The Australian Tax Office (ATO) has been accused of bullying and making it incredibly difficult for Australians to recover money in situations where they have been over-taxed.
There is no question that the ATO has an important job to do, but there exists little recourse for Australians when something goes awry with their tax return.
Under Commissioner Michael D'Azenzo, the ATO's 22,000 staff processed 15.6 million tax returns last year, collecting $273 billion for government.
But what about the lone taxpayer who has been left high and dry by an unjustified and miscalculated tax bill?
Architect Gary Kurzer thought he had found his slice of paradise - a place to live and invest for his and his partner's superannuation.
The Kurzers borrowed to buy two adjacent units near the beach, but as building expenses grew the bank forced them to sell before the units were completed.
"There was no profit at all. We had to pay interest for nearly a year without generating any income," he said.
But the Australian Tax Office took a very different view; as the Kurzers' paradise was lost, a seemingly endless battle began.
It was a bitter dispute Mr Kurzer ultimately won, but one he says ruined him financially regardless.
"The original amounts of money they claimed we owed were $207,000 in GST and profits on $605,000 and eventually it came down to we had a tax liability of $8,000," he said.
"I think it's iniquitous anyone should be put through a process, lose all of their assets, 40 years of work, your superannuation assets, your health.
"The law in Australia simply is that you are guilty until you prove yourself innocent - at your expense - for whatever length of time it takes to defend yourself."
Through the ages, the taxman has borne the brunt of endless ridicule. Critics abound, although most will not speak publicly for fear of recrimination.
Andrew Haines is a South Australian policeman who emigrated from England five years ago.
As the Tax Office grew suspicious about money he had brought with him after selling his assets in England, he recently got an invoice and a rude shock.
"It was for $367,000. They'd worked out this was foreign sourced income," he said.
"All I got was a bill very nicely backdated in interest and backdated levy-care charges and they wanted the money in four weeks.
"I worked out my wages wouldn't keep up with the compounded interest rates. In terms of bankruptcy and whether or not they could take my house off me, it really was a stressful moment in our lives.
"The Tax Office has amazing and draconian powers. But with that comes responsibility."
Ron Pattenden and his lawyer David Hughes have fought the Tax Office for eight years over revenues from Mr Pattenden's insurance business based in Vanuatu.
The legal battle has so far seen Mr Pattenden's tax bill slashed from $15 million to zero.
"There's so many people just running scared against the ATO," he said.
"It's true they can do horrid things to people. They've done horrid things to me - cost me relationships.
"But people like Gary Kurzer where it cost him his family, his business, his home and destroyed him - mental breakdowns. These people should be made accountable."
Mr Hughes says people have to come forward about their experiences with the ATO.
"The Tax Office will continue to be emboldened by the fact people don't challenge them and as a result the assessments will just get worse and worse in order to raise as much money as they can, or the other alternative is for more and more people to become bankrupt," he said.
"The taxpayer first of all has to come up with the money in order to be able to stay alive long enough to have the fight. Then they've personally got to fund the fight themselves.
"[Meanwhile] the tax office has all of the resources of the Australian Government funded by other taxpayers, including the ability to hire QCs and fight the matter in court at a virtually unlimited rate."
The ATO would not comment on Mr Kurzer's case or others like it. Nor would it respond to criticism that it can be overly aggressive and simply unfair in its assessment of tax liabilities, hefty penalties and demands for payment.
Mr Kurzer's exhaustive tussle with the taxman has lasted five years, at the end of which his energy and finances were spent.
ATO investigators stopped taking his calls, but then in his darkest hour came a stroke of luck.
With one last call by sheer fluke, ATO Commissioner Michael D'Ascenzo himself picked up the phone
"I asked if he would be prepared to listen to my circumstances and he kindly agreed. He then appointed the Assistant Deputy Commissioner to do a review of my case," he said.
"I got a letter from her that the tax office had made errors to about the sum of about $354,877. She apologised that they'd made these errors."
Mr Kurzer's tax bill was reduced to $8,500. After all the pain and suffering he had been through, he was then told he would be entitled to compensation under the Government's Defective Administration or CDDA Scheme.
There was, however, a catch.
"The scheme itself said that the amount of money that can be paid for compensation is unlimited. The Tax Office informed me that the maximum amount of money they ever pay under a CDDA claim is $70,000," he said.
The ATO made a small compensation offer on the condition he accepted within five days and signed a confidentiality agreement - an offer he declined.
"The quantum of money they offered didn't even pay for my credit card costs to pay for my accountant and my lawyer," he said.
"The personal costs just in money terms we've lost all of our investment - I have a possession in the Supreme Court for my home. I've had to sell my shares. I've had to sell personal assets just to keep going over the last few years."
To ensure the ATO does not abuse its enormous power, Inspector General of Taxation Ali Naroozi must review ATO procedures and recommended necessary changes to government.
"Sometimes they are just enforcing the laws that we have and you can kind of understand why those laws are there," he said.
"But they can be harsh in circumstances or the way that they are enforced can at least appear to be harsh."
So, you may well ask, where was the Tax Ombudsman in such matters.
"We had a meeting with the Ombudsman - it's like getting to the angel Gabriel. You've got to have a real good case to get there," Mr Pettenden said.
Over the years, Mr Kurzer repeatedly asked for help from the Ombudsman's office.
"The Ombudsman looks good on paper but it's discretionary as to whether he takes your case," he said.
"In our case he's declined to take our case, and the very best outcome is even if the Ombudsman issues a very damning report, it goes back to the Tax Office, who are under no obligation to accept the findings."
And that is what happened to Mr Pattenden. Even worse was what came next.
"Apparently the report was that damning toward the ATO that they sent it to the ATO for right of reply ... and again, months and months and months went by then we finally got a report that had been reworked or doctored based on the answers from the ATO," he said.
"On requesting the original report [I'm] sad to say it wasn't available. Quote: 'It's been typed over and we've lost it'."
Under freedom of information laws, Mr Pattenden's lawyers asked for confirmation the Ombudsman's original letter to the ATO was destroyed and the electronic copy overwritten.
On both questions, the Ombudsman replied: "This is correct."
"It's a pretty unsatisfactory state of affairs," said Mr Pettenden's lawyer, David Hughes.
7.30 asked the Tax Ombudsman's office if such lost letters to the ATO are a regular problem and is still awaiting a reply.
It would be incorrect to assert the ATO loses more cases than it wins; quite the reverse is true, except in the High Court.
But is it simply the case that he with the best lawyers wins?
"There should be fairer balance," said Mr Hughes.
"There should be a more fair address between the Tax Office and the taxpayer in battling matters in court and if you have a look at the Federal Court lists, lots of people and lots of companies are falling over simply because they can't afford to fight."
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