Several of Australia’s top regulators have admitted there were major regulatory roadblocks that make it harder for small business to do the right thing.
Australian Tax Office commissioner Chris Jordan, Fair Work Ombudsman Natalie James and the Victorian regional commissioner of the Australian Securities and Investments Commission, Warren Day, were among those who spoke to an audience of small business people at the 12th COSBOA National Small Business Summit in Melbourne on Friday.
The words of sympathy followed similar comments made at the summit a day earlier by Professor Ian Harper, the chair of the federal government’s competition policy review, who assured small businesses he understood their pain in regards to competition laws.
Friday’s discussion was led by Jordan, who used a key note speech to launch a new ‘live chat service’ to help small businesses more easily access advice from the ATO.
“We hear you when you tell us we can do better, and that meeting your obligations takes you away from your real business and what you are good at,” said Jordan.
“These are the unintended consequences of regulation.”
SmartCompany was at the summit and noted the three major difficulties regulators admit make life harder for small business.
Regulations aren’t communicated as well as they could be
In his speech, Jordan spoke of the need for the ATO to develop “contemporary communication initiatives tailored to small business”.
“We need to master the basics – cut call centre wait times, provide consistent advice, make it easy to find content on ato.gov.au, reduce use of technical jargon and facilitate quick access to our business portal from different devices like mobile phones and tablets,” said Jordan.
“No one wants to wait 28 days for a written response.”
Jordan said there was a lack of confidence in the technical advice and information the ATO was providing, particularly in relation to complex matters.
His answer to this problem was for the ATO to “provide more personalised, accessible and reliable services using the latest technical and communication practices”.
He also said the ATO needed to think about the effects its activities had on business cash flow and how they impact the everyday running of a small business.
Day admitted ASIC was also guilty of not having “done enough to package information to small business”.
He said ASIC had particularly failed in its communication regarding the registration of business names and was working to “build trust and faith” in that area.
Regulations are designed for the 5% who do the wrong thing
Jordan said one of the major observations he’d made since joining the ATO from the private sector was the way the government approached the elimination of risk.
He said policy was essentially designed for the 5% of small businesses doing the wrong thing, and thus the 95% doing the right thing were “made to jump through hoops”.
“What we have to do is design the system for the 95%… Make it less complex, less difficult and less painful [to do the right thing],” he said.
Jordan said the introduction of Standard Business Reporting (SBR) software, which allows the computers of small business owners to directly communicate with regulatory systems, will help regulators crack down on those doing the wrong thing.
“To make it easier for the 95%, we must make it harder for the 5%,” said Jordan.
Regulations are almost impossible to change once they are law
James, who was involved in the last two major industrial reforms in Australia (Work Choices and the introduction of the Fair Work Act), agreed with one small business owner panellist who said regulations were impossible to change once they were law.
James agreed that once a regulation became law, it was difficult to find both parliamentary debating time and drafting resources to change a regulation that misses the mark.
But she said there was “a window of influence” before a regulation became law and encouraged small business to engage in lobby group activity at that time.
“Businesses can help us,” she said.
She also encouraged small business to “point out people down the road” who were undercutting their competition by underpaying staff.