“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!”

Strategy Roadmap – Rough Draft

“Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.”
― Abraham Lincoln

While it may seem like there’s very little activity here, we have been busy behind the scenes. The Steering Committee (myself, Carl Greenstreet, and Caroline Day), have been working on articulating our strategy. We have a very rough draft of our initial strategy roadmap that we are now releasing for comment. There are still many holes to fill – the table of contents shows an outline of where we’re heading.

Previous blog entries have discussed our overall vision. Carl’s Plan to Succeed post foreshadowed much of the structure of the current document. In Priorities I outlined several main goals which have been incorporated here. And in One Step at a Time I talked a bit about the long time horizon that may be necessary in our struggle. The governance section of the document comes mainly from my Steering Committee post. The Strategy Roadmap pulls all of this information into a single document.

This is a first draft. Your comments and suggestions are needed to assist with refining the current document and extending it. Getting the strategy right is an important first step. As the old proverb goes: “What’s the use of running if you’re not on the right road?” You can make comments here, on the Facebook group, or by completing the feedback form on the About page.

Comments will help us develop a coordinated action plan for 2017. We look forward to your feedback, and will be calling for assistance from everyone as our plans for 2017 take shape.

I’d like acknowledge Carl’s efforts in putting together the initial outline that became this first draft. Fleshing out his outline has been a group effort. If you are interested in joining the Steering Committee to help with further refinement of this document, please fill in the form here.

Download the document here: FTT Strategy Roadmap

One Step at a Time

journey

It’s crystal clear by now that the US and Australian governments are not going to wake up tomorrow and realise that FATCA and CBT are unjust and discriminatory. It will take quite some time to get rid of CBT and move to RBT. The other night I was catching up on my long list of podcasts, and stumbled upon the latest edition of the Freakonomics Podcast – In Praise of Incrementalism.  The podcast explores how an incremental approach worked for gay marriage, and the civil rights movement as well as how an incremental approach might be used for current issues such as #BlackLivesMatter. Listening to the podcast soon after reading a discussion about the civil rights movement in the American Expatriates Facebook group, started me thinking about our struggle to get our elected representatives to understand the injustice of FATCA and CBT. When it comes to fixing FATCA and CBT, a home run is unlikely. But each hit makes a run more likely. So while we have our eyes on the prize, we need to also aim for small victories that will eventually make a shift to RBT seem inevitable.

What does incremental look like?

Incremental is SLOW. It’s not exciting. But eventually it gets you there.

The incremental approach is most effective when the obvious, low-hanging fruit, is tackled first. I’ll suggest three potential baby steps that could get us on the road to victory – please add more in the comments.

Accidental Americans
Many of those claimed as US persons don’t identify as Americans at all. Perhaps they were born in the US, but their non-American parents took them home while they were still children. Or maybe they were born outside of the US with at least one US citizen parent. They may not even speak English. And now, if they admit their place of birth or parentage to their local bank, they are asked to fill out a W-9 so their account information can be sent to the IRS. What right does the US have to tax these people? The injustice is so obvious that President Obama has proposed an inadequate remedy in the 2016 and 2017 budget proposals. And recently there has been some push back against the US taxation of Accidental Americans in France.

Privacy/Transparency
Last week’s post argued that US Persons should be automatically notified when their account information was reported to the IRS via the ATO. Implementing this type of reporting would be an acknowledgement that affected US Persons have a right to know who has their financial information. Again, this is a baby step towards overturning the massive privacy violations of FATCA. A comment in the Facebook group argues that privacy is just a distraction, and that we should, instead focus on more substantive problems with FATCA. However, once our governments admit that there are some privacy concerns with FATCA, it may be easier to get them to understand some of the bigger problems.

Same Country Exemption (the right way)
This excellent video by Professor Allison Christians (McGill University) from 2014 was recently linked in the Citizenship Taxation Facebook group.

Starting about 6 minutes into the video Professor Christians advocates a “Same Country Exemption (SCE)” as an incremental approach to dismantling FATCA. SCE has a bad name among some groups of US expats because of a specific proposal that links SCE with IRS compliance. However, I think Professor Christians is advocating a simple SCE without any need for the FFI to check anything other than proof of residence: if you bank where you live, the bank is absolved of all FATCA reporting requirements. Plus, you’re being taxed where you live, so the chances of your “foreign” bank account being used to evade a significant amount of US tax is fairly small. SCE would be a small incremental step that would bring relief to many (not all) of those adversely affected by FATCA. Does it go far enough? No. But, implementing this type of SCE would alleviate at least some of the injustice of FATCA – it would be a small wedge that might allow us to push the door open wider.

 

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!

It’s not ‘… a matter for them to pursue with the US’!

Back in 2014, we met with our federal MP who sent a letter on our behalf to the Assistant Treasurer asking about taxation of our superannuation accounts by the US. This is an extract of the response we received from then Acting Assistant Treasurer, Matthias Cormann:

Letter dated July 2014 from Acting Assistant Treasurer
Letter dated July 2014 from Acting Assistant Treasurer

I have a problem with this response.

Continue reading “It’s not ‘… a matter for them to pursue with the US’!”