Tax office cracking down on black economy businesses


Victoria Stone-Meadows


Email Victoria
Last updated:

The Australian Taxation Office (ATO) will be in Port Douglas and Cooktown in the next few week to educate local businesses about black market economy trading.

The ATO has received a number of complaints that businesses in Port Douglas and Cooktown may be operating in the black economy.

An ATO spokesperson said about 200 businesses will receive a visit from ATO representatives over August and September.

“Our visits are primarily about providing education and assistance to help them get things right,” the spokesperson said.

“Businesses that are selected for a visit from us will be advised in advance. We are not proposing to conduct any unannounced visits.”

The spokesperson said the visits are not audits and focus more on providing information than checking on business operations.

“However, if we discover information during our visits that indicates that the business is operating in the black economy, this may lead to follow up action like audit activity,” the spokesperson said.

“Prosecution action is only taken in extreme cases of non-compliance.”

Visits should take around 30 minutes and ATO officers may ask questions about record keeping and payment facilities, registrations, outstanding lodgements, tax debts, and employer obligations such as superannuation.

They will also explain how to fix any mistakes, discuss the benefits of electronic record keeping and payment methods, show businesses the ATO tools and assistance products available, and help answer questions about tax affairs.

ATO Assistant Commissioner, Peter Holt, said the visits are all about ensuring a level playing field for honest businesses.

“We’ve received numerous community referrals from people in Cooktown and Port Douglas about some businesses getting an unfair advantage over their honest competitors,” he said.

“Our intelligence suggests that some businesses are not declaring all of their income to the ATO or paying staff in cash which means employees may be missing out on their entitlements like super.

“We understand that some businesses may be operating in cash and not have merchant payment facilities due to individual circumstances.

“The issue is when businesses are deliberately ‘cash only’ to avoid reporting all their income. By detecting and addressing this behaviour, we’re helping to keep things fair for honest small businesses in FNQ.”

Business likely to receive a visit from the ATO in August and September include:

  • Cafes, restaurants and takeaway food services
  • Pharmaceutical and other store-based retailing
  • Personal care services
  • Accommodation
  • Building cleaning, pest control and gardening services
  • Building completion services
  • Building installation services
  • Other construction services     

The visits are part of the ATO’s strategy to deal with the black economy which costs community as much as $50 billion.

The ATO plans to visit almost 10,000 businesses this financial year in all states and territories, across a variety of industries.

While in the region, the ATO will be hosting information sessions about the black economy to educate and inform businesses about their rights and obligations.

“Our information sessions are designed to help business owners understand the newly introduced Single Touch Payroll system and the benefits of good record-keeping,” Mr Holt said.

“We hope these visits and information sessions will be of great help to businesses in the Cooktown and Port Douglas area.

“It’s all about protecting honest businesses by ensuring all businesses operate on a level playing field. The black economy can have an adverse impact on the community.

“By working directly with small businesses we will be able to work through any issues and help them get things right.” 

Information sessions: Register online

Port Douglas
Tuesday 27 August, Oaks Resort Port Douglas, 87-109 Port Douglas Road 5.00pm – 6.00pm

Monday 26 August, Cooktown PCYC, 3 May Street 5.30pm – 6.30pm AEST

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