The Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions has dropped 42 of the 66 charges against ATO whistleblower Richard Boyle.
The former Australian Taxation Office staffer blew the whistle in 2017 after his employer allegedly directed him to issue indebted taxpayers with garnishees.
Boyle also alleged the ATO offered him a payout to stay quiet and leave his job. The allegations were aired on a 2018 Four Corners episode, and Boyle was hit with 66 charges — including unlawfully recording private conversations and disclosing protected government information to third parties — and faced a maximum sentence of 161 years in prison if found guilty.
The CDPP has reduced the number of charges from 66 to 24, and will proceed with the remaining 24 charges. Boyle continues to face a hefty prison sentence if convicted.
Centre Alliance senator Rex Patrick recently argued these events would never have occurred if the ATO had properly handled Boyle’s initial public interest disclosure. He told the senate that an investigation by the Senate Economics Legislation Committee had found the ATO’s investigation into Boyle’s disclosure to be “superficial”.
“About four months after [Boyle] was charged, the Inspector-General of Taxation found that indeed there were anomalies in the Adelaide tax office in relation to garnishee notices. So, in effect, what we saw happening was that a public interest disclosure was made, the whistle was blown, the ATO basically rejected the public interest disclosure, and then, when it was thoroughly investigated by the IGT, it was found that there were anomalies,” he said.
The committee had raised concerns that the ATO’s investigation “could appear to the public to be superficial in addressing the concerns raised by ATO whistleblowers”.
Patrick last week called for the CDPP to drop the remaining charges against Boyle.
“Mr Boyle’s concerns about the ATO have been vindicated by the Inspector-General of Taxation. He should be rewarded for blowing the whistle, not prosecuted,” he told ABC News.
Taxation Commissioner Chris Jordan has previously hit back at criticism of the Boyle case, telling the economics committee in October last year that Boyle was “subject to ongoing workplace performance or conduct issues” that would have likely seen him sacked before he approached the media.
“This was well before seeking these whistleblower-style protections. This is in stark contrast to the public portrayal that they were terminated as a result of whistleblowing,” he said.
He said the offences Boyle allegedly committed “were not as a result of any content reported in the Four Corners program”.
“The commentary around this second issue has been at times deliberately sensationalist, with reports that the defendant is likely to face 161 years in jail. Now this is simply a blatant and knowing mischaracterisation of our current sentencing systems,” he said.
“Convention holds that sentences for similar related offences are usually imposed concurrently rather than consecutively, having regard to the overall circumstances.”
This article was first published by The Mandarin.