The launch on Thursday 1 July by Finance Minister Lindsay Tanner and Financial Services Minister Chris Bowen of the Standard Business Reporting (SBR) program follows the release of AUSkey in April of this year.
The SBR allows businesses to pre-fill and complete government forms and make direct transactions from their own corporate software suites when lodging government reports such as BAS, PAYG, tax returns and financial statement, thereby eradicating duplication and increasing efficiency. The SBR is expected to save Australian business as much as $800 million per year through increased productivity.
AUSkey is an online security credential that allows access to whole-of- government services and activities and will be an important component of the SBR process. Since its inception, 51,000 AUSkeys have been issued to over 36,000 Australian businesses.
In a joint media release Ministers Tanner and Bowen claim the launch of the SBR signifies that Australia has “moved one step closer to a seamless national economy”. Treasury Secretary and Chair of the SBR Board Dr Ken Henry says the program offers a “streamlined approach to meeting the various reporting requirements of different government agencies”.
Similar praise has been offered by leading industry figures. Chief Executive of the Business Council of Australia (BCA) Katie Leahy said the SBR “will be pivotal for productivity and economic growth”. Similarly, Heather Ridout, CEO of the Australian Industry Group (AIG) explained that the SBR would reduce the burden of managing government compliance activities.
Intermedium has identified three suppliers that contributed to this on-time success:
- IBM was awarded two contracts with Treasury to design and build the program with a total combined value of $26.8 million. IBM also signed two contracts with the ATO in relation to SBR - a $2.86 million contract in May 2009 for the development of WebSphere software and an additional contract of $670,961 in June 2009 for the use of Tivoli licenses as part of the SBR;
- Verizon was contracted by the ATO in August 2009 to test and implement the SBR with a total contract value of $18.44 million; and
- Fujitsu signed two contracts withTreasury in August 2009 for the supply of XBRL software and related services, with a total combined value of $4.42 million;
An ICT project of this size is a rare event for Treasury, although its portfolio agency, the ATO, is no stranger to large and complex projects. In a somewhat sweet irony, IBM was earning praise the SRB’s successful roll-out in the same week it was receiving criticism in Queensland in relation to its Health Payroll system.
Despite the relatively quick system build once these contracts were let, the launch of the SBR is the end result of a lengthy process that began with the Rethinking Regulation report by the Taskforce on Reducing the Regulatory Burden on Business set up by then-prime minister John Howard in 2005.
The report, known colloquially as the Banks Report after the taskforce’s Chair Mr Gary Banks, identified ‘excessive reporting or recording burdens’ as a major hindrance to productivity in the Australian economy. The report explains that “companies face multiple demands from different arms of government for similar information, as well as information demands that are excessive or unnecessary. These are rarely coordinated and often duplicative”.
Standardised business reporting is one of 27 deregulation priorities identified by the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) in its response to the Banks Report. The National Partnership Agreement to Deliver a Seamless National Economy outlined a broad deregulation agenda ranging from payroll tax reform to new licensing and occupational health and safety requirements.
While the launch of the SBR is a welcome corollary of this reform process, Australian governments have been less successful in implementing some of the other deregulation priorities.
COAG has acknowledged that of the 27 deregulation priorities only 13 have achieved ‘good progress’. Furthermore, Shadow Minister for COAG and Modernising the Federation Senator Marise Payne said in a media release issued on 23 February 2010 that many of the report’s desired outcomes had been deferred or had problems in the implementation process.
“The Rudd Government needs to let the Australian people know why there are delays in regulatory and competition reforms...apparently governments are struggling” Senator Payne said.
However, despite concerns over the implementation of the regulatory reform agenda as a whole, the introduction of standard business reporting is undoubtedly a step towards a more productive, streamlined and technologically advanced Australian economy.