“Just the facts, ma’am” … Introducing the Fix The Tax Treaty Wiki!

I was once involved in a contentious activity involving a polarised stakeholder group comprised of big business, activists, regulators and government representatives.   Despite all parties agreeing to fact-based outcomes, I observed “the facts” changed depending on the party involved and decision makers were often presented with inconsistent, confusing and unverifiable information even by different members within the same faction.    At times, I was contacted by policy makers or media with questions and frustratingly could not immediately respond as the information was not at my fingertips.

The lessons I learned from this were if you want to affect change, you must gather your supporting evidence (the “case for change“) early and it must be verifiable and readily accessible.

Continue reading ““Just the facts, ma’am” … Introducing the Fix The Tax Treaty Wiki!”

Our Stories – The Human Element

When we tell other Australians about the issues we face from the long reach of the United States, it is easy to lapse into technical speak – double tax, PFICs, NIIT, FATCA, IGAs and the like.   But the reality of the situation is something more and deeply emotional:  fear, anger, frustration and resentment are only some of the gut feelings most of us experience.

To affect positive change, we need to educate Australian policy makers and the public on the harm being inflicted on not only a large group of people but also the Australian economy.   By its very nature, this is a technical topic and our arguments require verifiable stats, well thought-out positions, identified and viable alternatives, a business case and the like.

However, like any good novel, we will stand a better chance of hooking our audience if we also appeal to them on an emotional or gut level.

This is where you come in.  Continue reading “Our Stories – The Human Element”

Strategy Document Feedback

Just before Christmas, Karen released our initial Steering Committee work on the group strategy for your feedback through the blog comments, our Facebook Group or Private Message.   Perhaps the timing was not the best given how frenetic things get for most of us over the holiday season? Continue reading “Strategy Document Feedback”

Plan to Succeed

“If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail!”

Many of us would recall this famous quote by Benjamin Franklin.  I believe this statement also holds true for an advocacy group like Let’s Fix the Tax Treaty!   To address this, I have been working with Karen to help develop a draft Advocacy Strategy and Action Plan for our group.   Before too long, we will be tabling a draft plan for your comments and feedback.  But first, I wanted to set the stage so that everyone understands the importance of going through this process and getting it right.

When I discovered Let’s Fix the Tax Treaty! I was immediately attracted to this group as it 1) focused on finding solutions to the unfair USG CBT taxation issue that I am passionate about, 2) targeted its efforts in my home country of Australia (rather than a country located on the other side of the world that I left 26 years ago and where I have struggled to be heard) and 3) provided a vehicle for organised collective action.

However, the first time I read through LFTT! website,  I immediately had many questions on the next level of detail.   What are our specific priorities?   How will we go about achieving our aims in an organised fashion?  Okay, if we want to press the Australian Government to amend the underlying tax treaty and intergovernmental agreements, has anyone actually written down what needs to be changed and why?  What are our the strongest arguments in our favour?  What activities should we do and why?  So many questions…

This is where a written Advocacy Strategy and Action Plan comes in.  A good advocacy plan will help our group decide where to spend time and effort to achieve our goals and assist us to be as effective as possible with our limited resources.  The plan should be a key reference document that is updated as we progress towards achieving our goals.

Fortunately, there are a number of great templates available online to assist groups in developing an effective Advocacy Strategy and Action Plan.   Some of the better ones are here, here and here.   I personally found the planning exercise to be very familiar as the process is very similar to business strategic planning which I have been involved with for many years.

 

advocacy-cycle

Developing an Advocacy Strategy and Action Plan is a fairly straight-forward process that requires the group to consider key questions:

  • What is our goal?
  • What are the specific objectives that will lead us to achieving your goal?
  • What are our arguments and evidence?
  • Who can we collaborate or partner with?
  • Who do we need to influence?
  • What are our messages? How will we deliver these messages?
  • How will we approach this? Public / Private / Direct / Indirect?
  • What key activities should be undertaken?
  • What are our priorities and timings?
  • How will we organise and manage our group?

You can see that there is quite a bit to think about and work through which is what Karen and I have been working on offline.  We are happy to take early feedback in the comments below or on our FB group regarding your thoughts on the answers to these key questions.

