Budget 2020: $800 million for mega business registry, director ID numbers, e-invoicing and “go digital” business support

PM-Scott-Morrison

Prime Minister Scott Morrison. Source: AAP/Lukas Coch.

The federal government will allocate $420 million in this year’s budget to accelerate its plans to create a single national business registry, in a move designed to cut red tape for small business operators. 

The super registry will bring together the Australian Business Register and 31 other registers currently administered by the Australian Securities and Investments Commission, The Australian Financial Review reports.

The new register, which will be operated by the Australian Taxation Office, fulfils a promise made in the 2018-19 federal budget, with funding previously being earmarked for the initiative in the Mid-Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook released in December 2019.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Treasurer Josh Frydenberg announced the funding today, as part of a broader funding package to improve access to digital services, worth a combined total of $800 million. 

The funding package will include $257 million to expand the government’s Digital Identity Program, which gives individuals and businesses secure access to government services online, including myGov and welfare payments. 

According to the AFR, the program is already used by 1.6 million people and 1.2 million businesses. 

Part of this new funding will be spent on integrating the program with the Director Identification Number (DIN) scheme, which was legislated for in June. 

Work on the DIN scheme, which provides directors with lifetime ID numbers when they first register a company, has been underway for some time as a means of stamping out illegal phoenixing activity.

Additionally, about $120 million will be spent on a range of measures aimed at helping businesses adopt digital technologies, including $22.2 million to help small business owners “take advantage of digital technologies”. 

This will be achieved by expanding the Australian Small Business Advisory Service — Digital Solutions program, a new Digital Readiness Assessment tool and a Digital Directors training package.

The government said it will put $29 million towards accelerating the take-up of 5G technology and $9.6 million to promote Australian fintech in key overseas markets. 

The budget measure will also include $3.6 million to make electronic invoicing mandatory for all Commonwealth agencies by July 1, 2022, building on work that has been done in this area over several years, while $2.5 million will be allocated to digital skills training for workers and SMEs.

In a statement, the Prime Minister said the funding package is targeted at helping businesses by reducing regulations and improving access to technology. 

“Many businesses moved online quickly when the pandemic hit, undergoing a decade of change in months, finding new customers or new ways of doing things,” he said in a statement. 

“The plan supports Australia’s economic recovery by removing outdated regulatory barriers, boosting the capability of small businesses, and backs the uptake of technology across the country.”

“They’re listening to us”

Peter Strong, chief executive of the Council of Small Business Organisations Australia, welcomed the funding this morning, telling SmartCompany the government should be acknowledged for allocating resources for budget measures that won’t necessarily get widespread recognition. 

“I really have to congratulate the government on what they’re doing here,” Strong says.

“They are spending an awful lot of money but won’t get the big headlines.”

Strong says the integration of the business registers will significantly reduce red tape for small businesses, while also helping regulators identify those who are doing the wrong thing. 

“It helps us with red tape but it also helps regulators catch those who are rorting the systems, without having to annoy the people who are doing the right thing.”

Strong has been heavily involved in the consultations around e-invoicing and again welcomes the move to make the practice mandatory, if support is offered over the next two years to help businesses that are not yet set up to accept e-invoices. 

“The issue always becomes the businesses that don’t have software,” he says. 

“There’s not many of them but they do exist.”

Strong says the measures included in this new funding announcement have, in part, been made possible by the government and policymakers adopting a more collaborative approach, and recognising what can be achieved by working with the small business community. 

“For a long time, government and policymakers didn’t really listen to the small business community. They said, ‘that’s business, deal with it’,” he says. 

“What’s happened over the past four or five years, is there’s been a change, an understanding that, in actual fact, we’re not a bunch of idiots.”

For years, small businesses owners encountered “arrogance” among government officials and policymakers, and some regulators, says Strong, but now, “they’re listening to us”. 

E-invoicing is a case in point, he says. 

“It was resisted by big business and traditional policymakers, who said, ‘let the market decide’,” says Strong. 

“We also want the market to decide, but just not the five big businesses who own the software.”

The fact the practice is now being adopted as government policy, after extended industry consultation, is a “game-changer”, says Strong. 

“I hope the lessons are learnt there, not just for politicians, but policymakers and idealogues too.

“You are going to get a lot of good change if you engage with the small business community.”

This article was updated at 2.45pm on Tuesday, September 29. 

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Michael Woodhouse
Michael Woodhouse
25 days ago

So all this info about businesses will be managed not by the ASIC (the corporate watchdog and information source) but by the Tax Office. What is the goal here, regulation and information – or taxation? Who will decide whether a business should be on the register and what the register should report about them? And a quarter billion extra just to consolidate 32 registers already managed by ASIC? Even in a time when a billion is just a drop in the bucket, that’s a lot of money for merging some data.