Senator FIFIELD (Victoria-Manager of Opposition Business in the Senate) -The Tax Laws Amendment (Confidentiality of Taxpayer Information) Bill 2010 seeks to improve and consolidate the secrecy and disclosure provisions applying to taxation information.
These provisions are currently spread across many tax laws and are often unclear and inconsistent.
The coalition started the process to address this issue in government in 2006.
The bill also proposes a new framework to protect the confidentiality of taxpayer information.
It places a general prohibition on the disclosure of taxpayer information.
The coalition supports the intent of this bill.
We support effective attempts to provide taxpayers, the ATO and stakeholders with clarity and certainty about the tax laws.
The bill permits disclosure of taxpayer information among government agencies where the public benefit associated with the disclosure outweighs the need for taxpayer privacy.
Such a determination is to be made with regard to the purpose for which the information is to be used, the potential impact on the individual from the disclosure and subsequent use of the information and whether the new
disclosure would represent a significant departure from existing disclosure provisions.
The coalition agrees that effective enforcement of the law might warrant transfer of such information on occasion.
When it does, however, information transfers must be subject to appropriate safeguards.
The coalition had been concerned that the government would ignore the findings of the Senate Standing Committee on Economics inquiry into this bill on how safeguards in the bill could be appropriately strengthened.
The Senate economics committee, which included Labor senators, made a unanimous recommendation that an appropriately authorised and senior tax officer be the decision maker when a determination needs to be made about the public benefit of disclosing taxpayer information.
The coalition is moving amendments to this bill to include this recommendation.
We are also putting forward two further recommendations which are in keeping with the spirit of the committee’s report: that the Commissioner
of Taxation will have to establish and publish on the ATO website procedures that taxation officers are to follow when disclosing protected information to ministers, other government agencies and law enforcement agencies; and that the tax office will have to publish the number of times a request was made to disclose taxpayer information and the number of times
such disclosures were actually made to ministers or law enforcement agencies.
These amendments, which have been circulated, provide appropriate protectionsfor taxpayers without placing an undue burden on the Australian Taxation Office.