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Former AGD secretary to review compensation for public service mistakes

The Australian Taxation Office’s decisions on compensation for small business victims of “defective administration” are under review by a former head of the Attorney-General’s Department.

Retired mandarin Robert Cornall has got the job and has been asked to report back soon, while it is still “early in 2019” according to a joint statement from Assistant Treasurer Stuart Robert and Minister for Finance and the Public Service Mathias Cormann. He will look at the Scheme for Compensation for Detriment Caused by Defective Administration, but only in the narrow context of its use by the ATO in relation to small business.

One brief but high-profile advisory role performed by Cornall last June involved helping then-acting Merit Protection Commissioner Mark Davidson with a tricky decision: whether to begin an inquiry into complaints against former Australian Public Service Commissioner John Lloyd.

The acting MPC was keen to avoid any appearance of a conflict of interest, as Lloyd was his superior in his substantive role at the time, so he sought external advice from wise APS veterans such as former law enforcement integrity commissioner Philip Moss, legal expert James Popple, past Australian Government Solicitor Ian Govey and ex-information commissioner John McMillan (who later agreed to run the inquiry).

Robert Cornall

The former secretary also recently ran a Veterans’ Advocacy and Support Services Scoping Study for the Department of Veterans’ Affairs and reported to the government late last year.

The CDDA scheme applies to all non-corporate Commonwealth departments and agencies, and is an avenue for compensation for the results of “defective action or inaction” where the government has no legal liability.

“Undertaking a review of the ATO’s implementation of the CDDA Scheme will ensure that small business have access to a fair and transparent system for administrative review of small business tax disputes,” according to the statement. The terms of reference ask Cornall to consider:

  • the consistency of the ATO’s CDDA Scheme processes for small businesses;
  • the timeliness of decisions;
  • how effectively findings are communicated to small business;
  • how independent decision-making can be best achieved in future; and
  • the adequacy of compensation for small businesses that have suffered an economic and / or personal loss as a consequence of the ATO’s actions.

Cormann and Robert pointed out small business tax issues would be the focus of a new division of the Administrative Appeals Tribunal that will commence from this Friday.

“As a general rule the ATO will not be represented in the Small Business Taxation Division by external lawyers. Other features of proceeding in this new Division are a reduced filing fee and decisions will be made within 28 days of the hearing.”

Author Bio

Stephen Easton

Stephen Easton is the associate editor at The Mandarin based in Canberra. He's previously reported for Canberra CityNews and worked on industry titles for The Intermedia Group.