This audit assessed the extent to which the Department of the Treasury and the Australian Taxation Office have improved the management of tax expenditure estimates.
Tax expenditures are revenues a government forgoes in pursuit of its policy objectives, including its medium-term fiscal strategy. Tax expenditures have been an important part of the Australian income tax system since the early 1900’s, when tax exempt invalid and old age pensions were introduced. In some areas, such as the retirement income system, they are heavily integrated into the Government’s policy framework. The number and aggregate value of tax expenditures have increased substantially over time and were estimated in 2011–12 to be around $111 billion. This represents a significant level when viewed in the context of the Australian Government Budget.
The ANAO’s 2008 audit and subsequent JCPAA review encouraged improvements to the administration of tax expenditures through better integration of tax expenditures into the Budget process, systematic review to ensure that tax expenditure items continue to meet their intended objectives and improved reporting in the annual TES.20 Progress by the Treasury and the ATO in implementing the recommendations in the 2008 audit and JCPAA review has been slow. Treasury advised that, facing reduced resourcing, it has focussed on providing advice on the Government’s key revenue priorities, as well as servicing the review of Australia’s future tax system and other key reviews.
Of the recommendations in the 2008 audit and JCPAA review, only two ANAO recommendations have been fully implemented. The remaining recommendations, which continue to be relevant, have only been partially addressed. The status of the recommendations that have not been fully implemented is as follows:
- processes have been put in place to better integrate tax expenditures into the Budget process, although there is the potential to increase the quantification of tax expenditures resulting from new policy proposals in the relevant Budget Papers (relating to ANAO Recommendation No. 2);
- the systematic review and evaluation of tax expenditures on an ongoing basis commenced in 2008 but ceased in 2011, without publicly reporting the results (relating to ANAO Recommendation No. 1);
- the Treasury has not advanced the development of standards or pursued international methods of reporting (relating to ANAO Recommendation No. 3 and JCPAA Recommendation No. 8);
- and there has been no measurable improvement to the reliability and quantification of the Treasury’s tax expenditure estimates over time (relating to ANAO Recommendation No. 6(a) and 6(c), and JCPAA Recommendation No. 9).