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ATO reveals surprising group of Aussies who owe $33 billion

The ATO has focussed on cracking down on tax avoidance.

A composite image of the ATO logo in exterior of the Australian Taxation Office and Australian money.
The ATO revealed small businesses owe billions in tax debt. (Source: AAP / Getty)

A surprising group of Aussies are responsible for billions of dollars being owed to the tax office.

Australian Taxation Office (ATO) commissioner Chris Jordan said collecting debt was front of mind for the ATO and he was “unapologetic” and exercised firm debt-collecting actions where necessary.

“Most collectable debt is self-assessed. It includes GST a business has collected and received credits for but hasn’t remitted. It includes unpaid pay-as-you-go withholding, and superannuation guarantee charge that has a direct impact on employees,” Jordan said.

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“Small businesses continue to be over-represented in our debt book, owing over $33 billion of the $50.2 billion of collectable debt.

“I want to make this point clear: although small business is over-represented here, we obviously are very focused on every group in the tax system.”

Huge improvements in big companies paying tax

Jordan said the ATO remained focused on holding big business to account and slammed those who purposefully avoided paying tax.

“There are a growing number of profitable businesses who have the capacity to pay their bills but are choosing not to. Businesses appear to be de-prioritising payment of tax and super,” he said.

“This is concerning and is out of step with what we know, which is that the vast majority of taxpayers pay on time, and it’s unfair for them that some choose not to. This needs to stop.”

Jordan said large companies had been improving in paying their fair share of taxes.

“Australia’s large corporate taxpayers are significant contributors to the tax system. In our most recent Tax Transparency Report, the 2,468 entities reporting paid almost $69 billion in income tax, almost 20 per cent more than the previous year,” he said.

ATO admits it was ‘rigid’

Jordan said when he first joined the ATO as commissioner in 2013, the tax office had a poor reputation.

“At the time, the ATO had a reputation for being rigid, difficult to deal with and behind in its client service. To many, it felt like a closed shop. So when I joined, I had a mandate from the government to change the organisation,” he said.

“I remember thinking I was faced with a huge task. In fact, some of my friends said it couldn’t be done. ‘It’s a huge ship in the ocean,’ they warned me of the ATO. ‘It's going to be impossible to turn it around.’

“But I’m glad that didn’t turn out to be the case. And I can confidently say we have gradually changed our course and I believe we have strong foundations to succeed in another decade of progress.”

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