Il Globo, the Tax Office and me
Posted by John, March 19th, 2009 - under ATO, CPSU, Commissioner of Taxation, Community and Public Sector Union, Democracy, Jobs, Labor Party, Neoliberalism, Part time work, Public Service, Tax, Tax Office, Unions, Workplace madness, efficiency dividend, sackings, unemployment.
There was an interesting interview with Michael D’Ascenzo, the Commissioner of Taxation in Australia, in Il Globo recently.
Here is part of the interview with Michael.
A former assistant commissioner, John Passant, recently described the office as dominated by people who were too old and hostage to a “detail fetish” where they should be thinking big. “Why do you think John’s a former assistant commissioner?”, D’Ascenzo asks abruptly. So, there’s no gap in the ATO’s ability to plan for the challenges of tomorrow? “No.” Simple as that.
As for the accusation that employees of the ATO are overworked, D’Ascenzo is more cautious. “Some people work long hours; some people work normal hours ; some people could work harder,” D’Ascenzo says. “I don’t think it’s a problem with the work ethic. It’s great that people can put in some extra effort to go the extra mile – I do want people to do that. But I don’t think the workloads are unmanageable”.
Ouch! That’s one problem with the Australian Tax Office. People who raise legitimate concerns (see for example my tax articles archived here) get criticised and ignored.
The idea that the ATO is prepared to deal with the challenges of the future might be news to many of the people working there.
Ironically the Great Recession might help the ATO recruit some young blood who will bring new ideas to the organisation, if the ATO system doesn’t grind them down before they reach middle management levels.
But of course the Great Recession is destroying the mirage that the ATO can plan for the future.
The Treasurer estimates that revenue will fall $115 billion over four years. The ATO leadership is responding – one wonders how adequately – after the event.
As far as I can tell the ATO leadership is acting in the time honoured way of all bourgeois leaders and thinkers in times of economic crisis – screwing their workers even more.
Make them do more with less.
Sack some. Move others to contract or part time. Cut labour costs.
Extend the working day through talking about ‘expectations’ of staff. Reward those who do work long hours.
And before anyone criticises me for not recognising the Great Recession, let me just say I gave a talk (in September 2007 I think) to my Canberra staff and others about the area I ran and mentioned Kondratiev Waves. Very very crudely this is the idea that major Depressions hit capitalism every 40 years or so.
1850, 1890, 1930, 1970, 2010 (give or take a few years.) In September 2007 I said maybe we, the ATO, should be planning for a major economic shakeout in 2010.
The theory is much more complex than that, and that complexity may in fact destroy my argument. Nevertheless I thought it was worthy of at least mentioning and thinking about.
My suggestions were dismissed. Yes I got the timing a little wrong, but I gave myself wriggle room by saying about 40 years.
The long wave idea has been taken up and adapted by both neo-liberals like Schumpeter and Marxists like Mandel.
Back to Il Globo. Michael’s attitude shows another part of the problem – all top down and no bottom up flows of information.
Michael should talk to his staff more and not just to the flattering courtiers who warp his views of ATO world (or Voldemort Valley, as a friend and I call it.)
The Rudd’ Government’s ’efficiency’ dividend (which cut the ATO’s budget last year by 3.25 percent), plus the major overspending on the long drawn out Change Program disaster, contribute to and exacerbate the real problems the ATO faces.
Michael would win real respect from public servants and taxpayers across Australia if he led the ATO in rebellion against the stupidity of the ‘efficiency’ dividend. That at least might help him defend his staff, not sack or short time them.
I have a radical suggestion for the ATO leadership – involve all staff in the decision making process and establish a flow of information from those who do the work to those who supervise the work.
Democratise the ATO, Commissioner. Lead a rebellion against the ‘efficiency’ dividend.
Defend your staff, Michael, not attack them.