,” Jordan said.

When he’s not remaking capitalism, Treasurer Jim Chalmers has kept himself busy finding people to run important institutions such as the Reserve Bank of Australia (Michele Bullock) and the Productivity Commission (Chris Barrett).
And that’s not the end of the recruiting. It has been noted elsewhere that three of the Future Fund’s seven board seats – including chairman Peter Costello, also the chairman of CBD’s owner – fall vacant over the next 12 months (while one is already empty).
Tax commissioner Chris Jordan.
Tax commissioner Chris Jordan. ALEX ELLINGHAUSEN
But less attention has been paid to Australian Tax Office boss Chris Jordan, whose second term is up in April next year. Jordan, who was forced to defend the ATO’s heavy-handed treatment of some South Australian businessmen in 2019, has reportedly signalled he wouldn’t seek a third term, but nobody is ruling it out.
Another five years of Jordan might be a good thing for Chalmers, optically speaking.
The internal candidate considered most likely to get the top job is second commissioner Jeremy Hirschhorn, who made his name climbing the ranks to lead partner at … err ... KPMG.
Sure, it’s not PwC but the prospect of appointing a former Big Four heavy to replace Jordan – who took the ATO mantle after chairing KPMG himself – might be considered a little risky in Canberra, where consultants are currently as popular as a turd in a punchbowl.


Tales of US war crimes and whistleblowing will be aired this Saturday with the unofficial book launch of former Reuters journalist Dean Yates Line in the Sand in Melbourne, alongside speeches from Julian Assange’s father John Shipton and military whistleblower David McBride.
But the event almost never happened. Yates’ publisher Pan Macmillan did not put forward any money – so he was left to organise the event himself.
The launch of a book on war crimes has been saved by an unsuspecting ally.
The launch of a book on war crimes has been saved by an unsuspecting ally.  JOHN SHAKESPEARE
He teamed up with Assange campaigner Raine Cilicia, who searched far and wide for a venue and was about to give up when she met CFMEU newsletter writer Lita Gillies.
An avid Assange supporter, Gillies called in a favour with the CFMEU, who covered the $500 venue hire at Trades Hall.
Sami Shah (comedian and partner to academic-turned-accused-spy Kylie Moore-Gilbert) will now MC, after former ABC veteran Karen Percy and Hugh Rimmington were interested but unavailable.
Almost every politician in the country has been invited. Greens MP David Shoebridge will be there. Labor’s Julian Hill is a maybe. The bulk of federal cabinet members failed to respond to invitations, with the exception of Penny Wong whose team issued a polite “otherwise engaged”.
It’s not the first time the CFMEU has gone out of its way to promote the Assange cause. At the Victorian Labor conference this month, union organisers signed up to the Free Assange campaign, including Adam Olsen, Kylie Brown and Lisa Zanatta.
If the momentum keeps building, perhaps Albo himself might come along next time.


Bureaucrats, they’re just like us! Who among us hasn’t relieved some job-related stress by indulging in the movie of the moment?
This column was reliably informed that Kathryn Campbell donned pink to attend a Canberra cinema on Sunday to watch Barbie, just one day before news broke she’d officially resigned from her lucrative AUKUS advisory role.
We thought she’d be more of an Oppenheimer fan.
The former Department of Human Services secretary was formally suspended without pay last Thursday after damning findings out of the robo-debt royal commission showed she had failed to act when 434,000 welfare recipients were falsely accused of owing money to the government. It was confirmed on Monday that she had formally resigned from her position.
But unlike much of the nation’s movers and shakers who have snapped up swanky tickets over the past week, Campbell didn’t treat herself to a Gold Class seat and was instead sat with the rest of us plebs in regular seats. Given the occasion was timed with the end of her $900,000 salary, can you blame her?


A board spill by the former leaders of Bubs Australia failed on Thursday after founder Kristy Carr and her loyal lieutenant Dennis Lin failed to get the numbers to get their revenge on chair Katrina Rathie at the annual general meeting.
Rathie attempted to pay lip service to Carr on Thursday and was met with incredulous laughter from the former chief executive, who then muttered comments to those around her.
Rathie unceremoniously booted the pair from the ASX-listed infant formula business in May, citing financial underperformance. The axing is now the subject of an unfair dismissal case, with the company counter-suing over allegations the former executives misused company funds.
Chemist Warehouse chair Jack Gance – who happens to be the company’s second-biggest shareholder – demanded a breakdown of “how many millions” Rathie spent on her campaign to discredit Carr and Lin. Rathie declined to put a figure on it.
Just when everyone thought the fireworks were over, an unidentified retail shareholder yelled at Rathie “I do not wish you well, I hope you lose the lot”, referring to the multiple lawsuits the company is now embroiled in. Meeting adjourned!
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Amelia McGuire is the aviation, tourism and gaming reporter at The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.
Charlotte Grieve is an investigative journalist.