Below is a copy of COSBOA’s submission to the National Commission of Audit –
We propose to add to efficiency of government and business.
Efficiency in workplace relations communications and processes can be improved by combining all activates undertaken by agencies that are workplace relations and employer related into one agency. Savings will be made by streamlined administration and by decreased demands on employers
That employers be removed from the collection process for superannuation and that superannuation be included in PAYG processes. The savings for superannuation funds are over $2 billion per annum and increased productivity will be achieved by every employer.
That Standard Business Reporting (SBR) process and marketing be increased to improve understanding of SBR and usage of the process. This is a longer term process but will result in savings for government agencies and for the business community.
That GST be collected on all eligible goods purchased from within Australia including purchases made from overseas suppliers. This will add revenue to the budget and provide fairness and equity in the world of commerce.
Government agencies must become small business friendly in their processes if they are to access the true innovators in our business community. Current processes are in most cases unwieldy and try to manage risks that do not exist in small business.
Government agencies must keep up with changes in technology. This may be difficult in the risk sensitive world of the public service but business will be inhibited by slow government change management.
The powers of the Small Business Commissioner must include an ability to stop process and communication if it impacts on small business people’s ability to run an efficient business and complete essential compliance demands based around tax, licences and safety.
Business record keeping is onerous and costly. The compliance demands for record keeping has not really changed since the internet was invented. This is an area where change can save money and add to productivity.
General compliance – the removal of old outdated demands and the development of new business friendly processes is essential if we are to embrace new opportunities and markets, and manage change within the business community.
Our suggestions are based on achieving simplicity, productivity and health in the small workplaces of Australia.
We should first note some of the differences between big and small workplaces:
An SBO is closely connected with their business, they do not make a profit the same way as a big business instead they make an income and a living. Measuring success is not about a share price, it is about income, time with the family, lifestyle, interaction with customers, interaction with suppliers, happy and productive employees and personal health.
There are very rarely experts in administration employed directly by a small business person. Therefore what is a drain on a small business person is not necessarily a drain on a big business. For example big business seems to deal with superannuation collection easily as it is a function completed by the HR department or a dedicated pay clerk. For a small business it is a nightmare of scams and complexity. Indeed the only individual in the superannuation system who can get fined for not collecting superannuation on time is the small business person. The only person in the superannuation process who doesn’t get paid for their effort is the small business person.
A small business person has a complicated tax process where accountants are needed at least for the annual return. Those employees in big business really only worry about their own personal tax return as the company has experts to deal with the company return.
Currently there are three main organisations who regulate small business people and their employment activities. This is the Fair Work Ombudsman (FWO), the Fair Work Commission (FWC) and the Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC).
The FWO is responsible for providing information, investigating complaints, developing strong relationships with industry and unions and litigation where necessary. It is the main point of contact, apart from industry associations, when seeking information on wages and conditions.
The FWC has the power and authority to regulate and enforce provisions relating to:
the safety net of minimum wages and employment conditions; enterprise bargaining
industrial action; dispute resolution; and termination of employment. The interaction with small business is mainly around unfair dismissals and as from 1 January 2014 also includes managing complaints around accusations of bullying in the workplace.
The AHRC is responsible for many issues around human rights. In the case of the workplace the AHRC has policy and regulatory roles around discrimination based on race, sexuality, ethnicity, disabilities and age.
As a result of these three organisations having responsibility for workplaces a small business person has to access information from three different organisations and also receive information, visits and sometimes threats from these three organisations.
It would be easier and more cost effective for government if an employer had one organisation to deal with on workplace issues. There would be one website with the information needed, one help line and potentially only one visit. This would also be better for employees who are seeking information.
One major issue that these organisations receive complaints that they then have to refer onto one of the other organisations. Or worse the jurisdiction for a complaint is only determined after an initial hearing or mediation, this wastes the time of the employer (in the case of small business time from their own business), wastes the time of the employee and of the regulator.
Combining all functions and activities that impact upon small business into one organisation should also provide savings in administration costs for the regulators.
COSBOA has been promoting changes to the collection process for superannuation that would save time and money for employers, superannuation funds and employees.
We estimate the savings for superannuation funds in administration could be $3 billion per annum. Our proposal also gives the owner of the superannuation funds better connection to their investments. This is a win for all involved in superannuation and removes this onerous and complicated task from the business community adding to the productivity of the nation. See more information HERE.
