Volume 15, Issue 1 – Sawyer

REWRITING TAX LEGISLATION – CAN POLISHING SILVER REALLY TURN IT INTO GOLD?

By Adrian Sawyer

With increasing levels of complexity, bulging statute books and pleas for simplification, the 1990s saw three Commonwealth jurisdictions pursue similar, yet deceptively different, paths towards the intended outcome of tax law simplification. Retaining the underlying core concepts and with minimal critical examination of tax policy processes, Australia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom embarked upon three journeys towards their (arguably) utopian goals of tax law simplification through rewriting their tax legislation. New Zealand and the United Kingdom have ‘finished’ their ‘marathon’ projects (receiving, in the Olympian parlance, the ‘gold’ and ‘silver’, respectively), while Australia is closing in on the ‘bronze’ with an aspirational (but now unachievable) target of completing their project in 2013. This paper will build upon prior research by examining the journeys of these three countries, focussing on the ‘flaws’, inherent to varying degrees, in their roadmaps for their respective marathon journeys. It also highlights a number of the memorable milestones, with the view of offering perspectives on their various ‘successes’ and ‘failures’. Furthermore, the paper will contemplate the question ‘Where to from here?’ for each country. While it would be unfair to suggest that the manner in which the three rewrite projects were structured could only at best produce something akin to ‘fool’s gold’ without working towards effective simplification, the act of seeking to turn silver into gold is usually tax alchemy, even if the result may glisten that little bit more!

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