There was a rush of activity in the final days of 2016 in policy areas that affect Australia’s small and medium businesses, with no shortage of invitations from government bodies for SMEs to have their say. With a lot on the table in 2017, there’s plenty to keep an eye on in the year ahead.
As we wait for politicians to wake from their holiday slumber, what issues will be on the agenda in 2017? Here are 14 areas to watch.
1. Fair Work Commission’s decision on penalty rates
After months of deliberation and consideration of submissions, SMEs are watching closely for the Fair Work Commission’s decision on whether Sunday penalty rates should be pulled in line with Saturday rates in the hospitality and retail sectors. The issue has been under review since mid-2015, and the business community has been waiting for an answer since September 2016, when a decision was initially expected.
2. Small business ombudsman’s bank loan inquiry recommendations
After grilling executives from Australia’s big four banks about the fairness of their small business loan systems last year, Australia’s Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman Kate Carnell is expected to deliver her report into the sector shortly, which is expected to contain a number of recommendations for reform. Read transcripts of the proceedings here.
3. Small business ombudsman’s payments inquiry
Carnell is also working with the Council of Small Business of Australia (COSBOA), state small business commissioners and the Australian Institute of Credit Management on an inquiry into payment times and how they affect the Australian business community. Submissions on the issue are open until February 13 and hearings will be held later in the year.
4. Productivity Commission’s investigation into consumer law enforcement
The Productivity Commission has been accepting responses to its draft report on the effectiveness of Australian consumer laws, with a research report slated to be handed to the government in March. The investigation considered whether the country’s multiple regulators were effective, and the draft report suggested those that breach the Australian Consumer Law should face penalties in line with those under the Competition and Consumer Act—which could boost maximum penalties to $10 million.
5. Superannuation legislation
After months of anguish and debate, the government’s suite of superannuation changes kicks in on July 1, 2017. Read up about how the policies will affect you here.
6. Changes to the age pension
As of January 1, Australian pensioners will also see revised asset tests and taper rates for calculating the age pension. While some individuals will see their entitlements increase, others will have their pensions reduced or will become ineligible entirely.
7. Backpacker tax rates and employer registration begin
In one of the more colourful moments of December in parliament, the government managed to pass its legislation to change the taxation of working holiday visa holders, with those workers to pay a 15% tax rate from the first dollar earned. The backpacker tax policy package also included a requirement that employers of working holiday visa holders must register with the Australian Tax Office or be forced to deduct 32.5% from their workers’ pay from the first dollar, and face potential penalties.
The ATO has extended the registration deadline to January 31, and all businesses that employ or plan to employ those on a sub-class 417 or 462 visa must register by then.
8. New ATO powers for disclosing debts
The government announced in its Mid-Year Economic and Financial Outlook (MYEFO) that from July 1, 2017, it will allow the ATO to provide business tax debt information to credit reporting bureaus if a business has not engaged with the tax office to manage a debt that is more than $10,000 and over 90 days due.
The government said in December it expects the change will motivate businesses to repay debts in a timelier manner to protect their credit ratings, netting a predicted $63 million over the forward estimates.
9. Treasury’s review of tax integrity measures
Submissions are open until this Friday on the federal government’s 2016 budget policy to increase the maximum penalty for companies with more than $1 billion in global revenue that don’t meet or adhere to tax disclosure obligations. Under the proposed arrangements, maximum penalties for big businesses that fail to lodge required tax documents will increase from $4,500 to $450,000 from July 1, while penalties for companies that make false or misleading statements to the ATO are set to double.
10. Treasury’s consultation on the OECD’s multilateral tax avoidance treaty
Submissions are open until February 6 for feedback on Australia’s involvement in the OECD’s multilateral instrument, a tax treaty developed to reduce the impact of global businesses avoiding tax through profit shifting, slated to be signed by participating nations in June 2017. Read the December discussion paper.
11. CSIRO Innovation fund
The Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) unveiled a $200 million innovation fund for startups, SMEs and scientists in December. The fund is expected to kick into gear from February, with a search for wholesale investors and applications for funding to open in the first “three to four months of the year”.
12. Research Block Grants for R&D
From January 1, two new funding types will replace the six funding blocks for research and development that the federal government provides to universities, including designated funding the government says will drive universities to engage with innovation.
13. Cyber Security Growth Centre
Cyber security continues to be a priority for the federal government, with its Cyber Security Growth Centre to commence operations “early” this year, headed up by ex-Atlassian head of security Craig Davies.
14. Biomedical Translation Fund grants open
The government is forking out $250 million for an investment fund focused on developing startups in the medical sector, with an aim of keeping talent in Australia. Grant applications are now open, and the government’s investment will be matched by three fund managers put in charge of investing in the projects: OneVentures Management, Brandon Capital Partners and BioScience Managers.