The Australian Tax Office could gouge back up to $600 million from the country’s wealthiest citizens over the next four years with plans to triple staff in its High Wealth Individuals Taskforce over that period.

“The estimates were that there would be about $600 million [recovered] over the four years that were covered by the [High Wealth Individuals Taskforce] measure,” Mark Konza, ATO deputy commissioner told a Senate Estimates committee on May 30. The High Wealth Individuals Taskforce received an $82 million boost for the 2006/ tax year and Konza said the ATO plans to lift staffing levels in the unit from the current 93 to 273 over the next four years. “In this coming year we are looking to add about 100 staff to the task force and rising to about 180 over a four-year period,” Konza said. He said the ATO is currently monitoring about 1,000 rich Australians – 900 of whom have declared assets of over $30 million and the remaining 100 are celebrities with at lesst $20 million to their names. “The 1,000 people that we have in mind are about 900 people who we have identified as having assets in excess of $30 million, and we are simply checking whether their tax performance equates to their economic performance, which is our standard practice.” Konza said. “The other 100 that I included in the 1,000 figure are people who may not meet the $30 million test, but might have a very high profile or may have control of assets that have not been counted in the $30 million.” The High Wealth Individuals Taskforce was established a decade ago and has steadily increased its investigation threshold from $20 million when it was formed to $30 million today. Konza could not confirm to the Senate how many mega-rich individuals have been prosecuted since the Taskforce launched or how much tax it has clawed back. In a later Estimates committee on May 31, Jeffrey Lucy, head of ASIC, confirmed the regulator would have to dip into the extra $30 million it received in the latest budget round to complete its investigations into Westpoint. “Potentially, because the $30 million that I referred to has an entry point of expenditure of $1.5 million, once we spend in excess of $1.5 million, we can access that fund,” Lucy said. “Realistically, we will certainly be spending in excess of $1.5 million in respect of Westpoint, so, yes, we will be accessing it.”

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