Bullying, nepotism claims at state agency

VICTORIA'S main tax collection agency has been accused by senior staff of serious mismanagement and of failing to confront nepotism and bullying.

VICTORIA'S main tax collection agency has been accused by senior staff of serious mismanagement and of failing to confront nepotism and bullying.

Two senior officers of the State Revenue Office have separately detailed concerns about the promotion of a relatively inexperienced employee to a senior position and the treatment of other staff in the agency's legal services division.

The revenue office, which collects billions of dollars in taxes from Victorians every year, has also been accused of mishandling a personal tax dispute involving a former head of the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal.

The complaints, which have been referred to the state Ombudsman for assessment, include criticism of the conduct of Victorian Tax Commissioner Paul Broderick, who heads the revenue office.

Mr Broderick told The Age he was aware that complaints had been made, but said they had been found to lack any substance. He said a department investigation into whether nepotism had influenced the promotion of any staff had found no impropriety and that the appointments in question complied with the public service code of conduct. Mr Broderick also dismissed the claims of bullying and mismanagement and said the revenue office's legal services branch which provides advice about tax disputes involving Victorians had been found by auditors to have performed very well.

One of the complaints accuses the revenue office of mishandling a case involving former chief of the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal, Judge Stuart Morris, who is involved in a protracted dispute with the office about the payment of stamp duty.

Sources told The Age that the agency's senior lawyers fought and lost an internal battle to ensure that the dispute with Mr Morris, along with a separate stamp duty test case, did not involve VCAT.

The lawyers argued in 2007 that if the revenue office ran a stamp duty test case at VCAT at the same time Mr Morris headed the tribunal and at the same time the VCAT president was battling the revenue office over a related tax issue, it would lead to a serious conflict of interest.

The revenue office lawyers argued that to avoid such a conflict, Mr Broderick should intervene to ensure the test case was held before a court that Mr Morris did not preside over.

The argument from the revenue office lawyers was made around the same time that then attorney-general Rob Hulls had intervened to ensure a retirement village planning dispute involving Mr Morris was not heard by VCAT because he was the head of the tribunal.

However, the revenue office lawyers' arguments were overturned and the test case was heard before VCAT in March 2007, shortly before Mr Morris stood down as the tribunal's president. The outcome of this test case removed a major obstacle to Mr Morris succeeding in his own tax dispute case.

Yesterday, Mr Broderick said that it was the revenue office's litigation committee that ruled that the test case should be heard before VCAT and that he didn't think it proper to overturn that decision.

"I don't usually overrule the litigation committee," he said.

Mr Morris is still refusing to pay the stamp duty tax and has recently relaunched his legal challenge before VCAT. It is listed to be heard tomorrow.

Documents that relate to the current VCAT challenge reveal that while he was VCAT president and while he was hearing state tax disputes Mr Morris made repeated private submissions to the revenue office that argued that the law was in his favour.

Join the Conversation...

There are comments posted so far.

If you'd like to join this conversation, please login or sign up here

Related Articles