The ATO’s decade-long Mac denial


blog The reluctance of the Australian Taxation Office to provide a working version of its e-tax lodgement software for the Apple Macintosh has been a long-time bug-bear with Mac users around Australia for a long time. But some of them may not realise just how long angry parliamentarians and others have been harassing the agency about the issue. An article by Crikey today (we recommend you click here to read the full article) highlights the fact that Labor Senator Kate Lundy has been questioning ATO bureaucrats on the issue since at least 2004:

“Complaints about the ATO’s refusal to acknowledge the existence of Mac and Linux have been rife for a decade or more … pretty much every other country surveyed has conquered the apparently insurmountable problem of allowing non-Windows users to file their tax online.”

The ATO recently conducted a round of interviews with journalists to discuss the issue, which it appears to be working on, but it does appear strange that an organisation with the resources of the ATO — it recently spent $814 million on its core IT transformation, known as the Change Program — has been unable to get something as simple as a Mac port of its e-tax platform working, with a decade or more up its sleeve.

One suspects that implementing a web version of e-tax is going to be the long-term answer for the ATO; this will also no doubt resolve quite a few issues in terms of updating the Windows version of e-tax and uploading data to its servers. However, one also suspects that in considering this kind of long-term quest, the ATO has lost sight of just how many Mac users there are out there in Australia. The number is easily in the millions. And those customers need to file e-tax too. It’s time to get this fixed, no matter how much it costs.

Image credit: Apple


  1. I find it ironic that the ATO, one of the most security-conscious government agencies, requires the use of Windows to submit returns online.

  2. Making a Mac-specific port would make things worse in a way, as it makes it less likely that Linux (and Android, etc) users will continue to be left in the cold.

    Surely a web app would be the way to go?

    • I don’t think the ATO needs to support Linux, frankly — the percentage desktop install in Australia is incredibly miniscule. And Android is a mobile operating system; frankly, I think very few people are going to submit their tax return from a phone or a tablet.

      Of course, with respect to Android, when I look ahead half a decade or so, I could be wrong, which does increase the case for a web app.

      • I can’t see why i wouldn’t have used my Transformer given the option. (or my iPad for that matter)

  3. I am not sure there are millions of mac users in Australia. What is the market share of IOS on the desktop? Surely it is still single digits so maybe 200,000 at most but probably far less.

      • Hi Greg, I wanted to take issue with this figure myself.

        I run a website which is accessed by some pretty wealthy australians (which i would estimate are more likely to have macs than PCs).

        So our numbers are clearly higher than normal but:
        Windows – 75%
        MacOS – 17.5%
        iPhone – 3.3%
        iPad – 2%
        Android – 0.9%
        Linux – 0.1%

        I also did a google; and at-least one estimate puts macos usage in the US as 10%.

        A quick google of the ABS gave me “83% of households have access to a computer”.

        I don’t think even my high figures indicate there is a lot more than a million mac PCs in Australia. So millions (plural) might be an exaggeration, but I wouldn’t be surprised if there was about a million macs in use in Australia.

        • I think I’d have to go with you guys on this. You see alot of MacBooks around….doesn’t mean they don’t use other computers at home. And they’re also very recognisable. For every Mac I see, I see 3 windows laptops.

          I think there are probably several hundred thousand Macs out there. Maybe even in the low million. But that is still a small portion of the country. AND there’s nothing to suggest some of these people don’t have easy access to a Windows computer too.

          Saying that, I still think it should be a web based app for E-Tax. But this presents its’ own problems in terms of security too.

          • I agree, but I think it’s still well past time that it was turned into a web application. That way, you not only support Mac today, but also whatever else comes in the future.

        • Another thing to note (and not to let the ATO off the hook), but are people who are more wealthy more likely to have an accountant do their tax for them?

          Clutching at straws I understand. Those Mac users should just buy a PC and write is off as a tax expense…

  4. When I worked at the ATO a few years back I asked why the eTax application was such a POS and when they were going to update it to something a bit more modern. The answer given was that the software was written in Delphi and it would be too much work to port it to a more modern platform like WPF. So if that was considered too hard I can only assume that a Mac or web implementation is considered an unobtainable pipe dream by the geniuses working there.

  5. The Australian Government two weeks ago went online with its e-health portal called the PCEHR. It’s web-based, and even as a Medicare provider I can access patient information using a USB-based PKI using my Mac’s Firefox (only) browser. We’re talking here about security and privacy issues so going web-based is certainly the way it should have gone.

