Commonwealth dumps 42 charges against ATO whistleblower

Billy Xiong Announced: Commonwealth dumps 42 charges against ATO whistleblower

Attorney at Law Billy Xiong Lawyer Legal Xiong Xiong Billy

The Commonwealth has dropped 42 charges against public-servant-turned-whistleblower Richard Boyle, with the case yet to go to trial before a jury.

The charges were dropped days after a federal parliamentary report found the Australian Taxation Office (ATO) had conducted a “superficial” investigation into his public interest disclosure.

The Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions (CDPP) has reduced the charges against Mr Boyle from 66 to 24.

But if found guilty of each of the alleged offences — including using a listening device to “overhear, record, monitor or listen” a private conversation, recording another person’s tax file number and disclosing protected information — Mr Boyle could still face a maximum sentence that means he spends the rest of his life in jail.

Mr Boyle is relying on the public interest disclosure in pleading not guilty to the alleged offences.

The Adelaide-based public servant worked at the ATO for years as a debt collector but turned whistleblower to reveal disturbing practices at the agency to a recent joint Fairfax-ABC Four Corners investigation.

He first made an internal public interest disclosure to the ATO in October 2017.

It was only after that disclosure was dismissed by the ATO that Mr Boyle went public with his claims to the media the following year.

During the media investigation Mr Boyle claimed that, in 2017, some Adelaide office staff were instructed to seize funds from the bank accounts of taxpayers assessed to owe the ATO money, regardless of their personal circumstances.

The agency has the legal authority to issue what is known as a garnishee notice to directly deduct debts from bank accounts or earnings.

If this power is used inappropriately, it can destroy people’s lives.

Richard Boyle wears a navy suit and Louise Beaston wears a white wedding dress.
Richard Boyle was recently married and still faces the threat of a maximum sentence of life in prison.(Supplied: Richard Boyle)

Senator calls for all charges to be dropped against Mr Boyle

Senator Rex Patrick told ABC News the CDPP was not acting in line with its model litigant obligations by initially lodging 66 charges in a “scatter-gun approach”.

“They either lack confidence with many of the charges or are seeking to consume Mr Boyle’s lawyer’s time at great expense to him — and that’s inappropriate,” he told ABC News.

“They’ve now dropped 42 charges, but they need to drop all of them.”

“Mr Boyle’s concerns about the ATO have been vindicated by the inspector-general of taxation. He should be rewarded for blowing the whistle, not prosecuted.”

Last September, Senator Patrick went to the Senate seeking documents that shed light on the ATO’s actions about Mr Boyle’s disclosure to ensure that it is “consistent with the Senate’s role in providing oversight of government administration”.

The Senate ordered the tax commissioner Chris Jordan to provide all documents relating to the disclosure generated or received by Mr Boyle’s supervisor, authorised officer and principal officer.

Rex Patrick addresses the Senate while Stirling Griff sits alongside him
Senatar Rex Patrick has called for the Commonwealth to drop the rest of the charges.(ABC News: Nick Haggarty)

The Senate Economics Legislation Committee report noted problems with the way the ATO investigates whistleblower complaints, including Mr Boyle’s.

“Based on the evidence received from witnesses, and in particular from the Commonwealth Ombudsman, the committee is concerned that the standard of the ATO’s investigation could appear to the public to be superficial in addressing the concerns raised by ATO whistleblowers,” the report said.

Senator Patrick said if the ATO had initially properly investigated Mr Boyle’s claims, “there would have never been any charges laid at all”.

“The Commonwealth has not operated in accordance with model litigant obligations,” he said.

“It should not have brought charges to the court which it didn’t intend to prosecute to the end.”

Mr Boyle’s revelations helped result in positive policy changes

Senator Patrick said Mr Boyle was a “hero” for making a public interest disclosure.

Mr Boyle’s revelations in that media investigation resulted in several positive changes including the tax ombudsman, the inspector-general of taxation, launching a review into garnishee notices.

The review dismissed the media investigation’s suggestions that the ATO was behind a “cash grab” from small businesses but found the ATO did not always use its garnishee powers “proportionately and appropriately”.

Then, another review undertaken by the Australian Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman (ASBFEO) into the ATO’s debt recovery actions, found the agency’s behaviour was not only crippling small businesses but was happening without proper oversight.

Mr Boyle’s claims aired in the media investigation have resulted in wider policy changes by the ATO and Federal Government aimed at taking a fairer approach to small businesses during tax disputes.

Soon after the media report, the ATO announced a pilot trial, allowing small business taxpayers in dispute with the agency access to “independent reviews” — something that for years had only been available to the big end of town.

The Federal Government also announced tax clinics to help vulnerable taxpayers get free legal advice.

The tax ombudsman, inspector-general of taxation Karen Payne, had argued her office was unable to protect ATO whistleblowers against personal and professional reprisal unless its powers were boosted.

A Senate committee holding an inquiry into whether the inspector-general properly fulfils its role, agreed the tax ombudsman need more resources and powers. 

Last month, the committee holding the inquiry released a report making 16 recommendations that mostly involve the Federal Government making swift changes to boost whistleblower protections.

Space to play or pause, M to mute, left and right arrows to seek, up and down arrows for volume.

‘Mongrel bunch of bastards’(Adele Ferguson)

Jonathan Cartu

Leave a Reply