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Bullying, nepotism claims at state agency

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

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

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

The office, which collects billions of dollars in taxes annually, 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, 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 complied with the public service code of conduct. He 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 a former VCAT chief, Judge Stuart Morris, who is involved in a protracted dispute with the office about payment of stamp duty.

Sources told The Age that the revenue office's senior lawyers fought and lost an internal battle to ensure that the dispute with Mr Morris 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 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 Mr Broderick should intervene to ensure the test case was held before a court over which Mr Morris did not preside.

This happened around the time that then attorney-general Rob Hulls intervened to ensure a retirement village planning dispute involving Mr Morris was not heard by VCAT because he was its head.

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

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

Mr Morris is still refusing to pay the stamp duty and has relaunched his challenge at VCAT.

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