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Former ATO secrecy official flies the flag for Pauline Hanson in SA

Politics

One Nation’s sole South Australian Senate candidate for the federal election – so far – is used to suggestions she isn’t a typical follower of Pauline Hanson.

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Jennifer Game, who works as an adviser to the One Nation leader, was once the Head of Secrecy for the Australian Tax Office’s Operation Wickenby – the long-running push to crack down on alleged tax avoidance by high-profile Australians.

The operation famously pursued actor and comedian Paul Hogan for a decade about alleged millions in unpaid tax, the case eventually settled.

In her Operation Wickenby role, Game told InDaily, she developed concerns about the ATO’s approach to secrecy, which is mandated in legislation and is necessarily tight to protect the privacy of taxpayers.

The ATO responded to Game’s concerns about tax officials potentially breaching the Act by instituting the Boucher Review into its internal practices, but blowing the whistle came at a cost to Game’s tax office career and she moved on in 2007, later working for a law firm.

More than a decade later, Game still wants to crack down on tax avoidance, but this time in relation to multinational companies who she believes are ripping off Australian taxpayers.

While most One Nation candidates are capturing the headlines with views on immigration, religion or gun control, Game is focused on tax reform.

The policy interest was sparked by a 20-year career in the ATO, during which, she says, she did “pretty much everything”.

There’s more about Game that doesn’t fit the stereotype: she is a science graduate of the University of Melbourne, later becoming the registrar of collections at the Australian War Memorial.

At the ATO, her last role was overseeing the ATO’s approach to information-sharing during Operation Wickenby.

“I was a bit concerned when about the way things were being done and reported that up through the normal way of doing things,” she said. “I had some concerns about how the project operated and all of those concerns were dealt with through the Boucher inquiry.”

Ten years ago, she was blunt about her treatment, telling Crikey at the time that she was devastated by the ATO response to her concerns.

“Instead of being praised as a hero for bringing the matter to tax management’s attention she became a pariah and was treated as persona-non-grata,” Crikey reported.

Game, who is accompanying Hanson on a South Australian campaign tour this week, told InDaily that her ATO career has made her fired up to see something done about multinational companies avoiding tax in Australia.

She said these companies employ thousands of staff whose primary purpose is “working about how not to pay tax in this country”.

Game argues that multinationals make a minuscule contribution to total tax receipts in Australia, which means individuals are paying too much.

She says the avoidance playbook is clear: “You don’t make any money in the country in which you produce or sell, but somewhere in between where profits are siphoned off.”

“They play the shell game and the play it extremely well – I have watched it over 20 years,” she said.

The solution, she says, is to remove foreign companies from the Australian corporate tax system and, instead, levy a tax on transactions that take place in this country.

She has no time for the argument that this would tilt the playing field.

“At the moment we have Australian companies competing against multinational companies and the Australian company has to pay tax and the multinational pays nothing,” Game said. “They’re not on a level playing field now.”

Game said she was accustomed to people questioning why she was a One Nation candidate, but she stresses she supports the party’s other policies, while also focusing on tax.

“I have just come to these positions logically,” she said. “Someone said to me on my Facebook page that I was an overeducated candidate for One Nation – I don’t see myself as any different to anyone else. We might be known for other policy messages, but I am interested in changing the landscape so that individuals pay less income tax.”

The Federal Government has been trying to crack down on multinational tax avoidance, including a diverted profits tax, but this is applied in only limited circumstances. The Government argues that this tax, plus other measures introduced in 2016, have allowed the ATO to raise $12.9 billion in tax liabilities against large public groups, multinationals, wealthy individuals and associated groups.

South Australian Labor MP, and experienced tax lawyer, Andrea Michaels, said the One Nation policy would likely cause havoc, because it would fall foul of Australia’s “double tax” agreements, which are designed to prevent individuals and companies being charged twice for the same earnings.

“We have these agreements with almost every country in the world,” she said.

The ATO says these agreements prevent double taxation and fiscal evasion while fostering cooperation between Australia and other international tax authorities.

One Nation so far has only one other endorsed candidate in South Australia for the May 18 federal election, in the seat of Grey. A second Senate candidate is set to be announced tomorrow.

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