Substantial changes under way at the Australian Taxation Office and the ways in which the ATO can again be a world leader in tax administration have been outlined to a Standing Committee on Tax and Revenue.
The Commissioner of Taxation, Chris Jordan, told the committee that under ATO's 2020 strategy that is due to be launched this month the ATO is aiming to develop a greater service ethic and to make it easier for taxpayers to do the right thing, including transforming communications to contemporary digital means.
"Our intentions are very much to listen and collaborate with stakeholders, representatives of the community and the tax profession, scrutineers and employees. We will change the culture of the ATO to provide much more contemporary products and services,'' Mr Jordan said
Second Commissioner, People Systems and Services Group, Geoff Leeper told the committee the strategy focused on five things resulting from last year's capability review - having a more long-term vision, improving IT systems, building a new workforce and culture, streamlining governance, and improving the way it listens to the community.
The committee also heard the ATO was working on ways to simplify the tax process including the necessity of lodging returns.
"We have information on salary and wages, interest, dividends, Centrelink payments and health. We already have that, so how do we use that? Also, what are the categories of expenses people tend to have and how do we better prefill?'' Mr Jordan said
Mr Leeper said: "For individuals we are looking at how we can streamline the tax return and for companies, especially small businesses and more straightforward company structures, we are looking to see how we can design a standard chart of accounts so that, if a company commits to using it, our computer programs can effectively generate their tax return for them automatically. It is a work in progress, not work finalised.''
On the question of how staff cuts would affect the ATO's operations, Mr Jordan said the ATO would be focusing on maintaining the revenue collection side but some areas may suffer.
''But I cannot sit here and pretend that if we take 1,000 people out of our organisation it is not going to have some impact somewhere. What we have got to work through is: protecting the core function of collecting the revenue is a given, but what are the areas least likely to impact on service delivery? That is part of the work that we are currently doing,'' he said.
Mr Leeper said there was a lot that can be done without affecting front-line service delivery and compliance. "So at this point all I can say is that we do not expect an impact on revenue, but I cannot rule it out,'' he said.
The committee was joined on Friday (28 February 2014) by the scrutineers of the ATO - the Inspector-General of Taxation, the Commonwealth Ombudsman, and the Australian National Audit Office, who discussed recommendations they have made over the last year to improve the operation of the ATO.
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