Ethical issues facing tax professionals: A comparative survey of tax agents and practitioners in Australia
Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Faculty of Business and Law
School of Accounting, Finance and Economics
The resolution of tax issues present significant ethical dilemmas for tax practitioners. The nature and extent of ethical concerns has important implications both for the tax profession and tax administration. The purpose of this paper is to investigate whether there are significant differences in the ethical perceptions of tax agents and Big 4 practitioners. A mail questionnaire was used to elicit data as to the frequency and importance of a range of ethical issues in tax practice. Both groups rated highly those issues which relate primarily to the conduct of professional responsibilities. Ensuring “reasonable enquiries” were taken, maintaining an appropriate level of “technical competence” and “continuing to act” for a client, when not appropriate, were of most concern to practitioners. The paper focuses on the tax profession in Western Australia, so the outcomes may not be generalisable elsewhere in either Australia or the rest of the Asia-Pacific region. Practical implications – There was a significant difference between the two groups with regard to “loophole seeking”. This has implications for client expectations of alternative roles: as “tax exploiter” for the Big 4, and as “tax enforcer/compliance” for the tax agent. There have been few empirical studies reporting the range of ethical issues encountered in tax practice. To date the literature tends to treat the tax profession as a homogenous group, whereas this research demonstrates differences in ethical outlook between sole-practitioners and large international public accounting firms.