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Law Council of Australia

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Public hearing: Treasury Laws Amendment (Tax Accountability and Fairness) Bill 2023

9 April 2024

On 9 April 2024, representatives from the Law Council of Australia attended a public hearing in response to the Treasury Laws Amendment (Tax Accountability and Fairness) Bill 2023.

The panel of witnesses included, Mr Steven Stevens, Chair, Professional Ethics Committee; Mr David Castle, Member, Taxation Committee, Business Law Section; Mr Tim Neilson, Member, Taxation Committee, Business Law Section; and Mr John Farrell, Executive Policy Lawyer, Law Council of Australia.

The Law Council’s submission to this Inquiry responds to the first four schedules of the Treasury Laws Amendment (Tax Accountability and Fairness) Bill. These schedules largely seek to implement measures in response to the ‘PwC tax leaks scandal’.

The events surrounding the PwC scandal have highlighted the need for reform to the regulatory arrangements applying to tax practitioners, and the Law Council welcomes appropriate measures designed to strengthening the integrity of our tax system. In particular, we support the Government’s public interest objective in ensuring that the tax profession respects its professional and ethical responsibilities. While acknowledging this important goal, the Law Council has identified a number of key areas in which we consider the Bill can be improved. 

Schedule 1 seeks to ensure that promoter penalty laws operate appropriately and effectively deter the promotion of tax avoidance and tax evasion schemes. This is an important objective. However, the Law Council queries whether all the amendments proposed in Schedule 1 are necessary and proportionate. In this regard, we recommend that:

Schedule 2 seeks to amend the Taxation Administration Act to extend whistleblower protections to eligible whistleblowers who make disclosures to the Tax Protection Board. The Law Council supports these reforms but suggests that additional limitations should apply to the subsequent disclosure of information provided by whistleblowers.

Additionally, we reiterate the Law Council’s position in favour of developing a more cohesive and unified whistleblower protection scheme more generally, supported by a centralised Whistleblower Protection Authority with oversight of the implementation of the whistleblower regimes for both the public and private sectors.

Schedule 3 seeks to implement several amendments arising from the Independent Review of the TPB. The Law Council supports, in principle, the measures contained in Schedule 3.  However, an exception is the current drafting of clause 5 which seeks to allow the TPB to publish decisions against an entity even where registration has been deliberately allowed to expire. While supporting this policy intent, we suggest an alternative approach which better aligns with the current legislative framework.

Finally, Schedule 4 seeks to better allow information to pass between the ATO, Treasury, the TPB and professional disciplinary bodies. We support this objective. However, further clarification is required as to the practical operation of these provisions to ensure that an appropriate practice for information sharing with disciplinary bodies is implemented.

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