The Australian Chamber advocates for a competitive environment for business within an Australian economy that is fundamentally strong, growing and resilient, as well as stable and sustainable. To support economic growth, the Federal Budget should focus on improving productivity and better target government spending and policies towards initiatives that will boost economic activity such as well-considered infrastructure and workplace regulation reform.
The consolidation and modernisation of the Australian Business Register (ABR) and the 31 Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) business registers onto a single platform is welcome and long overdue. The consolidation of business registers will simplify business’ interactions with Government and reduce duplication. It will ensure that businesses need only ‘tell government once’. As such, the Australian Chamber strongly encourages the government to implement the MBR program and DINs as soon as possible.
The Australian Chamber generally supports the Government considering targeted, balanced and workable ways in which to reduce the incidence and incentives of directors and businesses to engage in fraudulent phoenix activities. It is important to note however, that measures should not inhibit responsible risk taking, innovation, entrepreneurship. Care needs to be taken to ensure our laws do not have the effect of discouraging business rescue.
The Australian Chamber is concerned that the ABN registry will be used as a tool to encourage compliance with tax obligations, particularly if poor tax compliance is used as a reason to cancel an ABN. The ABN system is a registry first and foremost, used as an identifier of businesses. There are other substantial enforcement provisions that can be used to ensure businesses comply with their statutory obligations. The government’s commitment to the Modernising Business Registers (MBR) Program provides an opportunity for significant changes to be made to the ABN system, which will strengthen its data integrity. The MBR program proposes to cleanse a significant amount of ABN data, reducing the risk of misuse of ABNs. The Australian Chamber cautions against applying temporary solutions to the ABN system without considering the broader impact of concurrent government programs such as the MBR Program.
The announcement of funding, in the 2018-19 Budget, to develop a business case to modernise the Government’s business registers was welcome and long overdue. There are many interactions that business has with Government. Duplication is a significant issue for business in many of these interactions, which unnecessarily adds to administrative costs. The consolidation of business registers will simplify business’ interactions with Government and reduce duplication. It will ensure that businesses need only ‘tell government once’.
The Australian Chamber has been supportive of the Australian Government’s expansion of its open-data policy. Australian businesses are increasingly data-driven in their decision making and benefit from access to more complete datasets. However, there is more that can be done. Other governments, such as the United Kingdom and Canada, are ahead of the Australian Government in terms of open data. As such, the Australian Chamber welcomes initiatives that streamline the way public data is shared and released.
The R&D tax concession was first introduced in 1985 with the aim of encouraging Australian industry to undertake R&D activities. Since then the R&D tax provisions have undergone a number of significant changes. The constantly changing R&D landscape creates additional administrative and compliance costs for Australian businesses. Consistency in R&D tax policy settings provides investment certainty to businesses. In particular, the Australian Chamber called for greater provision for R&D to lift investment and innovation in our Pre-budget submission for 2018-19. We are concerned that the targeting of R&D tax incentives in the Budget 2018-19 may dis-incentivise legitimate R&D activity. It is important that policy settings support R&D, and therefore productivity growth, rather than stifle it.
The Australian Chamber is cognisant of the motives to ban large cash transactions. However, we would suggest that it is the wrong policy focus. Rather than restricting cash use, the Australian Chamber notes that black market activity is best reduced by lowering the tax and regulatory burden, and removing the barriers to business and economic activity more generally. That is, black market activity is best reduced by tackling the causes of that activity.
The Australian Chamber commends the government’s objective to take the lead in best practice for procurement of goods and services. It is important that businesses have confidence in the integrity of the regulatory systems that support commercial transactions, particularly when taxpayers’ money is used to fund these commercial transactions. However, caution is needed when determining the definition of a ‘satisfactory tax record’. For example, the Australian Chamber is particularly concerned, and cautions against, a taxpayer’s contested debt with the ATO being reflected negatively in their Statement of Tax Record. Government procurement contracts should not be used as a means to coerce payment (explicitly or implicitly), or discourage business from, contesting a tax debt with the ATO.
Australian Chamber members have consistently expressed concern that policy makers often do not implement policies that are in the long-term interests of our country. This heavily weighs on confidence, and therefore investment. Economic studies consistently show policy uncertainty negatively impacts business investment. If businesses are unsure what the future policy landscape looks like, their return projections will be uncertain too. This, in turn, will lower the investment a business makes. This is why policy leadership is so important in encouraging businesses to invest.
Regional Australia cannot be thought of as one homogenous area. Nor can regional Australia necessarily be thought of, or referred to, as a remote area. Characterising or stereotyping areas as such leads to incorrect analysis and poor policy outcomes. For instance many regional towns and cities are in very close proximity to the major state capital cities. The causes of regional inequality are complex and the Australian Chamber does not profess to capture them all in this submission. We would note however that inequality of opportunity in towns and cities outside of the major state capitals is likely a significant causal factor. This inequality of opportunity arises because policy makers and planners – who are predominately based in major state capitals – have not and do not provide the necessary social and economic infrastructure for regional towns and cities to grow at their potential and thrive.
The Australian Chamber considers that the Australian Consumer Law (ACL) is working well and provides an appropriate balance between the needs of consumers and businesses. The Australian Chamber continues to believe significant changes should not be made to the ACL. The ACL should not be overly prescriptive or restrict mutually beneficial transactions between buyers and sellers. Overly prescriptive and onerous protections will result in increased costs for businesses. This will increase prices for consumers. The Australian Chamber supports the continuation of a principles based consumer guarantee framework to ensure it has the flexibility to adapt appropriately to transactions involving different goods and services.