ATO leaker faces absurd sentence
An Australian Tax Office whistleblower facing 161 years in prison will not be covered by new protections.
Former Tax Office official Richard Boyle has been charged with 66 offences, including telephone tapping, recording conversations without consent, and making a record of protected information.
Mr Boyle blew the lid on a string of alleged abuses by the ATO, including its attempt to automatically seize funds from small business and individual accounts.
It was Mr Boyle’s revelations that informed an investigation by The Age, The Sydney Morning Herald and ABC that led to legal action by Tax Office Commissioner Chris Jordan.
He now faces the prospect of six life sentences, over three times the sentence of Bourke Street mass murderer James Gargasoulas and just a few years short of serial killer Ivan Milat’s 181 years.
In 2014, the Coalition promised to push through whistleblowing protections for private and public organisations as part of a deal with the Nick Xenophon Team in exchange for its support for the anti-union Registered Organisations Commission.
Protections for whistleblowers from private corporations passed in the last sitting weeks of Parliament, but the government does not have time to enact the same protections for public servants.
Mr Boyle says he attempted to make a 12,000-word disclosure to the Tax Office, but it was rejected by the authorities.
His house was raided by the Australian Federal Police in the days before he went public, which was a few weeks after the ATO offered him a settlement to keep him silent.
It is possible that the disclosure could grant Mr Boyle protections under Public Interest Disclosure Act.
“If he did do that it wouldn't matter that they rejected it. On the face of it the subsequent action would vindicate him,” Professor AJ Brown from the federal government’s expert whistleblower panel has told Fairfax reporters.
He said Mr Boyle's initial disclosure could be a conclusive defence and possibly even allow Mr Boyle to claim compensation.
“It would wipe out the charges at least,” Professor Brown said.
He said any organisation might react the same way as the ATO if it wanted to discipline its employees and maintain professional confidentiality.
The House Standing Committee on Tax and Revenue has heard of Mr Boyle’s plight and recommended a new Tax Office charter, an appeal option run by a second independent commissioner, transferring debt-recovery functions into the ATO's compliance operations and improvements to the compensation processes.
The ATO and federal Treasury are not commenting on the case as it is still ongoing.
The Opposition has made a pre-election pledge to combine existing private and public whistleblowing laws under a single Whistleblowing Act, and set up a Whistleblower Protection Authority and rewards scheme.