Document Type

Thesis

Publication details

Rothengatter, MR, ''Taxing taxis’ - limits and possibilities for regulating tax compliance behaviours of taxi-drivers: an Australian case study', PhD thesis, University of Queensland, Brisbane.

Abstract

This thesis is both an empirical and theoretical contribution to the study of taxcompliance by taxi-operators and drivers. The exploratory case-study adopts a critical sociological perspective in assessing the limits of both the currently dominant academic literature and the industry-specific legislation on tax conformity, including the most recent strategies and explicit tax-compliance measures from the Australian Tax Office (ATO) with regard to Australian cab-drivers. The core premise of this thesis is that the social and economic activities (both legal and illicit) of cab-drivers are embedded within unique networks of social relations. The study utilises focus-group interviews to explore cabbies’ views on taxation, their perceptions of fairness and trust, and to elucidate how individual taxi-workers justify circumvention of Australian tax laws and regulatory measures in their actual workpractices. This exploration is achieved by analysing the verbal accounts and conversations among cab-drivers that involve their guilt-free justifications for noncompliance. The analysis presents further insights into their “vocabulary of motives” and “aligning actions” vis-à-vis non-compliant tax behaviour. The respondents’ views and perceptions about trust, and distributive and procedural justice, are compared and contrasted against the tax-regulator’s views and the ATO’s current enforcement measures. This study is semi-grounded and qualitative in approach, and is a first contribution to a field of inquiry that appears to be dominated by quantitatively-oriented criminological and social-psychological approaches. In contrast, the case-study presents a sociologically-inspired inquiry, by emphasising that cab-drivers are subjected to a multitude of structural arrangements and social control mechanisms, which influence their attitudes and actions with regard to non-compliance. Moreover, current regulatory initiatives towards diminishing non-compliance in the taxi-industry tend to neglect the concept of “mixed-embeddedness” and the inter-relatedness between tax rules, concomitant enforcement practices, and the nation’s broader legislative framework. The state’s regulation of tax-compliance behaviour of taxidrivers cannot strictly be detached from other laws and regulatory measures in areas such as taxi-cab licensing, occupational health & safety (OH&S) or industrial & workplace relations, which affect every taxi-operator and contracted driver, albeit in different ways. A social-action approach that grasps more comprehensively the rich contexts and complexities involved in the informal behaviours of cabbies may be regarded as an additional and powerful information tool in the governance of modern taxation systems. The study will demonstrate how serious tensions and contradictory forces arise when tax regulators attempt to enforce a National Compliance Model which is, of itself, inherently mal-integrated and underpinned typically by a bureaucratic ‘one-size-fitsall’ enforcement approach in regard to local networks of taxi-drivers. It will be argued that legislative changes to the (legal) employment status of Australian taxi-drivers may produce a far more expedient and cost-effective way for curtailing the enduring and deeply imbued tax non-compliant modus operandi within this particular sector of Australia’s transport-services industry.