The current systems that exist for information and government interaction with business are based on development of forms and asking for information. It is also too often based on the needs of an agency rather than any real need for information. We believe that SBR is the future of compliance management.
It is designed to connect businesses directly to key government agencies so that information can pass quickly and seamlessly to agencies . It is also designed to limit contact between government and business as information received by one agency can be shared, with permission from the business, with other agencies. A related outcome is improving communications between businesses, particularly in the finance sector, through development of a common taxonomy for communications.
SBR has been slow in development due mainly to soft ware developers lagging in becoming SBR compatible. Usage of SBR has increased over the last twelve months and we believe that strong promotion of SBR to large business, small business supporters and others is important in cutting compliance costs and removing complexity for small business people.
SBR is not about a process based on the old forms but one based on working with current business systems or changing government systems that are clumsy and add work and complexity. It must be promoted and become an everyday part of government process.
Currently GST is not collected on many purchases made from within Australia from overseas. The impact on the budget is at least $700m of lost revenue. GST is already collected on overseas purchases made from some businesses but not from others. This also creates unfairness in business dealings and gives a leg up to off shore businesses in their competition with Australian businesses.
The revenue can be easily collected by the credit card companies or by the tax office at no extra cost to the government.
Currently the tendering process of the public service, federally and also at state and local level, inhibit access for small businesses. The tender documents are often much more complicated than necessary and imposes ludicrous demands on a small business person that has no relevance to the actual work needed to be completed. The Small Business Commissioner should be able to review tender documents and change them to ensure that the government agency has access to quality and innovative businesses.
The approach of the ATO is a good example. The Australian Public Service Commission has a panel of providers to deliver learning and development services nationally, under a Deed of Standing Offer. As part of this arrangement small businesses delivering training in Perth and Darwin have negotiated with the APSC for travel time to be included in fees for programs delivered. This assists in offsetting unproductive time associated with significant travel. The ATO utilises the APSC Panel to access learning and development services. The ATO however has a “policy” of not paying travel time, or meals for non government employees while travelling. Under the arrangements with the APSC the provider cannot increase their fee to cover costs accrued. A larger business may be able to absorb this but a small business, with its rates capped since 2009 cannot operate a viable business. This policy is not business friendly nor does it consider reality. This inhibits the ATOs access to quality innovative training.
There are other examples where the tenderer had to prove that their insurance company was financially viable or where the tenderer had to have professional indemnity insurance worth around $5k a year for a contract worth $800. This needs to be fixed.
It is essential that businesses in Australia have easy access to high speed internet, especially start up businesses where a lot of our innovation and productivity will appear.
Government agencies also need to develop better means to access new technology and process. Currently it is fair to say that many agencies use outdated communication processes and systems. In many ways this is about the understanding of agencies of technology as a communication and management tool. If agencies do not keep up with changes then they will hold business back from innovation.
We recognise that the larger an organisation the more difficult it is to change quickly but out-of-date practices and beliefs will hold back the innovators in the community. We also understand that risk management is an issue for governments but it should not be an impediment to change. Perhaps government and big business could work together to identify ways to speed up their change management processes?
Currently the Small Business Commissioner has no real powers and a role that needs better definition. One role that would be an ability to stop processes and policy that gets in the way of small business people completing essential compliance activities. This includes collection of GST and PAYG (where a small business person employs other people) and having the right licences and a safe workplace. Other compliance demands such as paid parental leave and Superannuation collection gets in the way of tax collection processes and makes business more difficult. Future compliance demands should also be tested by the Commissioner for impact on small business people.
The Commissioner could be tasked with ensuring that agencies and policy does not impede completion of essential compliance that is needed for a healthy society and does not negatively impact on job security for employees or for the business owner.
The current demands for record keeping are in the main based on pre-technology policy and processes. There is much confusion among business people about what needs to be kept, in what format (paper or electronic) and for how long. There is also growing issues around privacy and copyright and use of cloud storage. This can be an expensive issue for many businesses, particularly big business, in storage costs and record management. This should be reviewed and simple processes and policies be developed. In particular with SBR there may be in some instances no need for a business to keep records.
We need to change the attitude of policy makers from one of risk management by impacting on everyone even when the problem exists with only a small number. We need policy makers and regulators who are considering issues based on reality not unrealistic fear. We need to consider the true impact of policy on all business people not just big businesses.