For all the fear and confusion people feel about tax, most of the time dealing with tax auditors can seem like a breath of fresh air, particularly compared with the pleasure of contacting your mobile phone provider when you have a problem with your bill. Handling an ATO enquiry is often as simple as providing copies of your tax invoices to support the numbers shown in your Business Activity Statement.
Life can be a bit more stressful if the Tax Commissioner feels inclined to take a different view of how much tax you should have paid or is anxious to collect tax debts you owe to help fill government coffers. When that happens, you can end up in a whole different world of very complex tax legislation where the balance of power is often well and truly skewed in favour of the Tax Commissioner. Getting it wrong can result in big tax bills, penalties, interest costs and possibly even prosecution.
Many people who end up facing tax problems don't fully appreciate that dealing with the Tax Commissioner or State Revenue authorities is not the same as resolving a commercial or family dispute. Clients often want to hold onto "Plan A" until things become very serious and they are forced to learn a whole lot more about the reality of tax disputes than they ever wanted to know.
Damian O'Connor, the Managing Principal of Tax + Law, worked at the ATO for over two decades as an investigator, auditor and in the ATO debt collection areas before becoming a lawyer in private practice in 1998. As a tax lawyer he has advised and represented clients across most industries in their dealings with tax authorities and in litigation in the Administrative Appeals Tribunal and the Federal Court of Australia, including a test case funded by the ATO.
His understanding of how the tax system operates in real life, along with his experience as a lawyer providing practical commercial legal and tax advice mean that he provides a fresh perspective on how his clients can navigate the tax minefield when the going gets tough, as well as when they need complex technical legal advice.