This is a sad week for all those who are looking to restore confidence that our tax collectors will treat ordinary people fairly and end one of the great threats to our system of taxation – that taxpayers will stop voluntarily complying because the system is unfair.
One of the Australian heroes in terms of creating fairness in collecting taxation is, of course, Richard Boyle, the whistleblower who revealed the truth about the Australian Taxation Office’s abuse of small enterprises.
As punishment for telling the truth the ATO wants him jailed for the term of his natural life and they are amassing an army of the best silks and lawyers in Australia to argue in court the multitude of charges they have laid against him to make sure that no-one from the ATO ever tells the truth again.
Boyle is charged with 66 offences, carrying a maximum sentence of 161 years in prison. A number the alleged offences involve allegations of telephone tapping and the recording of conversations. He plans to plead not guilty.
Boyle is now unemployed so has no hope against the unlimited funds amassed by the ATO.
Accordingly Boyle now realises that his fate may be decades in jail because he has no money to defend himself against the tax office. And so he has been forced to appeal to the Australian public for money via the GoFundMe web site to at least make a fist of the legal fight.
The nation has been the great beneficiary of Boyle telling the truth.
His evidence was supported by the Inspector-General of Taxation and by the small business ombudsman Kate Carnell.
That led the then assistant treasurer Stuart Robert and small business minister Michaelia Cash to get the ATO to agree to establish a small business tax tribunal.
The fact that the ATO wants Boyle in jail for a long time will be seen by the small and medium-sized business community as confirmation that the ATO is still scandal-ridden and is desperate to keep a lid on it.
But jailing a whistleblower for say 50 years for telling the truth won’t stop the tax powder keg eventually blowing up and leading to a massive loss of confidence in paying tax.
And remember that outside the actions of the ATO, confidence in fairness is being smashed by the fact that Google and the other technology giants are not paying tax and therefore eroding our base.
Unfairly, the ATO also gets the blame for the “Google” situation, so the Boyle repercussions and the “Google issue” combine in the public mind, doubling the decline in confidence.
In the case of the technology giants, last week I explained how cash flow taxing can be used to overcome the “Google” problem.
In the case of Boyle it requires politicians who are prepared to act in the national interest.
The attorney-general should either stop the prosecution or at least make sure Boyle has even better silks than the ATO.
And those promises to extend whistleblowing protection to government public servants need to be honoured. Senator Rex Patrick will be important here.
It is worth reminding ourselves the national service Boyle delivered. He provided key evidence in the ABC Four Corners’ ATO revelations.
Boyle worked for the tax office for around 13 years, specialising in debt collection, where the ATO has been given incredible powers.
Boyle saw the ATO abusing those powers by undertaking dubious processes to grab money.
As all public servants should do he lodged an official, internal ATO report on this. Not surprisingly Boyle was told to ignore the ATO’s bad behaviour – it’s part of what the ATO has been doing for a long time.
In the national interest (not Boyle’s interest) he lodged an official report to the Inspector-General of Taxation and told his story on Four Corners. The ATO raided his house and sacked him.
Whether people want to help him financially is a matter for personal choice but for those who do, the site is www.gofundme.com/ato-whistleblower-richard-boyle-legal-fund.
When governments act against the national interest—and the Boyle prosecution is surely against the national interest – it erodes confidence in the system.
Maybe we should fly our politicians to Hong Kong. The abuse of whistleblower Boyle won’t cause our airports to shut but it may cause people to stop paying tax because of what the ATO appears to be trying to hide.
What the ATO should have done was not to attempt to jail Boyle for the rest of his life for telling the truth about the ATO, but praise him and say these events will never happen again.
And explain the efforts being taken (like the small business tax tribunal) to stop ATO small business abuse.