In my busy, tempestuous, controversial life, yesterday was the day I appeared in court, opposed by the ATO.
While this may not be the final word, it was the near culmination of a drawn out saga going back nearly 2 years now. Two years of scrapping, of battling and resisting and taking the fight up to them – exemplified by the fact that in yesterday’s hearing the ATO were the respondent.
The timing of this hearing was imperfect given I am in the middle of selling a shop, fighting off marauding landlords, and needing to complete assignments all at once. Then this. Given the schedule I had hardly given any thought to the hearing until the day before, though I knew the points I wanted to make.
The hearing was at 10am. I prepared myself carefully. I had given considerable thought to how I should dress. I had to appear low-key, I thought. I even considered dressing a tad shabbily, as if to support my embattled, bankrupt state. In the end I dressed well, but conservatively. I’d rather cop a fine than dress shabbily. And so it was blue suit with a pale blue shirt, and a boring blue tie.
More important was my manner. I had to counsel myself to be humble, to reign in the smart-arsery, to appear not too bright. Don’t be belligerent H, I told myself as I journeyed into town on the train. I had a quick coffee, studied my notes, then up I went.
I didn’t quite know what to expect. I had pictured a vaguely court like setting, and that’s as it turned out. On one side was me, representing myself. Arrayed against me were three ATO staff, all women. There was the court officer, and of course, the judge.
I had wondered if I would be nervous. It was an intimidating setting, and the stakes were high. I’ve become used to it though. I feel like a fighter pilot who has taken to the air so often that dicing with death seems routine. And so it was. I felt a little nervous anticipation walking in, and a flutter of uncertainty, but soon that passed.
In a sense I think I drew strength from the opposition. Having three against me stoked my inner resolve. There’s something about being the underdog and having the odds stacked against you that stiffens the spine.
I won’t go into the details of the hearing. I had to swear an oath. I was called to the witness stand. I made representations to the judge, as did the ATO. At the end of it the judge – a kindly seeming man – said he would be handing down his verdict in about 3 weeks. That was that.
How did it go? Okay, I think, but one can never know. I had a few moments of the smart-arse stuff, but it was on point and tactical. I was honest, bowed but unbeaten. At one point I expressed a moment of anger at the way the whole situation had proceeded, and though it was spontaneous I don’t think it was out-of-place. I felt comfortable answering questions and rebutting claims made against me.
The ATO were not as impressive as they might have been. There was a lawyer, assisted by two others. The lawyer did most of the talking. I don’t think she lacked confidence, but she did lack authority. At times she stumbled over errors of fact, and for the most part her submission was re-hashing things gone before and referring, chapter and verse, to the various statutes and clauses governing the ATO.
In part she tried to paint me as a non-compliant individual. I had failed to take proper precautions and when I might have paid, didn’t. The inference was that I was attempting to rort the system.
I was surprised at how calmly I responded. I guess that’s the mentality you get when you’re used to having a Messerschmitt on your tail. I spoke of how the circumstances surrounding this situation were fully documented in the written statement I had submitted in the lead-up to this hearing. Basically that attests to a sequence of unfortunate events. Far from being unprepared, I had in fact made provisions, which ultimately had to be used to survive. In regards to compliance, I had always been diligent and honest in my dealings with the ATO. Basically I had lost control of a situation that had got more complex and extreme as each day went by. Sometimes shit just happens.
I explained how I had invested in the shop, basically in a failed bid to ‘buy a job’. It put it in context of my life. I spoke of the injustice of the hardship ruling, how ridiculous and immoral it is. Finally I expressed the wish to one day be an extravagant tax-payer, but to be that I had to be allowed to recover. I need a break. I’m in a hole right now I said, but if this is enforced the hole will go all the way to China.
I guess we’ll find out in a few weeks how it went. I’m not entirely hopeful, but then I don’t know on what basis the judge will make his ruling. Hopefully on the basis of common sense, but that’s not something I expect from the legal system. Regardless, I have another bullet in the chamber should this not go my way.
One curious and awkward thing to come out of yesterday is that I discovered that one of the ATO people was a woman I had known. I’d actually been to her wedding to a mate of mine about 20 years ago. She’d left him at some stage and, as I heard it, had become lesbian. I’d not seen or heard of her since.
It was unfortunate she was there. I have no current dealings with her, but these hearings are very personal and revealing, and I’d rather be anonymous in them. She must have known it was me. She’d have recognised my name, and certainly recognised me in any case when she set eyes on me. I’d have thought that would be sufficient to disqualify her from the case.