The ATO’s approach to tax crime

The Australian Taxation Office (ATO) is responsible for protecting the Australian tax and superannuation systems against tax fraud.

In its 2021-22 Annual Report, the ATO highlights key results achieved, and how its disclosure of information, including through its taskforces, helped to achieve these results.


Key taskforce results

Throughout 2021-22, the ATO helped to raise billions of dollars in tax liabilities through the work of its taskforces. This included:

  • Tax Avoidance Taskforce ($3.49 billion in tax liabilities and $1.93 billion in cash collections).
  • Shadow economy program ($1.2 billion in compliance liabilities).
  • Serious Financial Crime Taskforce ($473.8 million in liabilities and $79.9 million in cash collections).
  • The joint-agency Phoenix Taskforce ($222.6 million in liabilities and $156.3 million in cash collections).

A key way in which these taskforces help to combat tax fraud is by providing law enforcement agencies with relevant taxpayer information upon receiving requests for this information. For example, during 2021-22 the Phoenix Taskforce provided taxpayer information to 38 agencies including the Attorney-General’s Department, AUSTRAC, ASIC, Fair Work Ombudsman, NSW Police Force, and Office of State Revenue.

The report provides insight into the information that was provided by the ATO and its taskforces to law enforcement agencies.


Information provided to law enforcement agencies

The Taxation Administration Act 1953 allows the disclosure of taxpayer information to specified law enforcement agencies where the information is:

  • Relevant to determining whether a serious offence has been, or is being, committed.
  • For enforcing a law, the contravention of which is a serious offence.
  • For proceeds of crime order proceedings.

4,754 requests were disclosed by the ATO and its taskforces to requesting agencies throughout the reporting period. Key agencies in terms of the number of requests disclosed included:

Agency / Taskforce # Requests disclosed
Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission 215
Australian Federal Police 382
NSW Police Force 492
New South Wales Crime Commission 102
Queensland Police Service 273
South Australia Police 153
Victoria Police 273
Western Australian Police Force 137


General categories of offence

Requests for information related to a wide range of offences and legislation. The categories of offence in which the highest number of requests were disclosed throughout the reporting period included:

Category of offence / Legislation # Requests disclosed
Confiscation Acts 246
Crimes and Criminal Code Acts (Commonwealth) 587
Crimes and Criminal Code Acts (State) 868
Drug Misuse and Trafficking Acts 229
Drugs Poisons and Controlled Substances Acts 197


Use of access powers

In most circumstances, the ATO works cooperatively with taxpayers and third parties to obtain relevant information without having to exercise its formal access powers.

Use of formal information-gathering notices is necessary where third parties, such as financial institutions, are required to provide private tax-related information to the ATO. They are also necessary to establish the relevant facts and evidence in audits and other investigations – or for the purposes of debt recovery.

During 2021–22, there were:

  • 17 occasions in which the ATO needed to gather relevant information using its powers to obtain access without notice.
  • 31,359 formal notices issued to obtain relevant information and documents.


Tax fraud / tax evasion assessments

In 2021–22, there were 158 taxpayers subject to a tax fraud or tax evasion assessment. Of the 158 taxpayers, 157 incurred an additional penalty. These assessments are categorised by type of client.

Type of client # Taxpayers subject to a fraud or evasion assessment
Privately owned and wealthy groups 88
Small business 54
Individuals 15
Public and multinational businesses 1


Key takeaways

The ATO and its taskforces combat tax fraud by providing relevant taxpayer information to law enforcement agencies. Requests for information span a wide range of offences and legislation, and taxpayers may be subject to penalties if they are found to have engaged in tax fraud or tax evasion. If the ATO does not have access to certain required information, it may use its formal access powers.

Nyman Gibson Miralis provides expert advice and representation in cases investigated by the ATO, its taskforces and partner law enforcement agencies.

Contact us if you require assistance.