Canberra region community-first tax clinics


7 minute read

The Australian National University (ANU) is the first Canberra-based university to provide free tax-related assistance to the public in the ACT region.

The ANU Tax Clinic, a student-led initiative, is now open to the public until the end of the tax season – 30 October. 

Through the course of its four months, the Clinic, and its community-first approach, will fill gaps in tax education and information for local taxpayers. 

Experienced practitioners will mentor university accounting students operating the 2021 Clinic. Together, they will provide taxpayers in Canberra and regional NSW with free help and guidance on tax issues, such as deductions, late lodgements and MyGov issues, among others. 

Last year, ANU students handled over a hundred tax queries, helping the public navigate the new COVID-19 tax measures. The services were extended beyond Canberra to Yass, Goulburn, Queanbeyan, Jindabyne, Cooma and the South Coast region, from Eurobodalla down to Eden.

This year, the Clinic appointments will be offered via hybrid options, either by telephone and videoconferencing, as well as in-person, while complying with the government’s COVID-19 social-distancing guidelines. 

Peter Zorbas, Head of Tax at the Commonwealth Superannuation Corporation, has been a mentor with the Clinic since its inception three years ago.
In this interview, he shares the benefits of this community-first free service, as well as his insights about the Australian tax sector.

Q. The 2020 tax return had several new elements to it due to the COVID-19 pandemic. What are the ongoing implications for the average Australian taxpayer?

The average Australian taxpayer was hugely affected by COVID-19. However, the pandemic is not over and the ongoing impacts of COVID-19 will continue to affect the average Australian taxpayer this financial year, and possibly the ones to follow. Due to the pandemic, a significant number of people since last year have continued to work from home, either on a part-time or full-time basis. For these reasons, the Australian Taxation Office (ATO) has announced that the temporary shortcut method that was available in 2020 will also be available this year. Under this method, you will be able to claim 80 cents per hour for all your running costs. 

Q. What have been the impacts of COVID-19 on some of the tax practices in your sector?

The spread of COVID-19 is causing disruption to society and to the business world globally. We have seen governments around the world introduce a raft of tax measures to support individuals throughout this disruption. A number of tax considerations have arisen, including when an employee can claim a personal tax deduction while working from home, as well as extra disbursements from your employer, which are taxable to you or subject to fringe benefits tax for the employer. 

Q. What gaps does the ANU Tax Clinic fill in tax education and information for taxpayers?

The ANU Tax Clinic can help you understand whether the tax considerations flowing from COVID-19 will affect the way you complete your 2021 tax returns. While the Clinic cannot provide specific tax advice to you, it can provide general information that might be useful to you in completing your tax returns.

Q. What is your assessment of the tax cuts announced in the latest Federal Budget?

The Government continues its personal income tax plan with the announcement of a number of measures targeted to help low to middle-income earners. The announced Budget will provide certain taxpayers with immediate relief to support the economic recovery. The extension of the low and middle income tax offset for a further 12 months is welcomed. This measure will provide a reduction in tax of up to A$1,080 for those taxpayers earning less than A$90,000 and will be received when the individual lodges their income tax return. The exclusion of the A$250 self-education deduction threshold is also welcomed.

Q. Which leadership and mentoring skills are important to practice and implement in the current climate?

We live in times of exponential change. COVID-19 is disrupting our lives in ways no one would have imagined. Leaders are called to respond to this change and are required to leverage new opportunities through innovative thinking. Leaders are required to be more flexible in their leadership style and change the way they communicate with their teams, particularly if staff are working from home.

Click here to learn more about the ANU Tax Clinic and make an appointment.

The ANU College of Business and Economics offers an extensive range of specialised programs. Click here for more details.