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Transparency

In my last post, one of the priorities listed was more transparency in FATCA reporting. What I meant was that everyone should have the right to know what is being reported about them to the ATO/IRS by their local (foreign to the US) financial institution, and the right to correct any errors in that information. Continue reading “Transparency”

Priorities

Following on from Carl’s post, I think the main issues have been obvious since this site was started. What we need now is to set specific goals and objectives. We can divide these into two broad groups – Tax Treaty goals and FATCA goals. The purpose of this post is to list the goals so that we can prioritise action. Continue reading “Priorities”

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.

Questions for the ATO

Another year, another deadline. The ATO has until 30 September to hand over another tranche of Australian bank details to the IRS under the FATCA IGA. Last year they were almost a week early when they handed over details of more than 30,000 accounts containing more than $5 billion for an average balance greater than $160,000. What will they send this year? Continue reading “Questions for the ATO”

Has FATCA affected you?

As we approach another September 30th, the ATO is surely preparing their next data dump for the IRS. As we wait to see how much of our private financial data has been shared with a foreign nation, I thought it would be useful to find out how FATCA has affected normal Australians. I have put together a short survey. Please share it with your Australian-resident friends – whether or not they are US-tainted. Banks are asking everyone whether they’re American, not just people, like me, who can’t get rid of their accent!

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Steering Committee

If we’re going to have any real impact, we need a plan. To that end, I am gathering together a Steering Committee to assist in strategy and action. I have already asked some people to join the Steering Committee and will introduce members to the group (both on the blog and on Facebook) as they agree to serve. Current Steering Committee members are Karen Alpert and Carl Greenstreet.

The committee will ideally consist of 4-6 individuals from around the country. With Carl’s feedback, I have put together a Steering Committee Charter that describes the roles and responsibilities of Steering Committee members. Subcommittees will assist the Steering Committee with Education, Blog posts, Legislative Action, Allied Action, News, and Media.

If you would like to volunteer for one of the subcommittees, please complete this form

Is Super equivalent to Social Security?

This post is inspired by a paragraph near the end of this blog post by  Marsha-laine Dungog:

We would encourage U.S. expats to seize the current momentum and push for legislation that will “enshrine” the Super’s objectives as one that will “provide income in retirement to substitute or supplement the Age Pension.”[41] This would conclusively lay all doubts to rest that the Super should be analyzed in a manner that is consistent with (and therefore taxed similarly to) U.S. Social Security. The treatment of SG Contributions as foreign social security is consistent with the statutory mandate under Australian Superannuation law requiring employer contributions to be made pursuant to the taxing authority of the Commonwealth of Australia (Commonwealth) and not on account of a contractual relationship between employer and employee. Consequently, earnings accrued on SG contributions and distributions therefrom should also be classified as foreign social security benefits which are already excluded from U.S. taxation under Article 18(2) of the Tax Treaty.[42]

This got me thinking. In what ways is Super equivalent to Social Security? And does the proposed legislation1 actually do anything? Finally, what action is needed in Australia to clarify this issue? Continue reading “Is Super equivalent to Social Security?”

The thin edge of the wedge?

On Wednesday (31 August) the Israeli High Court temporarily blocked preparations for Israel to share data with the IRS under Israel’s FATCA IGA. (Article in Haaretz)(pdf)  This is a temporary injunction, with a court date of 15 September for arguments to be heard against the Israeli FATCA IGA. The plaintiffs in the case argued that FATCA violated their rights to privacy and equal treatment and that there was no compelling public purpose to the law. Similar lawsuits against FATCA have been filed in Canada and the US.

Continue reading “The thin edge of the wedge?”

Entrapment!

For US expats who moved to Australia decades ago, the idea that they should be filing annual US tax returns may be unreal. Many have been non-compliant for years. Because of this, FATCA and the resulting compliance push have (probably on purpose to some extent) entrapped long-term expats, who have found that the rules have changed while they weren’t looking.

One major area where long-term expats have been entrapped is superannuation. Even the IRS has no idea how to report super. There are two main alternatives during the accumulation phase (this applies to most accumulation accounts) – either just the contributions are taxable in the Continue reading “Entrapment!”