I firmly believe that this front-end effort will pay off through better focused and organised efforts, leading to better results.  That said, we won’t get anywhere without broad involvement by impacted persons who are willing to pitch in to bring about positive change; so I remind you once again to spread the word and to get involved!

Strength in Numbers

Many Hands Make Light Work
Old English Proverb

United we stand, divided we fall
Aesop

There is always strength in numbers.  The more individuals or organisations that you can rally to your cause, the better
Mark Shields

All for One and One for All!
Motto from the Three Musketeeers, by Alexandre Dumas

I not only use all the brains I have, but all I can borrow
Woodrow Wilson

Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much
Helen Keller

With an estimated 200,000 persons of American origin living within Australia, one would think that the awareness would be greater of the significant threats imposed on them through the US Government’s harmful and unjust practices of extraterritorial taxation.   I’ve been baffled at how few actually understand the breadth of compliance expectations, costs and potential risks such reporting compliance penalties and double taxation but I also recognise that following years of minimal enforcement or education, many would have been able to stay blissfully ignorant of expectations imposed by a far far away country.

However, all this is changing now that the USG, with Australia’s full cooperation, has begun to enforce their extraterritorial Citizenship Based Taxation regime, aided and abetted by FATCA.  Stakeholders are starting to wake up to the material threats they face and are motivated to seek change.  This led to the recent formation of Let’s Fix the Tax Treaty! as an Australian focused advocacy group seeking to press the Australian Government for amendments to the Australia/US Tax Treaty and the FATCA IGA to eliminate discrimination against a subclass of Australian citizens that is also disadvantageous to all Australians

As a new, word-of-mouth grassroots initiative, it is pleasing to see that membership in our Facebook group has already reached over 125 members.  Nevertheless, current membership is a very small fraction of the impacted community and clearly our cause will be better served by greater membership representation.

Why does membership numbers matter?  Firstly, if we are seen to represent a large stakeholder group having aligned goals, we’ll have much greater creditability and a better opportunity to influence Australian policy and opinion makers.   Secondly, our advocacy group strategy (currently under development –look for blog posts on this soon) will flow onto specific activities that will require volunteer efforts to execute.  To successfully bring about change, we will all need to get involved.  Recently, a call went out for volunteers to serve on a Steering Committee (which remains open, hint, hint!) and there will be further calls for volunteer support as standing committees are formed to support targeted activities.   Thirdly, the more broad and diverse the skills and mindsets we can draw upon, the more successful our efforts are likely to be.

Who are the Stakeholders we need to attract?  Stakeholders consist of:

  • Australian residents of American origin, many of which are dual citizens;
  • Australian spouses of American citizens;
  • Australian citizens living in America who are now subject to US tax laws including potentially material (penalty) taxes on Superannuation and passive investments they established before moving to the US
  • Indirectly, all Australians who have to pay for FATCA systems, suffer money being unfairly diverted from their domestic economy into a foreign economy and tolerate a loss of Australian sovereignty as Australia domestic policies are undermined by a foreign power.

 

So if we accept that larger membership is desirable, what can we do about it?

  1. Spread the word to your network and ask them to do the same. Most of us know many impacted people so this is a great place to start.  To make this easier, I’ve previously posted a “model email” (look for it in the comments) that you are welcome to modify and personalise as your own.
  2. Let appropriate organisations know about our group. I’ll cross-post this in the a couple of relevant Facebook Groups I am a member of (Yanks Down Under and North American Expats in Adelaide and South Australia) please do this with other appropriate groups and please tell us about them in the comments.
  3. Media helps immensely. After the recent SMH article featuring our very own leader Karen Alpert, we saw a sharp uptick in FB membership requests and visits to our blog site.  We’ll be formally working the media angle further as the Steering Committee and group strategy gets rolled out but perhaps some of you already have connections or ideas here?  Please tell us about it in the comments.
  4. Finally, we are happy to take other ideas in the comments.

I think we should be targeting to grow this group to the 2,000 to 5,000 persons size, which seems to me both a reasonable and achievable target.  Of course, we recognise that numbers for numbers sake is not what we are here for and we will soon table an advocacy strategy and corresponding activity plan for your input and feedback.  Then it will be time to get involved!  Look for my next post soon on the benefits of having a well thought-out advocacy strategy.