Posted: 10:48 am on 25th March 2014

The Australian Taxation Office is at it again.

WasteWatch has previously brought to your attention the ATO’s desperate attempts to beat Leonardo DiCaprio to an Oscar.

Now it seems they’re spending your money on ‘reaffirmation’.

WasteWatch has uncovered a contract between the ATO and market research company Colmar Brunton worth nearly $35,000.

The contract is for “concept testing research for the ATP/Project Wickenby joint advertising campaign”.

Project Wickenby, set up by the Australian Government in 2006 to help combat tax avoidance, is no stranger to publicity, having previously targeted movie star Paul Hogan and claimed the scalp of entertainment magnate Glenn Wheatley.

It is also no stranger to using public money for its advertising.

In 2010, the ATO spent $223,000 advertising Project Wickenby, and followed this up with a further $71,500 in 2012.

The latest advertising campaign seems to be a result of a report the ATO commissioned from Colmar Brunton last year. The report was partly designed to understand:

perceptions of ATO effectiveness in detecting, deterring, and dealing with the spread of tax avoidance and offshore secrecy arrangements.

As part of the report, Colmar Brunton interviewed members of the general public to see if they had ever heard of Project Wickenby. Just 20% had. (So much for the nearly $300,000 of taxpayer money spent advertising it so far!)

Even more interesting, however, was the public desire to know more.

According to the report, there was a firm belief that more advertising to the general public would provide no deterrent benefit, since the use of offshore tax havens — which is primarily what Project Wickenby targets — are only the domain of the extremely wealthy.

Instead, the report concluded, “the main driver of interest was the desire for reassurance that the ATO is acting to keep the tax system fair for all,… a message that many said would reaffirm their own compliant behaviour.”

So there you have it.

After $300,000 of advertising for Project Wickenby, almost nobody has heard of it. However, the government is going to spend more money advertising about it, not for any deterrent effect, but just so that law-abiding taxpayers can feel ‘reaffirmed’.

Perhaps there would be less tax avoidance if fewer tax dollars were so obviously wasted.

William Shrubb, Research Assistant

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