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‘It’s a case of if, not when’: ATO disconnect stirs outage anxiety


The ATO’s resolve to upgrade its systems is clear, but the knowledge and resourcing gaps with infrastructure is creating anxiety about the “next big outage” for small-firm public accountants in particular.

By Katarina Taurian 12 minute read

Mirroring PwC’s assessment of the ATO’s 2016 digital meltdown, the Institute of Public Accountants’ chief executive Andrew Conway said he’s sceptical about the tax office’s ability to resolve its information and communication technology (ICT) issues in the short to mid term.

“It’s not for a lack of will, certainly from the commissioner, that the issues are ongoing — but they are,” Mr Conway told Accountants Daily.

“Now this is particularly a problem for small practices — the anxiety levels around the stability of the system, the portal, the reliability of the server infrastructure is often high,” Mr Conway said.


“Among some members, there is a sense of anxiety about when the next outage will occur. But we can’t say to those members it’s not a case of ‘if’ because it really is a case of ‘when’ right now,” he said.

Mr Conway supports increased funding for the ATO, particularly as ICT resolutions become “a matter of urgency.” In its latest annual report, the ATO outlined funding struggles related to audit liabilities, a decrease in debt collection activities due to the lead-up to an ATO system upgrade in November 2016, and its widespread digital failure in 2016.

“I don't think there'd be anyone objectively looking at the ATO's issues and ICT issues, and saying that it shouldn't have access to the appropriate level of resources and funding to deliver the outcome,” Mr Conway said.

“We feel our role is to add the member and practitioner perspective, and drive home to government that this is a very real issue, and that ICT investment is an ongoing concern for the sector,” he said.

“We need to make sure that the ATO, as a critical government agency, has access to the resources and the appropriate level of funding to deliver on the outcome,” he said.

Small and sole practitioner firms were particularly distressed during the outages which spanned December 2016 to February 2017, in particular those with a heavy focus on income tax matters. Practices like Wollongong-based Freeman took a bottom line hit, according to principal Gail Freeman. 

“It's impacted on our earnings because when you're a small practice, there is a significant impact,” Ms Freeman told Accountants Daily at the time. 

“It certainly has impacted earnings over December and January, no question.”

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Katarina Taurian


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