The ATO encourages Australians to disclose information about those who engage in tax crime, including through its tip-off scheme.
The ATO outlines the protections the law affords to those who blow the whistle.
Who qualifies for protection?
From 1 July 2019, there are new arrangements to better protect individuals who disclose information to the ATO on tax crimes. To qualify for protection as a tax whistleblower, certain conditions must be satisfied.
Firstly, there must be a current or past relationship between you and the person/entity you are reporting. This includes being a current or former employee, dependant or spouse.
You must then make a report to the ATO or other eligible recipient such as an internal auditor to help them perform their duties under taxation law.
If you don’t qualify for protection, another option is to make an anonymous tip-off.
What specific protections are afforded?
Tax whistleblowers who qualify for protection are afforded the following protections:
Your identity is treated as highly confidential and will not be publicly revealed, including in court proceedings. The exception to this is if the court thinks it is necessary for your identity to be revealed in the interests of justice.
Disclosures to your lawyer
If you seek legal advice relating to tax whistleblower law, anything you say is protected; even if you don’t qualify for whistleblower protections.
Criminal and civil liability protection
Any information incriminating you will not be admissible in court and you may have immunity against any criminal or penalty proceedings, although you still may be required to pay back tax liabilities.
Detrimental conduct protection
Following the disclosure, you are protected against:
- Being dismissed or harassed by your employer.
- Having your property, business or your financial position damaged.
What if these protections fail?
Despite the protections in place, it is still possible for you to suffer detriment relating to the disclosure. In this case you may be eligible for compensation such as:
- Payment of damages.
- Reinstatement of employment.
- An injunction to prevent or stop detrimental conduct.
- Receiving an apology.
Whistleblowers play an important role in helping authorities to enforce taxation law, but can be left vulnerable if they don’t qualify for protection.
It is important to seek expert legal advice to ensure that if choosing to blow the whistle on tax crime, you will be protected against criminal and civil actions, detrimental conduct, and that your identity will be protected.