ATO should interact more with accountants and less with small business, says Assistant Treasurer



Assistant Treasurer Michael Sukkar. Source: AAP Image/Mick Tsikas.

Assistant Treasurer Michael Sukkar wants the tax office to improve its relationship with accountants and small businesses, by engaging more with the former, and less with the latter.

Speaking at an Institute of Public Accountants (IPA) conference on Wednesday, Sukkar said the Australian Tax Office (ATO), which reports to the Treasurer, has done “a lot of good work”, but needs to shake up its interactions with business owners.

“I am looking for taxpayers including small businesses to have less frequent interactions, but for those interactions to be more positive than they may have been in the past,” Sukkar said.

Sukkar also said accountants, who work with the vast majority of small business owners in Australia, deserved a more engaged tax regulator.

“Accountants are predominately doing all the heavy lifting,” Sukkar said.

“I want the ATO to be more engaging with the accounting profession and do whatever it takes to better accommodate all their interactions with this government agency.”

The comments come less than a week after ATO commissioner Chris Jordan acknowledged the tax office needs to do a better job understanding the circumstances of small business taxpayers, detailing a cultural overhaul designed to make the ATO more empathetic.

“We have to be better at distinguishing, and providing more empathy between situations where something has just gone wrong for whatever reason, versus blatant recklessness or evasion,” Jordan told the Council of Small Businesses Australia (COSBOA) summit in Melbourne late last week.

The tax office has been reviewing the entirety of its relationship with small businesses in the wake of several damning reviews of its conduct over the last 18 months, some of which were prompted by a Four Corners report last year that detailed allegations of heavy-handed practices.

It has come amid several regulatory reforms which have required the tax office, accountants and small businesses to work together closely over the last 12 months in particular, including the ongoing rollout of single touch payroll (STP) reporting for small employers.

There has been no shortage of concern from accountants, business owners and accounting bodies about the implementation of STP reporting after the ATO was placed in a tricky position with the rollout, affected by a series of government decisions.

Some accountants SmartCompany has spoken with say they’ve felt caught in the middle between confused business owners and the ATO, particularly relating to the need for businesses, including micro-employers, to implement digital payroll solutions in order to report under STP.

IPA chief executive Andrew Conway welcomed Sukkar’s comments in a statement circulated Wednesday, saying the government “genuinely respects” the work of accountants.

“It is pleasing that Minister Sukkar as Assistant Treasurer has sent a strong signal to our profession,” he said.