ATO praised for handling of risks during rollout of economic-support measures

By Shannon Jenkins

December 15, 2020


The national auditor-general has given the Australian Taxation Office a thumbs up for its risk-management practices while delivering the commonwealth’s economic-response measures to COVID-19, including the JobKeeper scheme.

The Australian National Audit Office on Monday released its report examining whether the ATO had effectively managed risks related to the rapid implementation of six economic support policies that were announced and rolled out between March and July.

The measures included “enhancing” the instant asset write-off, backing business investment, boosting cash flow for employers, early release of superannuation, temporary reduction of superannuation minimum drawdown rates, and JobKeeper.

Due to the nature of the impacts of the pandemic, these measures needed to be administered quickly, which the ANAO noted created “new and increased risks” in areas such as workforce redeployment, potential internal and external fraud, and non-compliance with regulatory requirements.

The department has been praised by the auditor-general for its actions to manage risks while supporting implementation of the policies.

“The ATO implemented fit-for-purpose governance and oversight arrangements for the six economic response measures, drawing on existing bodies and frameworks where it could, and introducing specific and additional structures where needed,” the report said.

“The ATO followed a sound process to identify and obtain required resources and capabilities to support the rapid implementation of the six economic response measures, and to understand the impacts on its business-as-usual activities.”

Read more: Challenging tradition and throwing out the checklists has prepared the ATO for COVID-19, according to Chris Jordan

The department also identified constraints and developed responses to address staffing and ICT capability requirements to deliver the measures, and consulted with government entities and external stakeholders during the implementation phase, “generally” leveraging existing relationships and arrangements.

However, the report noted the ATO’s strategies for managing identified shared risks were not documented consistently.

“In particular, for the Early Release of Superannuation measure, the ATO’s documentation did not clearly outline which risks were shared and how these risks would be monitored and reported on by the identified parties,” it said.

“The ATO informed the ANAO that the shared risks for the Early Release of Superannuation measure were managed through a cross-agency working group in a more informal manner given the speed of implementation. A ‘Fraud & Compliance Controls’ map was developed by the ATO and was shared with the members of the cross-agency working group in April 2020.”

The department has set up effective arrangements to monitor risks and risk mitigation strategies through the project management and governance structures established for the response measures, ANAO found, and has appropriately assessed, documented and communicated changes in its risk environment.

“The ATO adopted an iterative approach to identifying risks at a project and program level that was fit-for-purpose,” it said.

“The ATO’s risk documentation evidences its priority of implementing the measures in a timely manner, while also managing fraud and other integrity risks on a progressive basis.”

However, the report noted aspects of its approach to determining risk tolerances “could have been better documented to support risk-informed decision-making”.

While the ANAO didn’t make any recommendations to the ATO, it did provide a number of key messages to all commonwealth entities on governance and risk management, which the ATO said it would keep in mind for the future.

The department has begun planning for further changes to existing operations in line with the evolving circumstances and risks.

Read more: We know the world is complex. ATO Assistant Commissioner Misha Kaur wants policymaking to reflect this


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