The outgoing ATO commissioner has called for enhanced law enforcement powers. 

In his address to the National Press Club in Canberra, Australian Taxation Office (ATO) Commissioner Chris Jordan has highlighted the agency's needs for the future. 

He called for enhanced capabilities in response to the growing challenges of fraud and illegal activities, including a startling revelation that approximately $630 million had been illicitly siphoned from self-managed retirement accounts over the past two years.

Mr Jordan, who is poised to pass the baton to Rob Heferen next month, underscored the urgency of bolstering the ATO's arsenal to combat the escalating wave of cyber threats and identity scams that have plagued the organisation. 

He cited the example of the United States Internal Revenue Service among other international counterparts, which already possess such investigative powers.

He said the necessity for this shift was accentuated by the ATO's exclusion from a pivotal meeting of the Joint Chiefs of Global Tax Enforcement (J5) due to the current limitations in its powers. 

The J5 is a collaborative effort of tax authorities from the United States, Britain, Canada, and the Netherlands, aimed at combating international tax crime and money laundering.

During his tenure, Mr Jordan has been at the forefront of digital innovation within the ATO, significantly contributing to the agency's ability to address multinational tax avoidance and streamline the tax filing process. 

Advocates say the digitisation efforts under his leadership have not only resulted in billions of dollars in additional tax revenue but have also positioned the ATO as a global leader in tax administration.

However, major challenges persist. 

Mr Jordan highlighted the “industrialisation of identity theft through large-scale cyber breaches” as a serious adversary. 

The ATO's data indicates that in 2020 alone, an estimated $380 million of superannuation savings were illegally withdrawn, with officials intervening to prevent an additional $125 million from being accessed unlawfully.

The ATO says its stance on compliance and its attempts to stay ahead of fraudulent activities allowed it to thwart over $255 million in illegal superannuation withdrawals in 2021, and the recovery of a significant portion of prohibited loans exceeding $200 million.

However Mr Jordan's tenure also had its controversies, including the management of a massive GST fraud implicating ATO staff and contractors and the recent scandal involving dodgy GST refund claims that went viral on social media platforms like TikTok. 

Despite these challenges, he has defended the ATO's actions and emphasised the need for ongoing vigilance and adaptability in the face of evolving cyber threats.

The full address can be seen below. 

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