ATO Commissioner Chris Jordan’s day from hell

The ATO was back in the news this week when ATO Commissioner Chris Jordan delivered a speech at the National Press Club on Wednesday, writes Tara Moroney.

Now, the ATO has received a lot of unwanted attention this year…numerous outages, the $165 million ATO tax fraud scandal and the stoush between Crocodile Dundee Paul Hogan and Chris Jordan over who settled and who didn’t (which Ross Greenwood unintentionally started on Money News).

All of this has caused quite a year for the Taxation Office, and surely not what they were hoping for.

Let’s start with where the tax office is going to crack down this financial year.

The rorting of work-related expense claims by individuals and dodgy deductions by landlords are his new focus after he declared tax avoidance by multinational’s to be under control.

“These are the areas we are going to focus on – $22 billion in work-related expenses and $44 billion on rental related expenses…They are big pots.”

In 2014-15, Australians claimed $21.8 billion in work expenses. The average claim was $2000 for those who prepared their own tax return and $2600 for those who lodged through an agent.

The most common type of claims were  car expenses at $8 billion, followed by home-office costs, tools, equipment and other assets at about $7 billion.  Work-related travel expenses were at $2 billion, uniforms $1.6 billion and self-education costs at $1.1 billion.

Quite shocking was the near 6.3 million people who were claiming a tax deduction for clothing or laundry expenses, costing $1.8 billion a year. As you can claim up to $150 on laundry without a receipt or proof, its not hard to see why so many are claiming it.

He says that if these figures are correct, this means half the workforce was required to wear a uniform for work, which he doubts very much.

Now, lets go to what he said about the Plutus Payroll tax scandal which is without a doubt the largest fraud on the tax office in its history.

Commissioner Chris Jordan says that it has “tarnished” the reputation of the ATO, and the wealth allegedly accumulated by members of the syndicate was “staggering”.

He said the fraud has brought the ATO’s integrity into question and, as we already know, ruined the career of former Deputy Commissioner Michael Cranston, who has been charged by the Australian Federal Police alongside his son and daughter.

Jordan also said that the alleged involvement of Adam Cranston, the former deputy commissioner’s son, was “difficult to comprehend”.

But so was Michael Cranston’s, no doubt.

“The charges against Michael Cranston too have been equally hard to believe and at the ATO we are dismayed at the events that have unfolded in this regard,” 

“The connection with and alleged actions because of his son have ruined his career and his reputation and have compromised our standings and raised questions about the integrity of others within the ATO. This is a precarious situation.”

One thing the Commissioner was correct in saying was that the tax office does have some ground to make it – they most certainly do.

But Chris Jordan did not end here. He also touched on Paul Hogan and their website outages.

Lets start with Hogan…

Now, back in May, when the whole fraud scandal came to light, Ross Greenwood interviewed Paul Hogan’s lawyer, Andrew Robinson, who had quite a few dealings with the ATO’s Deputy Commissioner Michael Cranston during Project Wickerby.

Following on from this, Senator John “Wacka” Williams asked Chris Jordan during Senate Estimates about Hogan’s apparent settlement with the ATO for ‘tens of millions of dollars’ back in 2012.

Well, Hogan came out swinging!

You all know the comments he made.

He called the Chris Jordan a “boofhead” and said it was “complete crap”; and that’s just the surface!

He also declared he would table his confidentiality agreement and show everyone that he did not settle with the ATO for tens of millions of dollars.

Well, Chris Jordan was asked to respond to this. This is what he said

“I’d dearly love to clear that up but I’m not going to do it here, I’d rather do it under parliamentary privilege at [Senate] Estimates,” 

“What I can say to you is there is very often two sides to a story, and historically people come out strongly with one side of a story,”

“And I think in that case – there was even a case in the US on public record, where $30 million was held by this Swiss accounting firm and he wanted to get it back, and the US courts didn’t have jurisdiction.”

So, could the truth of how this all went down come out sooner rather than later?

I think everyone hopes so.

Now, if this wasn’t already a big day for the Commissioner, it got worse…

Mere hours after saying he was pleased with how the website had been handling increased traffic during tax time, the ATO website crashed for more than five hours.

FIVE HOURS!

Five hours during tax time – he’s got to be joking!

Chris Jordan said before the outage; “These outages were highly unusual and were disruptive for the users of our systems, particularly the tax profession, the superannuation and software industries,” 

“I wish I could give you an ironclad guarantee that our systems would be available 100 per cent of the time.

“That is simply not reality when you are talking about very large and complex systems.

“While we believe we have done everything we can and expect things to go smoothly, we are ready to respond quickly if there are any hiccups or unexpected outages.”

Well, it took them over five hours to sort out on Wednesday.

This isn’t good enough!

Tax accountants are paying their staff to literally sit around and do nothing.

Why? Because they can’t do their work because the ATO website is down!

Accountant Peter Polgar says “If it [ATO website] goes down, and goes down for extended lengths of time, its means I can’t complete any work for my client… my staff sit around twiddling their thumbs…cause we’re being forced down the electronic channel”  

If this was a once off occasion it would be different, but this is constantly happening – making life very difficult for all those who frequent that website, accountants in particular.

This is just unbelievable.

I understand the Tax system is a large, and complex system but what if the Sydney Airport online system cut out for five hours? Or a major hospital?

What about EFTPOS?

Those are large and complex systems. The ATO website with its constant outages is just simply ridiculous.

-Tara Moroney

Paul Hogan’s lawyer reacts to ATO Commissioner Chris Jordan

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