Thursday, 31 October 2013

Consultation – never simple

Consultation — “a regulatory process by which the public’s input on matters affecting them is sought. Its main goals are in improving the efficiency, transparency and public involvement in large-scale projects or laws and policies” (Wikipedia — source of all truth). Easy said, never simple.

Last month saw the ATO’s revised consultation framework presented to the National Tax Liaison Group for comment. Broadly, the aim of the revised framework is to reduce the number of consultative forums being conducted by the ATO, but at the same time improve the quality and efficiency of the consultations. The structure of ATO consultation now involves establishing eight stewardship committees:

  • the National Tax Liaison Group 
  • the Large Business Liaison Group 
  • the Small/Medium Business Liaison Group 
  • the Individual Taxpayer Liaison Group 
  • the ATO Tax Practitioner Advisory Group 
  • the Not for Profit Advisory Group 
  • the GST Advisory Group 
  • the Superannuation (Industry) Advisory Group

and a “hub” for all other matters for consultation.

The stewardship committees are principally to cover high-level significant matters where the outcomes are considered to be in the national interest. This includes consideration of the strategic direction of the tax system, including opportunities for improvement to its administration.

The “hub” is designed to capture matters raised by the community. These matters need to be in the national interest or likely to improve the health or effective operation of the system.

The hub will assess the issue raised and then either refer the issue to one of the stewardship forums or a working group or committee formed from various stakeholders to consider the issue. The aim here is to source appropriately skilled persons who understand the issue to form a working group, and obtain their input and recommendations for addressing the issue. If a matter relates to tax policy, then the matter will be referred to Treasury.

So, you now know how it works. Well, not yet, there is still some work to be done. The ATO is setting up the hub and website so that issues raised for consultation can be tracked (due October). The website should contain information on what the issue is, who has custody of the issue, the group working on the issue, updates and time frame for completion. Membership of stewardship forums is still being considered, along with their terms of reference.

Next comes the role of professional bodies in the consultation framework. It is clear that the professional bodies will not have a seat at all forums. This may be appropriate in some cases, but until the terms of references for the stewardship forums are available and the process for dissemination of information from these consultative forums is put in place, the outcome is uncertain.

Your Tax Institute has been heavily involved in the revision process and has met with ATO staff responsible for establishing the new framework a number of times to discuss and provide input into the revised model. The Tax Institute is supportive of improving the efficiency and effectiveness of the consultation process. We initiated the formation of a Consultation Advisory Group, involving representatives from the professional bodies and the ATO to oversee the consultation process. We have also ensured that there will be a post-implementation review of the new consultation process that will occur in March 2014. We are working with the ATO team responsible for consultation to ensure that existing issues for consultation are transitioned into the hub and are not lost.

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.