17th Feb, 2023
The Federal Government has announced that it will abolish the Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT) and replace it with a new Federal administrative review body. According to Attorney-General the Hon Mark Dreyfus, the AAT’s dysfunction has had a very real cost to the tens of thousands of people who rely on it each year to independently review government-body decisions. A dedicated taskforce within the Attorney- General’s department has been formed, and stakeholder consultation will be held on the design of the new body.
The government has said it will implement a transparent and merit-based appointment process. It has committed to providing additional capacity to enable the rapid resolution of existing backlogs, and to implementing consistent funding and remuneration arrangements to enable the new system to respond flexibly to fluctuating case numbers. Thus far, it has committed to appointing an additional 75 new members to the AAT to deal with existing backlogs.
To ensure the new body is user-focused, accessible, fair and efficient, the government says it will also improve additional support services and emphasise early resolution where possible. A single, modern, reliable and fit-for-purpose case management system will be introduced.
Current cases before the AAT will continue. Taxpayers who have already applied to the AAT for a review of a decision will not need to submit a new application. The government envisages that many current cases before the AAT will be decided or finalised before the establishment of the new Federal administrative review body. Any undecided remaining cases will transition to the new review body when it is established.
20th May, 2021
The Government will introduce legislation to allow small businesses to pause or modify ATO debt recovery action where the debt is being disputed in the Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT). Treasurer Josh Frydenberg had earlier announced this measure on 8 May 2021.
Specifically, the changes will allow the Small Business Taxation Division of the AAT to pause or modify any ATO debt recovery actions – such as garnishee notices and the recovery of general interest charge (GIC) or related penalties – until the underlying dispute is resolved by the AAT. This measure is intended to provide an avenue for small businesses to ensure they are not required to start paying a disputed debt until the matter has been determined by the AAT.
Small business entities (including individuals carrying on a business) with an aggregated turnover of less than $10 million per year will be eligible to use the option. The AAT will be required to “have regard to the integrity of the tax system” in deciding whether to pause or modify the ATO’s debt recovery actions.
The Australian Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman has welcomed the changes. The Ombudsman, Mr Bruce, stated that small businesses could save “thousands of dollars in legal fees”, as well as up to two months waiting for a ruling. The Ombudsman also noted this measure was a key recommendation in its report A tax system that works for small business.