‘Burying your head in the sand isn’t helpful’: ATO

A woman who failed to lodge 91 tax returns has received a 12-month suspended prison sentence, in what the tax office is calling a “message to the community”.

Geraldton woman Judith Ahearn was handed a 12-month suspended prison sentence this week after failing to lodge income tax returns and Business Activity Statements (BAS) 91 times.

Ms Ahearn’s non-lodgement streak began in October 2008 and continued through the 2009, 2010 and 2011 financial years, with the sentencing coming after “years of warnings”, the Australian Taxation Office said.

The 65-year-old road freight business partner also received court-imposed fines of $20,000 and $30,000 before the sentencing. The two fines have not been paid.

“While we’re disappointed that we have not been able to resolve this matter outside of the court system, we hope that the sentence handed down today sends a message to the community that lodging your tax returns is not optional,” assistant commissioner Peter Vujanic said.

“Our key message to anyone who’s having issues is to work with us to sort things out. Burying your head in the sand isn’t helpful for anyone.”

Mr Vujanic said that business owners who repeatedly shirk their tax obligations are “gaining an unfair advantage”. As such, the court and ATO action comes down to the ATO’s commitment to maintaining a “level playing field”.

“No one is above the law,” the assistant commissioner added.

“Despite our repeated attempts to engage with Ms Ahearn to resolve her outstanding tax returns, she has shown a complete disregard for her basic obligations as a member of the Australian community.”

He said that the decision is a reminder to Australians of the potential penalties that come with “refusing to engage” with the tax office.

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