SmartCompany, August 12, 2019
Richard Boyle, a tax office whistleblower facing a possible 161-year jail sentence for shining a light on ATO debt collection activities, has today launched a crowdfunding campaign to cover his legal costs.
The former public servant is charged with 66 offences, including alleged disclosure of confidential information, related to his decision to go public with allegations the ATO was using aggressive tactics, including garnishee notices, in its dealings with small businesses.
The revelations, aired by the ABC’s Four Corners program last year, became a national news story, sparking several reviews, both internal and external, of ATO practices.
Boyle is seeking $325,000 to fund his case in a campaign which will go live early Monday afternoon. It will be the third GoFundMe set up to support the whistleblower, following a small donation drive set up by a member of the public following the case several months ago.
Boyle’s fiance Louise Beatson says she and Boyle are launching the GoFundMe to stand up for the rights of public service whistleblowers.
“People within the public service need to feel like they can speak out,” she tells SmartCompany.
“Unethical behaviour needs to be called out.”
Boyle served as a debt collector for the tax office and in 2017 brought concerns about alleged improper activity to his employer. He was subsequently offered a settlement for the alleged breach but opted to go public instead of signing a gag order.
The case, which has been ongoing for over a year, has taken its toll on the whistleblower, who detailed his struggle in an interview with ABC’s 7:30 program earlier this year.
“It’s taken a huge toll on my mental health,” he said of the case.
The whistleblower has persevered though and now faces the prospect of another year-long wait before his case will be heard in the District Court of South Australia, where he intends to plead not guilty.
“As you can imagine being a public servant, whether you’re a teacher or a nurse or a doctor or any other public service, you see the cross-section of what happens to people,” Boyle told an event hosted by the Melbourne Press Club in June.
“What I exposed — it was really important for me to tell the truth.”
Boyle’s case is being closely watched in legal circles and in Canberra, where Centre Alliance Senators Rex Patrick and Sterling Griff have called on Attorney-General Christian Porter to halt the prosecution in the public interest.
The case will also put whistleblower protection laws to the test in court, particularly as they relate to public servants.
Boyle’s whistleblowing sparked an Acting Inspector-General of Taxation (IGTO) investigation which cleared the tax office of structural wrongdoing but found a tax office manager in South Australia ‘joked’ about issuing business crushing garnishees that allow the ATO to access bank accounts directly.
Subsequent reviews of tax office debt collection procedures in the wake of the allegations going public have called for reforms to ATO practices.
The Australian Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman (ASBFEO) published a review in April which found tax office debt collection practices are “excessive” and lack oversight.
The tax office has said its use of debt recovery action is “very rare” during an active dispute with a small business taxpayer, but the ombudsman found the ATO used its debt collection power in 12% of these cases during 2017-18.
Of the 17 cases where recovery action was undertaken on disputed debt during that year, three, valued at $1.49 million in debt and penalties, were initiated while Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT) action was underway, the ombudsman found.
“They put small business out of business,” ombudsman Kate Carnell told SmartCompany in April.