Tax Commissioner Chris Jordan says publishing taxpayers' personal details would be "unprecedented".
Treasurer Joe Hockey says "confidentiality of taxpayer information has been a key feature of Australia's taxation system since the 1950s".
Both are wrong. Both have been stonewalling requests from the Senate economics committee to see the names of companies the Tax Office believes transferred a combined $31.4 billion to the low tax jurisdiction of Singapore in the year to June 2012. But Fairfax Media can reveal that as recently as 1984 the Tax Office routinely published the names of taxpayers and companies it found to be engaged in breaches or evasion.
"It used to be called 'the honours list' internally," said former Tax Commissioner Trevor Boucher. He stopped the practice in 1985 because of the workload and because of concerns that it exposed taxpayers to "double jeopardy," being both fined as a punishment and then having their punished in the annual report.
The last list published in 1984 details the name, suburb and occupation of each Australian found to have underpaid a significant amount of tax as well as the amount underpaid and the penalty applied.
In that year trade mark assistant Jeannie Abbott of Greenwich headed up the alphabetical list of Sydney underpayers and process worker Neim Aki of Yarraville headed up the Melbourne list.
The names were published only where the penalty tax due exceeded $1750 and after all appeal rights had been exhausted. A separate list in the annual report detailed the taxpayers against whom the Tax Office had secured judgements in the courts.
Neither list included taxpayers merely suspected of underpaying.