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Australian Taxation Office orders new building, despite 6200 empty desks

The Australian Taxation Office will spend millions of dollars on a new office building in regional NSW, despite more than 6200 desks sitting empty in ATO in its buildings around Australia.

The Taxation Office has confirmed the project will go ahead, calling for expressions of interest from developers to build the building in Gosford, on the state's central coast, but ATO bosses still cannot say what it will be used for.

The federal opposition says the ATO is being forced to spend money it does not have on offices it does not need.

The agency plans to move 300 of its public servants into the building when it is completed in 2017. It is unclear who will occupy the rest of the floors.

But ATO staff were told last week the construction of the 6500-square-metre building would go ahead and that property consultants DTZ had been hired to find a builder for the project.

But assistant commissioner Stewart Smillie, the ATO's property boss, could not tell his colleagues which of them would be moved to the central coast, or even which of the Taxation Office's business units would be stationed there.

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An ATO spokeswoman would not say if a business case or a cost benefit analysis had been prepared for the new building and that "budget support" for the project was still being discussed. 

"It will take a number of years to complete the building project and we will consider the impact for our business and staffing closer to the new office opening."

The spokeswoman confirmed there were now 6204 empty desks in the Taxation Office's property portfolio across the nation but said the ATO  was working on getting the problem under control.

"We are proactively working to reduce the number of vacant workpoints across our office locations nationally," she said.

"The increase in vacant workpoints also reflects staff leaving due the recent voluntary redundancy process.

"We continue to work on a range of subleasing and partial-surrender opportunities to reduce the number of vacant workpoints."

She said the ATO hoped to reduce its office holdings by 50,000 square metres.

Moving a federal public service department to the central coast was a Coalition promise as it tried to win the seat of Robertson from Labor.

Shadow Assistant Treasurer Andrew Leigh said the Coalition government was now forcing the ATO to spend money it did not have on a building it does not need.

"The tax office has just been forced to let 3000 people go because of the Abbott government's savage budget cuts, including workers with decades of experience in pursuing corporate tax avoidance," Dr Leigh said on Monday.

"Yet somehow the government can find the money to build a massive new office building on the Central Coast.

"It doesn't stack up.

"The government has closed 10 other regional tax offices across Australia, and it has thousands of desks sitting empty in Canberra and elsewhere because of its huge staff cuts."

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