20 October 2019
Senator Rex Patrick is calling on the Inspector-General of Taxation (IGT) and the Government to remedy the disgraceful act of cutting a whistleblower loose after he was walked out of the ATO whilst performing a task that he was compelled by the IGT to perform by law, and which was supposed to be protected by law.
"If confidence in public sector whistleblowing in this country is to be maintained and, indeed, confidence in the Office of the Inspector-General of Taxation, then this disgraceful situation must be remedied", said Senator Patrick.
Former ATO Officer, Mr Ron Shamir, said it all in his opening statement on Friday to the Senate Economics Committee inquiry into the Performance of the Inspector General of Taxation:
“I believe I am here because I did my job. I did my job as a public servant. When I observed misconduct at the Tax Office I reported it. When the response was not what I expected I then reported that to the Inspector-General of Taxation, the IGT. The IGT promised me protection for making a disclosure and no protection was afforded to me as the process unfolded. The result for me has been absolutely... devastating, for me and my family. I have not worked since I was terminated by the Tax Office and my family and I have been living in poverty for the past four and a half years. I am told by experts that I‘ll probably never work again, and I believe that had the Inspector-General of Taxation done their job and afforded me the protections that I was promised I may not be in the situation I am today.”
Mr Ron Shamir joined the tax office as a Senior Case Profiler in 2011. In documents filed in the Fair Work Commission the ATO stated that his "profiling work was of a high quality and of a standard not previously seen in the Victorian region".
In 2012 Mr Shamir raised concerns with his superiors that the ATO appeared to be engaged in deliberate circumvent an unfavourable Federal Court "Multiflex" ruling. His concerns were largely ignored. He pressed the matter, unsuccessfully, before he was moved to another role in mid-2013. His relationship with his employer chilled somewhat over the period.
In October 2014 he raised his concerns with the IGT. On 18 May 2015 the IGT issued Mr Shamir with an Ombudsman Act Section 9 notice* which compelled him, by force of law, to provide further information to them. The notice stated, "You are legally obliged to comply with the requirements of this notice and there is a penalty for not doing so".
On the 9th of June 2015 the IGT confirmed to the ATO that they were being investigated and that Mr Shamir had been issued with a Section 9 notice. The very next day Mr Shamir was walked out of the Tax Office, never to return.
Section 39 of the IGT Act makes it a criminal offence to cause detriment to anyone who has given, or may give, information to the IGT when requested or required to do so under a Section 9 notice.
"This situation, which has ruined an entire family’s life, is nothing short of disgraceful,” said Senator Patrick.
In circumstances similar to ATO whistleblower, Mr Richard Boyle, where a public interest disclosure was dismissed by the ATO but later investigations found and remedied the concerns raised, the IGT ultimately found that the concerns raised by Mr Shamir were valid.
In a 2018 Report into GST Refunds the IGT found "Given the seriousness of the [Shamir] allegations, the IGT considered them both at the time that they were raised and in more detail in the context of the current review. It is important to note that the same allegations were also directly conveyed to ATO management who seem to have acknowledged the concerns raised. In response, the ATO explained that additional procedures had been added to augment the streamline processes used ... ".
"When the Senate Economics Committee on Friday explored what should have occurred and what could now be done, Inspector-General Karen Payne, who is new to the role and understandably not across the issue, undertook to examine the matter on notice".
"None-the-less, I will be asking further questions of the ATO and IGT at Senate Estimates this week and, no doubt, at further hearings of the Senate Economic Committee's Inquiry into the Performance of the IGT. I will also be raising this with relevant ministers over the coming week. It can't be that this situation is allowed to stand."
“It is all too apparent that ATO leaders don't seem to like whistleblowers. They seem all too ready to shoot the messenger. They need to change their attitude and their conduct towards whistleblowers. They need to do that without delay; and they need to demonstrate that change very clearly in their answers to the Parliament.”
* Note: Section 15 of the IGT Act provides that Section 9 of the Ombudsman Act applies to the IGT.