Trying to make a good first impression: A natural field experiment to engage new entrants to the tax system

Tax and Transfer Policy Institute Working Paper 6/2021

Authors: Sarah Dong & Mathias Sinning

Very little is known about the compliance behavior of first-time taxpayers although their tax paying habits may affect the long-run functioning of a tax system. This paper studies the compliance behavior of new entrants to the tax system using data from a large-scale natural field experiment that was implemented in collaboration with the Australian Taxation Office (ATO). We examine the effectiveness of a welcome letter from the tax authority that aims to nudge first-time taxpayers to lodge their first income tax return. We compare this letter to a standard letter that emphasizes the possibility of penalties and interest charges. We find that both letters have surprisingly similar effects on tax compliance, suggesting that the main channel through which the letters affect individual behavior is by providing information. By contrast, the type of messaging and the way in which information is presented to first-time taxpayers appear to be relatively unimportant. Our analysis of heterogeneous treatment effects indicates that both letters are most effective for young entrants to the tax system and, within this group, more effective for Australian citizens than for visa holders.

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1985 reform of the Australian tax system

Working Paper 7/2021

Author: Paul Tilley

After the tumult of the Whitlam government, the Fraser government (1975-1983) saw consolidation with less reform. The 1975 Asprey report remained largely unactioned, despite the fundamental problems that burdened the Australian tax system. The 1983 election of the Hawke government, however, set in train a series of economic reforms, and tax would play a big part in these. This paper tracks those developments, starting with the tax avoidance and evasion issues that plagued the era and the 1981 Campbell Committee financial system review. The main focus, though, is on the 1985 draft white paper and tax summit that delivered the first instalment of the Asprey blueprint. While the broad-based consumption tax didn’t get up, the package reformed Australia’s income tax system, with a capital gains tax, a fringe benefits tax, a foreign tax credit system and a dividend imputation system.

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