Interview with Sharon Murray: Tax Controversy Partner, Deloitte Australia

Sharon Murray joined Deloitte in Melbourne May 2022 from the Australia Taxation Office (ATO); she is a tax controversy partner with more than 15 years’ experience in corporate income tax matters. Prior to joining Deloitte, Sharon was an Assistant Commissioner of Technical Leadership—Advice and Guidance and New Measures in Public Groups and International. She was also in the Tax Counsel Network and Public Groups and International segment responsible for the private and public rulings program where she provided tax certainty on large market transactions and international tax issues.

At Deloitte, Sharon advises on all stages of the dispute cycle with expertise in early engagement and dispute resolution, recognising that timeliness and certainty are critical to corporate decision making.

We talked to Sharon about her career journey and view on tax controversy.

Can you share a little about your career journey, especially your role in government and the learnings from that experience?

I started in a Big Four before moving to the ATO where I worked predominately in technical roles dealing with large multinational clients. When I first started at the ATO I was one of the few people focusing on international tax issues (I was tasked with working on Treasury’s review of CFCs), which seems strange now that the ATO’s primary focus is multinational tax avoidance and cross-border transactions. I joined Deloitte about 6 months ago where I focus on tax controversy and corporate tax matters. I spent a large part of my career working on strategic technical issues for large corporates both in disputes (audits, objections, and justified trust) and taxpayer-initiated engagements when I led Advice & Guidance which dealt predominately with capital management and large listed transactions. Key learnings from that experience include that a deliberate engagement strategy with the ATO will result in more favourable outcomes for clients, knowing the decision makers in any engagement is important and ensuring relationships with senior ATO personnel remain positive as often the same people are dealing with sectors and strategies, so you’ll meet again!

When you are not focused on or thinking about tax controversy, what do you like to do?

I have three children (3, 6 and 7 years old) who keep me very busy, and I enjoy food (I find it hard to say no to cake). We are also embarking on a renovation of our 1920s home.

Speaking of international tax controversy is very much in focus, especially in the region. What are some of the thing’s entities should be focused on?

Definitely transfer pricing—the OECD statistics show disputes with regulators regarding pricing continues to increase year on year across OECD nations. The rise in global controversy is being driven by questions about financing arrangements and residency matters and scrutiny regarding the use of low-tax jurisdictions. Then there is the global concern around digital assets and services. Focusing on contemporaneous documentation for transactional matters as well as for the purposes of transparency and transfer pricing filing requirements should be a focus. Additionally, enhanced dispute management processes in increasingly bi-lateral disputes are becoming more important to advisers and clients.

What are the key domestic tax policy and administration considerations in Australia?

Multinational tax integrity and transparency is a key platform of the current Labor Government. The focus is on appropriate debt levels, payments to do with intangible assets (royalties) and tax transparency for large multinational groups. Alongside Pillar Two, these are the main priorities of the government and where the ATO is focusing its resources in terms of strategic risks. Administratively, the tax avoidance taskforce has received further funding meaning more audit activity.

What is your tax prediction for 2023?

Domestically perhaps the first term Labor Government may have the appetite to do something in terms of real tax reform and globally we may finally see Pillar Two and global minimum tax being implemented.

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