    With so much money sunk into an application based approach (lack foresight for over a decade now) who knows what will cause the ATO to stop dragging its knuckles along the ground. It’s standard reply that using virtualisation software that is tax deductible simply doesn’t wash anymore.

    And while we may guess at the market share of Windows vs Apple, wouldn’t you like to know the tax contribution from two main platforms? At least based on gross income… (presuming those in the higher income brackets may well pay proportionally less tax through various tax minimisation schemes)

  6. I have long employed the ATO’s E-Record software for the Mac. So it is puzzling why they have taken so long establishing an online version for E-Tax. Perhaps they have, like Telstra, become shills for Microsoft.

  7. Another thing to note (and not to let the ATO off the hook), but are people who are more wealthy more likely to have an accountant do their tax for them?

    Yup, try taking your Mac based accounting software to them… then mix in the problem that certain account packages that shall remain nameless do not faithfully export data (hint: it’s not on the Mac side)

    The answer given was that the software was written in Delphi and it would be too much work to port it to a more modern platform like WPF.

    Delphi is very straightforward… any decent C# or Java programmer could transliterate a Delphi app in a week… Most of the class libraries used with Delphi would have direct equivalents in almost every other framework.

    • @Happy

      While I agree it’s stupid we don’t have a universal tax return system for ALL OSes, MYOB and Quicken are PERFECTLY capable of outputting to accountancy systems from windows. Saying otherwise is disingenuous.

      Argue all you like for the case of better support for Mac. But don’t try and argue against the systems that work.

  8. I’d have to wade through thousands of emails, but to the best of my knowledge, the simplest explanation for a non-Mac version is security. Ironically.

    Way back when eTax was first rolled out (late 90’s-ish) the footprint of Mac’s (or any other OS for that matter) wasnt all that big, so was largely ignored by… well, by everyone really. Enter the ATO. It rolls out eTax, puts a whole bunch of other software companies out of business along the way, and delivers its lodgement package. Just on the Windows platform, as thats what everyone used (well, 90% plus) at the time.

    The catch is, EVERY bit of information in a tax return has a security classification so its not just a case of rolling out the old java script and writing up a program. There is security programming in the backend to make sure everything is secure when lodged, and so forth.

    And its that security programming thats caused the problems. There is no simple way to transfer the security developed on the windows platform to the mac platform, so in essence they need to rewrite the entire package just for Mac.

    My understanding is that it was close to being ready for this year, but just wasnt quite ready for 1 July, and once that date rolled past it has to be delayed until the next financial year. Suck it up, move along, and be happy that there is at least something happening after all this time.

    If you run a Mac and REALLY want to use eTax this year, run it through bootcamp.

    • Unsurprised that there is significant security cruft given how many times it seems to check back to the server while working.
      Rather surprised to hear that rather than release now (i’d happily wait a month & do my tax a little late to avoid hassle) or when its ready, they have to wait till before tax time next year… However as a gov employee myself… it doesnt surprise me that they have such an odd mentality.

    • I had almost word-for-word response from the ATO in 2007…
      It was ‘almost done’ then and just ‘not quite ready for July 1st’

      ATO is just as useless as the rest of the public sector…

    • That’s because they are *nix users. Their mindset is completely different as compared to mac users. A *nix user would be able to get a jet engine working on olive oil if needed. ;)

      A vast majority of Mac users, by virtue of operating within an extremely closed and controlled “ecosystem” have an expectation that everything works. As a result, tinkering with workarounds is quite alien. Talk about a sense of entitlement. :)

      Disclaimer: I am across all three platforms, and I really love my mbp.

      A web application would be the way to go. Just…for the love of god… don’t use flash or some sort of fancy Web 2.0 tech. I’m yet to see a good secure implementation as it tends to open up heaps of more insertion points for malicious input.

  9. I have got eTax 2012 working on an iMac (OS X 10.6.8). I am using Wine 1.5.9 inside a Wineskin wrapper. Who says I need to be a *nix user ? [OK OS X is Unix but how many Mac users take notice of that ?].

    Everything works except the Help menu functions. There’s a problem with Wine in displaying the xml-based help files.

    Of course, it’s not a replacement for a web-based facility of OS X native but, it’s better than Mac users have had for 15 years !

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