Climbing Mount Kilimanjaro or reforming the Australian Tax
Office (ATO)? For Chris Jordan, both can be conquered. Jordan
stepped in as head of the ATO in January 2013 after a three
decade career in the private sector. Just two years into
office, he has been quick to introduce reforms and modernise
Australia's tax system and, in his spare time, trek in exotic
places around the world.
|Chris Jordan is
a new entry this year
Jordan holds no illusions about the public's opinion of the
tax office: "I think historically the thought may be it's a bit
scary at times," he said in an interview with The Bottom
Line, an Australian media company for CPAs.
"My wife gave me this great analogy. It's a little bit like
going to the dentist – you really don't want to do it,
but you know at some point in time, you have to," said Jordan.
"The challenge you face is to make interactions with the tax
office infrequent, quick and painless, and I think that does
sum up a lot of the strategy that we're now rolling out."
Jordan said that while stepping into his new role, he found
the ATO was open to the changes he was eager to introduce. "It
[the ATO] has been pretty effective but there were clear areas
that could be improved."
Though the office cut 3,000 jobs early in the year, Jordan
has promised that collections would not be "materially
Jordan's reforms have received positive reviews from tax
professionals. Australia has also been a force in the region,
helping train tax officials from China, Papua New Guinea and
Indonesia to audit and identify potentially abusive tax
Jordan has focused much of his attention on identifying
abusive tax schemes that funnel income out of Australia. In
August, he discussed the topic with business owners at the
Council of Small Business of Australia's 12th National Small
Business Summit in Melbourne. "When you talk about mere
technical ownership of some property residing in a tax haven,
say Bermuda or the Cayman Islands, and billions of dollars of
profits a year end up there, you sort of think: 'Is that
right?'," said Jordan. "I think there is becoming a general
recognition that that's probably just not right."
"Something needs to change when you have large companies
doing business in Australia and claiming that the country has
no taxing rights at all, notwithstanding that a large amount of
business is actually being carried on in the country," Jordan
Jordan has targeted multinational corporations and has
helped Australia develop sophisticated transfer pricing laws.
He was quick to act when the Luxembourg Leaks implicated
hundreds of Australian taxpayers for shirking tax through
structures in Luxembourg.
In November, Jordan told the Australian Financial
Review that the tax office had identified abusive tax
structures as a partial result of the leaks. "I have no doubt
that we will have some disputes arising out of the course of
next year," said Jordan. "We're very confident that this will
bear fruit. It's definitely worth the investment, I'll put it
Australia's presidency of the G20 forum in 2014 proved to be
an excellent time for Jordan to continue his reforms. In
November immediately following G20, Jordan hosted the 44th
Study Group on Asian Tax Administration and Research which
comprises 17 member nations. The forum created a regional tax
task force and facilitated conversations between tax leaders to
share best practices and improve exchange of information
– including the promise to aid less developed
countries to recognise abusive tax structures.