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On the job in taxation law
Amelya Pittas studies commerce and law at Deakin University and is now law interpretation officer at Australian Taxation Office.
What's your job title?
Law Interpretation Officer
How long have you worked in your current position?
What does your job involve?
My current area of work, Review and Dispute Resolution (‘RDR’) engages early with clients to try to resolve disputes without the need for costly litigation. I work in the objections area of RDR, specifically in relation to large market taxpayers and internationals, however RDR as a whole has responsibility for a range of areas including; all objections (comprising individuals, small business and high net worth individuals), litigation, Independent Review of large taxpayer audit position papers, alternative dispute resolution approaches, the ATO in-house facilitation service, provision of legal assistance to ATO business lines and the independent assurance of settlements for the ATO.
Broadly, clients who are dissatisfied with their assessments have the right to object to their own assessments or to a decision made by the Commissioner of Taxation under part IVC of the Taxation Administration Act 1953. RDR considers alternative forms of dispute resolution, as appropriate, to ensure a positive and fair client experience. As an objection is a formal avenue of dispute resolution, it attracts appeal rights either to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal or to the Federal Court should a client disagree with the outcome of the objection.
What is your employer’s mission/goal?
The ATO contributes to the economic and social wellbeing of Australians by fostering willing participation in our tax and superannuation systems. The ATO is a leading tax and superannuation administration known for our contemporary service, expertise and integrity.
What do you do on a daily basis? Have you worked on any projects that you’re particularly proud of?
As outlined above, I currently work in RDR and work on objections lodged by publicly listed and/or international companies. Once I am assigned a case, I analyse the facts and arguments of the client which can be in relation to any segment of the market or any type of tax law; at the moment this includes, but is not limited to analysing capital / revenue arguments, mining and construction, research and development tax offsets and general section 8-1 of the Income Tax Assessment Act 1997 deduction arguments.
On a day to day basis I interpret and apply my knowledge of taxation legislation and principles, rulings, policy guidelines and procedures and use ATO guidance material to form a preliminary position on the issues at hand. I then identify and request further information required to determine the objection from the client. Once I have completed my analysis of relevant guidelines, legislation and rulings, with consultation from internal stakeholders, a decision is made whether or not to fully allow, partially allow or disallow the client’s objection. At this stage, a notice of decision is written which often includes a legal reasoning document, which sets out all the material facts, cases and guidance documents etc., that were considered in determining the objection.
What’s the most challenging aspect of your role?
Dealing with technically complex cases with little to no legal precedents; this makes determining an objection difficult and susceptible to an appeal by the client to either the Administrative Appeals Tribunal or the Federal Court for a determination of the relevant facts and/or a question of law.
What’s the most rewarding aspect of your role? Please be as specific as possible.
I find the most rewarding aspect of my role to be writing up either preliminary position papers or legal reasoning documents. Writing this type of document draws upon all the skills I learned as part of my law degree – I utilise relevant research articles, critically analyse the material facts and synthesize the technical arguments into one logical, cohesive document which can either accept, reject or partially accept the client’s position.
What’s your background?
Where did you grow up?
Where were you educated and what did you study? Please specify your graduate degree.
In 2013 I completed a double degree of Commerce (Dist) and Laws (Hons) at Deakin University. I then went on to complete a graduate diploma of practical legal training with the College of Law and was subsequently admitted to the Supreme Court of Victoria as a lawyer in 2015.
What attracted you to that field of study?
I chose to study law because of the skills a law degree teaches you. These skills are generally transferrable and include research, critical analysis, synthesis of complex ideas, presentation and writing complex essays/discussion papers - all necessary attributes for candidates in various careers. I wanted to spend my time at university gaining important skills for later in life with the ability to take me anywhere, and I saw a law degree as the perfect option.
What personal qualities are required for success in your position?
Initiative, drive, excellent communication skills with internal and external stakeholders and the ability to work collaboratively with others.
What’s one thing it might surprise people to learn is advantageous in your job?
The ATO provides an incredibly supportive and flexible work environment, which places an emphasis on personal growth and professional development.
What are the limitations or downsides of your job?
Working in the Public Groups and Internationals area provides excellent opportunities to contribute thorough work on highly complex cases; however, turnarounds can be extremely protracted, often making it difficult to deliver an outcome within a reasonable timeframe.
If you could give three pieces of advice to your younger self at university, what would they be?
- That rejection is a part of life – don’t take it personally or let it deter you from achieving your goals.
- It’s ok to be unsure about whether you want to pursue a career in law.
- Be open to new experiences – they can be the most rewarding.
What's the biggest misconception about your career?
That working in the ATO and specifically working in the field of tax law is boring. There are many opportunities to work on new and exciting cases dealing with particularly complex areas of law, sometimes absent any legal precedents.
Further, in my work with RDR and during my graduate program I have had the opportunity to work directly with other internal stakeholders from the ATO including, but not limited to, Tax Counsel Network, Independent Review, and Assistant and Deputy Commissioners. I have also had the opportunity to consult with external Counsel for advice as to the strength of the Commissioner’s position prior to issuing a determination. The exposure to other areas of the ATO and people with highly specialised expertise has provided great networking and stretch opportunities for my personal and professional development.
Finally, working in an organisation as large as the ATO represents endless opportunity for career development and advancement in either the area of RDR where, if I was seeking a change in my work, I could apply to transfer to a different area such as litigation, Independent Review or Tax Counsel Network, or other legal areas including General Counsel which is responsible for providing advice in relation to employment law, corporations law etc. or Prosecutions, which deals with criminal law matters. The ATO also provides opportunities for staff to participate in secondments in the private sector with high profile law and accounting firms for 6 months to a year in addition to secondments to the Department of Treasury; the opportunities are seemingly endless.