Contributed by Ben Wilson
Australian Tax Office (ATO) whistle blower Richard Boyle is to be dragged before a court and possible imprisonment for up to 46 years. This is unjust persecution. It is wrong to punish someone for exposing wrongdoing by the ATO.
Boyle exposed the heavy-handed methods used against mainly small businesses over claimed debt payments, a tactic not unlike the discredited Robodebt method used by Centrelink. After failed attempts to bring concern to the attention of ATO management, he told what h knew to four Corners in October 2017.
In April the following year, his home was raided by ATO and Federal Police officers and was subsequently charged with offenses, including taping private conversations without consent and taking photos of taxpayer information. The drawn-out case has also meant that Richard Boyle has not been able to work for 5 years.
To say this is an overreaction in the circumstances is almost an understatement. Especially when nothing has been done to change ATO practices.
While working there, Boyle helped many who were being cruelly treated by working out manageable payment plans for them.
The accusation of heavy has been vindicated by subsequent inquiries and reports, including a report by the ATO watchdog, the Inspector General of Taxation, which found that “problems did arise in certain localised situations for a limited period…” This may not be much and looks like an attempt to minimise the problem. But it still admits that there has been a problem.
Nothing would have happened without Richard Boyle’s disclosure, and he is still being persecuted. The only logical explanation for this is that it is an intention to silence him and warn other potential whistleblowers of the consequences of speaking out.
Yes, Boyle did tape conversations and photograph documents. This is breaking existing law. His were also unusual circumstances. Wrongdoing could not have been exposed without evidence. This is a reality that deserves to be considered, especially when the action provides a public service.
There is a solid reason why the government should step in and put a stop to this case. Boyle’s lawyers have lodged a case for immunity from prosecution. The Human rights Law Centre in Adelade, where the case is to be heard next year, backs the application, and argues for the protection of whistleblowers.
Attorney General Mark Dreyfus has the power to pardon Boyle under Section 71B of the Judiciary Act if the prosecution is not in the public interest. What is stopping him then?