The new year brought with it a new Commissioner of Taxation, the first private sector appointment in the ATO ’s 100+ year history. We take a look at the CV of Australia’s 12th Commissioner.

Chris Jordan’s road to the top job at the ATO has been less than traditional.

At the age of 19, he became a policeman before taking advantage of the Whitlam Government’s policy of free university education to study commerce and law at the University of New South Wales. He later obtained a Master of Laws degree from the University of Sydney. Before joining KPMG in the mid 1980’s (where he stayed until mid 2012) and rising through the ranks to become a partner and chairman of KPMG in New South Wales, Mr Jordan also worked at Arthur Andersen and spent some time in academia at the University of Sydney.

Although he has extensive private sector experience, Mr Jordan is no stranger to either side of government, having worked with both Labor and the Coalition on complex tax policy issues. Shortly after joining KPMG, Mr Jordan was seconded to advise then Opposition Leader John Howard and later went on to assist the Howard Government implement the GST as Chairman of the New Tax System Advisory Board. He has also been a member of the Board of Taxation since its inception in September 2001, undertaking the role of Chairman since June 2011. Other government appointments include being the chair of the now concluded Business Tax Working Group, which (unsuccessfully) considered ways to cut the corporate tax rate, and being a member of the Resources Tax Consultation Panel.

Given the mix of private and government experience with both sides of politics, it is perhaps not too surprising that the announcement of his appointment to the top job evoked a favourable response from both sides of parliament and the business community.

At the time of his appointment, Mr Jordan indicated he had no immediate plans to shake up the ATO and was looking to spend time listening to both people within the ATO and stakeholders, including business. He stated that this would be a “marvellous opportunity to look at things in a slightly different way.”1 Business leaders hope that Mr Jordan’s extensive private sector experience means the ATO will adopt a more commercial approach to tax administration – indeed, it has been reported in the media that the new Commissioner has a “procommercial streak” to him.2

That said, while the Commissioner’s willingness to listen and private sector experience is promising for taxpayers, the reality may mean that not a lot changes. It must be remembered that, at the end of the day, the Commissioner is under a statutory duty to collect the revenue. The new Commissioner is also facing the same pressures as those that were faced by his predecessor – falling tax revenues and a political and business atmosphere which makes broadening the tax base difficult. For example, the aversion to increasing the GST possessed by both sides of politics and the recent reluctance of business to give up tax concessions in order to fund a cut to the corporate tax rate.

Business will nevertheless hope this injection of private sector experience leads to an ATO that is objective, impartial and better understands the needs of businesses. The new Commissioner has been known for his impartiality, having criticised both business and government alike. Of course, his familiarity with the way the private sector operates may just make him all the more effective as a tax collector.

Recent roles:

  • Chair of the Business Tax Working Group (2012)
  • Member of the Board of Taxation since 2005 (appointed Deputy Chair January 2005 and Chairman in June 2011)
  • Chairman of the Committee for Sydney
  • Director Bell Shakespeare Company, Sydney
  • Director Children’s Hospital Foundation, Sydney
  • Order of Australia (2005)