The Australian Tax Office has defended its decision to delay releasing Mac-compatible e-tax software until 2013, stating that there were security issues that needed to be sorted out.
The ATO revealed yesterday that its popular e-tax software for Windows, which more than 2.6 million Australians used to file tax returns last year, would not be available for Mac users this financial year. The office had been working on porting the software to Mac, as part of an upgrade to the Delphi XE2 platform.
In an interview with ZDNet Australia, Steven Hamilton, first assistant commissioner for enterprise applications, said that after Capgemini reviewed the ATO's readiness to deliver e-tax for Mac in 2012, the ATO decided to delay the launch because the XE2 platform was new and security was still an outstanding issue to address.
"We needed to make sure we have a very secure channel for taxpayers to lodge their data across the internet to us. Blackbox [security] technology is available, we currently use it for the Windows platform, but because it was new to the Macintosh XE2 platform, we just had to move through some of those concerns with our third-party providers," he said. "Those concerns have largely been addressed now, and we're working on the secure code elements now, the download, so that that can't be hacked at the front end."
Accessibility was also an issue, he said, with the XE2 platform not initially supporting access for the visually-impaired.
ATO chief information officer Bill Gibson said that if the software wasn't ready by tax time, it had to wait until the next year.
"It's the sort of thing where if you miss by a week, you miss by quite a long time. Once we start the tax peak period we don't look to deploy any major changes, because it would just destabilise and put the system at risk," he said. "That's why we have to look to the future, and look to 2013 having another 8 per cent of users using e-tax on Mac."
He said that he wanted taxpayers to keep confidence in the e-tax system, which meant delaying the release until all security issues were resolved.
"We don't want to have any breach that would undermine the integrity of the system, and the confidence the community has in how we handle their information."
Keeping the e-tax software for Windows up to date every year is also a major task for the ATO, Hamilton said. Every piece of legislative change to taxation must be accounted for, and the ATO also needs to work with various government agencies and third parties to make sure that the pre-filled data that goes into tax returns, can be provided.
"There is quite a program of work there, but we see that as a key service to the community, to be able to provide the pre-filled data to make it as easy as possible to complete their tax obligations," he said.
The ATO is eying moves to making e-tax more web-based, over the next three to five years. While this would have the benefit of making e-tax essentially platform agnostic, the ATO will have to make e-tax compatible across a variety of web browsers, like Internet Explorer, Chrome and Firefox, as well as the various versions of those browsers — including those out of date. The time this takes, adds up for web developers. As a demonstration of this, online retailer Ruslan Kogan made international headlines recently, for claiming that he would charge a tax on customers visiting his site on the outdated IE 7 browser.
Hamilton said that, with many of the ATO's services already web-based, the company already had a lab set up to build and test across multiple browsers and platforms.
"Each year, we put a significant investment into quality insurance; we have a large conformity test we undertake across platform and across browser, and we have a lab to test that," he said. "We use our simulation centre, where we would test out different scenarios for what makes sense in terms of products and platforms."