Thursday, 28 March 2013

Recognising effective consultation

Our tax counsel team and I were reviewing the new legislation, the Inspector-General of Taxation’s report of his Review into improving the self-assessment system, and emerging press releases related to superannuation.

The response: a series of timely press releases and media engagements leading to a number of quotes in the national press.

This is what happens when our volunteer members and our professional staff work effectively to deliver great outcomes. As president, I was extremely proud and grateful for the work done by all.

This is why The Tax Institute is the leading professional body in taxation.

As I visit various states, I continue to be impressed by the depth of our membership.

Of great interest to me is the number of hours we invest annually in consulting with government or government bodies.

Clearly, effective consultation with tax professionals, business and the community leads to better government policy and tax law design. As the leading professional body in tax, we are pleased to contribute to this process.

As part of this process, it is essential to recognise that effective consultation requires:

  • sufficient time for consultation;
  • the ability to adequately resource the process;
  • constructive opinions and contributions; and
  • feedback.

As with many such processes, participants should seek continuous improvement where possible. Nevertheless, of all potential improvements, the last issue above is of the greatest concern to me.

The Tax Institute engages in consultation on a voluntary basis and enlists both staff and volunteer members to provide our contribution.

In most cases, this involves travel costs and members contributing their professional time, both via attending meetings and preparing submissions. The Institute also engages our tax counsel staff to do a lot of heavy lifting in this regard.

At the moment, the effect of this input is unclear in most cases due to an absence of feedback from the decision-makers — whether that is Treasury, the ATO or another government body.

I am disappointed by the lack of feedback that we receive from our involvement in the process. Feedback is generally limited to thank you for our participation.

Feedback, in my book, consists of a constructive response to the inputs received. Such feedback changes behaviour and improves the process for the next consultation. Our members working on these projects are senior professionals and their input warrants appropriate acknowledgment and response.

I will be engaging with senior Treasury, ATO and other government staff to discuss this important issue and drive improvements to the consultation process. Our members deserve to know where they stand, and why, so that we may also improve our consultation efforts and ensure an effective return on member contributions.

I remain ever hopeful.

Stephen
Westaway
Stephen Westaway is President of the National Council at The Tax Institute.

The Tax Institute is 
Australia's leading professional association in tax. Its 13,000 members include tax agents, accountants and lawyers as well as tax practitioners in corporations, government and academia.