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Published 19 July 2012 05:01, Updated 19 July 2012 12:17
The hang of it: Paul Stacey is pushing for tax reform Nic Walker
Paul Stacey isn’t your average tax expert. The new front man for the Institute of Chartered Accountants – he took over the role of tax counsel in June – is not only, as you could expect, a chartered accountant; he is also a lawyer with more than 25 years’ experience in tax law. In addition, he is an amateur gymnast, one-time South American explorer and experimental home cook.
In his early thirties, he completed a 930-kilometre solo journey on horseback across Chile to raise money for charity. The trip, in the summer of 1994-95, not only helped him brush up on his Spanish but also taught him about bonding with other people as he largely relied on the kindness of strangers for food and accommodation.
He returned to Australia in 1996 (he moved from his native New Zealand in the mid-1980s) and joined KPMG’s corporate tax division before moving to Thomson Reuters in 1999, undertaking research on technical tax issues. He then headed the Sydney GST practice for legal firm Corrs Chambers Westgarth from 2006 to 2008. Shortly before the global financial crisis hit, he knew it was time to move and joined AMP in June 2008, where he was responsible for managing global indirect tax risk for the funds management business.
He has also spent the past few years participating in forums with the Australian Taxation Office and other federal agencies to help solve problems affecting business. His new role as tax counsel basically means he gets to talk regularly to the institute’s members, then visits Canberra to tell politicians what is wanted or – as has been the case more recently – why he and his members are disappointed and what needs to change.
His biggest challenge in his new role will be pushing governments to make genuine tax reform. “Reform has been faltering of late, both at a federal and state level, in the face of short-term budget deficits,” he says.
“But the long-term economic benefits of tax reform, such as corporate tax cuts, means that this should remain front and foremost in the minds of all governments.”
While tax reform affects all businesses, the main tax issue for small business is the complexity of the tax rules. “They’re difficult to understand, overly time-consuming and costly to comply with,” he says. “What I want to do is help dial down the problem.”
He says recent Division 7A rules, which aim to ensure shareholders pay income tax on amounts they receive from their companies, are “just too complex, particularly where trusts form part of the ownership structure”.
Inefficient state taxes are also a burden and he wants to lobby for a “progressive removal”. “The recent ACT state budget shows what can be done in this space where there is the will,” he says.
He also hopes our policy leaders and regulators will recognise the impacts of last-minute tax changes aimed at recouping revenue, especially from large corporations.
“Big business is facing an increasing level of tax law uncertainty,” he says.
“Investment in big pipeline projects requires predictable tax outcomes in the medium to long term. But often high-profile lawsuits form the basis for proposed law change.”
He says rather than have this continue, “it’s time to actively engage with the ATO and present alternate views to them”.
As an unconventional tax expert who can balance upside down on gym rings, there’s no doubt Stacey will have the energy to engage far and wide.