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‘A poor example for other agents’: AAT affirms agent termination over personal tax debts


A Darwin tax agent is set to lose his registration for failing to deal with his personal tax obligations after the Administrative Appeals Tribunal affirmed the Tax Practitioners Board’s decision.

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The Administrative Appeals Tribunal has affirmed the Tax Practitioners Board’s decision to terminate the registration of Darwin-based tax agent Duncan Bell from 30 July.

Mr Bell, who has been a registered tax agent since 1982, was found to have accumulated debts in his integrated client account owed to the ATO since 2012.

He entered into a payment arrangement in 2015 but defaulted on the arrangement within a month, leading the ATO to take legal action in 2016.


The ATO estimated that Mr Bell’s balance owing had blown out to in excess of $475,000 by the beginning of 2016.

Entering into a fresh payment arrangement with the ATO in September 2016, Mr Bell again defaulted by December 2016, with the ATO ultimately issuing a bankruptcy notice in 2019.

At the time of the hearing, Mr Bell’s debt remained in excess of $600,000.

Mr Bell had asked the AAT to review the TPB’s decision, arguing that the termination decision was not a proportionate response, and that he had not failed to discharge his professional obligations to clients.

The counsel for Mr Bell also noted that there were no concerns of the integrity or competence in the conduct of his practice and that consumers did not have to be protected from Mr Bell.

AAT deputy president Bernard McCabe said that while there was no pressing need to protect consumers from Mr Bell, deregistration was not solely reserved for cases where there was an adverse finding as to competence or integrity.

“His behaviour sets a poor example — for his clients and for other tax agents. It also threatens the effective working relationship that must exist between each agent and the ATO,” Mr McCabe said.

“Even if there are no concerns about his integrity as such, Mr Bell’s behaviour undermines the integrity of the system of self-assessment. That system depends on the expectation that individual taxpayers, shepherded by their tax agents, will comply with their basic obligations.”

Mr McCabe was ultimately satisfied that terminating Mr Bell’s registration would be an appropriate sanction, noting that Mr Bell would not be prevented from re-registering once he establishes his eligibility again.

“Mr Bell has failed to comply with these obligations over a long period. He has not learnt any lessons from the legal proceedings that have been brought against him,” Mr McCabe said.

“Given what has transpired, the best outcome is for Mr Bell to be deprived his registration until he has absorbed the lesson — but the best way of establishing that he has absorbed the lesson is for him to negotiate a robust and viable payment arrangement with the ATO that he is prepared to observe. 

“If he can reach an arrangement with the ATO and provide other assurances about his future conduct, he would then be eligible for registration.”

Jotham Lian

Jotham Lian


Jotham Lian is the editor of Accountants Daily, the leading source of breaking news, analysis and insight for Australian accounting professionals.

Before joining the team in 2017, Jotham wrote for a range of national mastheads including the Sydney Morning Herald, and Channel NewsAsia.

You can email Jotham at: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. 

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