Culturally, Australians are renowned as a nation of people always willing to help out a mate, a generous bunch who would hand over their last fiver to a bloke who needed it more.
Except when it comes to tax time.
At tax time, Aussies work hard to limit their liability, maximise their return and hold tight to their money. It can be a badge of honour to be as creative as possible – without breaking the law – to reduce the amount handed over to the Australian Taxation Office (ATO).
As Australia's principal revenue agency, the ATO facilitates the collection of revenue to fund goods and services for the community.
“The tax and super systems support the Australian community and the lifestyle we enjoy,” the ATO’s assistant commissioner Kath Anderson said.
“It’s the tax system which provides the funding for services Australians appreciate accessing like healthcare, education, infrastructure, security and even a social safety net for the aged, the unemployed and other vulnerable groups.
“Sometimes people think that by dodging a little bit of tax they are not hurting anyone because they don’t see the connection between the tax they pay and the services it funds.”
But being ‘creative’ with tax returns is a false economy, because it ultimately reduces the pool of money available to fund goods and services we, as a high functioning society, demand.
The tax and super systems support the Australian community and the lifestyle we enjoy.Assistant commissioner Kath Anderson
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Ms Anderson believes the biggest problem the ATO has is that people don’t understand the important connection between tax paid and goods and services supplied to the community.
“I was recently speaking with a nurse who works in a hospital where they can’t fund all of the beds in that hospital, which meant that some people had to sit in accident and emergency,” she said. “Now, if we were able to collect all of the tax that is potentially due, it is possible that those beds might have been available.”
If, for example, everybody decided not to pay $100 tax which was due, it would leave the nation’s kitty significantly poorer.
“And that money could have funded, for example, a large children’s hospital,” Ms Anderson said.
“So, one of the key messages we are trying to communicate is that all of those little bits add up to a lot.”
That is why the ATO is actively working to educate the community, starting at primary school, regarding what tax is about and where that money goes, hoping that people will recognise the importance of tax and understand that a little bit of cheating by millions of people actually adds up to a considerable amount.