Taxman gets truth from Wikipedia

Posted by Nigel Constantine

The Australian taxman has decided that it can save a buck or two by getting all its mission critical data from the online encyclopedia Wikipedia.

Much mirth has been caused down under when the Australian Taxation Office was found to be using slabs of information copied straight from Wikipedia in an official document detailing changes to how private equity firms treat asset sales.

Apparently the helpfully titled "draft taxation determination" was lifted word for word from the user-generated encyclopedia. 

In research terms getting your information from Wikipedia is right up there with asking the cat, or discussing the matter with a bloke you met in a pub who once met an expert on the matter.

The ATO was outed by The Wall Street Journal and its red-faced PR person said that the data was used because it provides a "commonly understood" description of private equity arrangements.

The draft determination was designed to stop tax revenue from leaking overseas by finding private equity firms must pay tax in Australia on revenues they receive from asset sales, just the sort of thing you turn to Wikipedia for.

The ATO revealed it was seeking AUS$678 million in taxes after private equity firm TPG sold Myer and re-issued the Wikipedia advice.

However the Tax Office views on the tax treatment of private equity arrangements are not based on Wikipedia, an ATO spokesman insisted.  Just as well.  Otherwise if you wanted to save a bob or two on tax, you would just have to write up a piece saying “Nigel Constantine should pay no tax” and get one of your Wikieditor mates to wave it through.