Government seeks consultation from SMEs on idea of single business registration agency


The federal government is asking for feedback from the small business community over a proposal to modernise and simplify the country’s business registry services, a change which business leaders say is “well and truly overdue”.

Minister for Revenue and Financial Services Kelly O’Dwyer released the government’s “Modernising Business Registry Services” discussion paper yesterday, in the first step of its National Business Simplification Initiative announced last year.

The paper looks at ways the government can improve the 31 different business registers managed by the Australian Securities and Exchange Commission (ASIC) and the Australian Business Register (ABR). One suggestion is to bring the ASIC and ABR registers together into a single registration agency.

Currently, businesses are required to register their information across a number of different locations including the Companies Register, the Business Names Register, and the ABR.

While not all businesses are required to register across multiple systems, the government says SME owners “see government as a single entity and do not understand why they need to provide the same information more than once”.

Much of the confusion and concerns over unnecessary red tape come from the requirement for ongoing compliance with various different government bodies. For example, a business that is also considered a registered company is required to report to both ASIC and the ABR and to update its details, and each body must be contacted separately.

“We want to help businesses to focus on doing business, to save time and money and to minimise complicated government processes and regulations at all levels of government,” O’Dwyer said in a statement.

“This is about making it simpler to do business and helping existing businesses to grow.”

The government is seeking responses from businesses around questions including: “What would be the advantages of bringing together the ASIC registers and the ABR within a single agency?” and “Would more open and accessible registry data benefit business and/or the wider economy?”.

Read more: Small business owner speaks out after ASIC snubs appeal for clemency over late annual review invoice

Simplification overdue, say business leaders

Chief executive of the Council of Small Business Australia Peter Strong says the simplification of business registries is “well and truly overdue” and believes many small business struggle to keep track of the 31 different registries.

Strong thinks a centralised registry would benefit more than just time-poor business owners, as it will allow the government to also crack down on the “black economy” and phoenix companies.

“Business owners need one central spot they can go, that looks like a central location but each organisation and registry is managed by the government behind the scenes,” Strong told SmartCompany.

“If they can get that done, it would be a big benefit. The most important part of advanced technology is that it does everything without you even knowing about it.”

Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman Kate Carnell agrees, but told SmartCompany she thinks the government’s view should be broadened, with too much of the focus currently placed on the processes behind Australian Business Numbers.

Carnell is also pushing for variable costs for Australian Company Number number registrations, as the current annual fee is the same no matter the size of the business.

It currently costs $479 to obtain an Australian Company Number and register as a proprietary company.

“Everything we can do to eliminate red tape is a good thing, but I can’t imagine this is a front and centre issue for many small business owners as they’ve dealt with this for a long time,” she says.

“It needs to be about a policy of ‘enter once and use often’. Businesses should only have to give your details to one part of government, not to each different part each time you want to register something.”

Saying the potential result of changes could see services operate like the “autofill” function in web browsers, Carnell believes the implications for a centralised data location can go beyond registries and other business related services, to the process of signing up for grants and other government services.

Both Strong and Carnell say the communication of the changes and proposals to small business owners is essential for the government to get right, and both encourage businesses to take part in the consultation process via the Treasury’s website.

“Get this right, and it has real potential to cut costs and cut red tape,” says Carnell.

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