It might sound odd to us in Australia, but Norwegians have been able to see how much their fellow citizens earn, and how much tax they pay, for the past 200 years. Every October, Norwegian citizens have their income tax returns posted online, allowing their neighbors and colleagues to look into their financial data.
As a form of pro-transparency policy, the Norwegian example represents the very best in social accountability; but it does come with a few caveats.
First, if you look up someone’s data, they are sent an email notification letting them know that someone has perused the data. This is an important form of reciprocal oversight. The only exception is for Norwegian media outlets, which can access financial data for transparency purposes without an email being sent.
Second, only your aggregate figures are released: “total income” and “total tax paid”, without a specific breakdown. These aggregate numbers help to strike a balance between personal privacy and social accountability.
It might sound like a modern innovation, but this social policy dates back to a time before the digital era, and pocketbook records of publicly maintained citizen tax records have been diligently archived dating back to the 19th century.
This interesting policy is part of a broader strategy to promote social accountability that includes other factors such as: open e-Government, open disclosure of its sovereign wealth fund’s operations and holdings, and an open and efficient tax administration system.
So could it be time for Australia to publish aggregate citizen tax numbers like Norway does? Could a more open system ensure a more equitable distribution of services.
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