Transcript: Interview – CPA Australia’s With Interest with Jane Rennie – Ministers’ Media Centre

transcript:-interview-–-cpa-australia’s-with-interest-with-jane-rennie-–-ministers’-media-centre

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Topics: Morrison Government’s plan for small business; Skills and training investment; Federal Election


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JANE RENNIE:

Hello and welcome to CPA Australia’s With Interest Podcast. I'm Dr Jane Rennie, General Manager, External Affairs at CPA Australia. Today we're joined by a special guest, the Minister for Employment, Workforce Skills, Small and Family Business, Stuart Robert. Welcome to With Interest Minister. It's a pleasure to have you on the show.

MINISTER ROBERT:

The pleasure, ma’am, is mine.

JANE RENNIE:

Well, last week the Federal Budget was delivered, which is always a time of great interest and activity at CPA Australia. We were pleased to see a strong focus on small business, especially on initiatives to improve technology, adoption and capability. To that end, we think that the technology investment boost and skills and training boost are especially important for small businesses. For the benefit of our listeners, could you please explain how these will work?

MINISTER ROBERT:

Yeah, happy to. Now, whilst these are just two measures, since the Coalition came to power in 2013, there has been over 380 small business measures, over 200 in the last three years alone. However, these two are particularly interesting in terms of the Small Business Tech Boost. It's a 120 per cent deduction. It's for small businesses, which is the ATO definition. So an aggregate annual turnover of less than $50 million. There's a cap of course, at $100,000. But for technology that businesses spend, they can claim a 120 per cent tax deduction. And this is all about digital adoption. So portable payment devices, cyber security systems, cloud based subscription services, taking accounting based software or asset based software, all of those. It starts on Budget night and of course goes right the way through to 30 June next year. 

And then the sister policy, if you like, which is the Small Business Skills and Training Boost. Again, $50 million turnover, that tax threshold for definition of small business. Again, it's a 120 per cent tax deduction. This one, of course, goes right the way through to 30 June 2024, and it's designed to provide that deduction for eligible training courses provided to employees. And this is important, because employees, you need to employ someone. And it's for eligible training courses that doesn't include your in-house or on the job training. And it's with registered providers, which would indicate providers that are registered and are managed or guided or overseen by the regulator. So they’re the two initiatives and I think they work particularly well as we come out of COVID and we really encourage that digital adoption.

JANE RENNIE:

You mentioned that the technology investment boost, that one goes until June next year. We were thinking that to have an even bigger impact, it would be good to extend that beyond 2023 and you won't be surprised to hear, we've also got a suggestion on the skills and training boost, which we think should be extended to sole traders, and the range of training providers be expanded. Are these things the government would consider?

MINISTER ROBERT:

Well, we consider all things in the fullness of time. These decisions have been made in terms of the Budget. We’ll review all of our decisions and policy settings as we come into the following budget cycles. The digitisation is designed to really assist businesses come out of COVID, take advantage of digitising. There’s been a great leap forward. In fact, McKinsey tells us eight years and eight weeks at the start of the pandemic. So we've seen a great leap forward in digitisation. We really want to lock that in. But when it comes to skills and training, this is designed to staff up- skill up in employees. And that's why it's about employees, not necessarily about in-house training or about sole providers. And of course, registered training providers is about quality. The regulator, in this case, ASQR, the Australian Skills and Quality Regulator, provides that quality overlay, and without that overlay in place, it is very difficult to determine if training is being appropriately delivered, which is why the Government's made those decisions in that way.

JANE RENNIE:

And just while we're on this, I understand - and this is for those businesses who are really eager to start accessing the benefit of these programs - I understand that the legislation to enable them hasn't yet been passed. So would the Government- would a Coalition Government look to legislate these programmes quite quickly after an election?

MINISTER ROBERT:

We would. The Tax Office generally takes a view that if there is a bipartisan support and it's announced, that it will be accepted and it will be understood. That's why we announced it from 7: 30, of course, on Budget night, which is the whole purpose of getting it cracking and getting it moving. So, yes, all Budget measures get priority. They generally come under the form of tax law amendment bills, TLAB bills. And they're always the priority. They get a T status, which is the Treasury status, of course, which indicates they must be passed within a sitting fortnight. So you can expect that to move very quickly.

JANE RENNIE:

Minister, I wanted to ask you about workforce and skills shortages. And I imagine this is an issue you hear from a great many businesses as you travel around the country. Like you, we also receive regular feedback from our members about the difficulties they and their clients are facing in finding workers, especially skilled professionals. There was a lot in the budget around apprenticeships and training places. Leaving them aside, can you tell us what the government is doing in the short and long term to fill the professional skills shortage?

MINISTER ROBERT:

Well, if we accept the 7.7 billion there for apprentices – and of course there's record number of trade apprentices in Australia, since records are kept over 220,000 – there’s another 7.7 billion for skilling and training, including 3.7 billion for the new skills agreement, which locks in, of course, locks in about 800,000 extra training places for Australians. At the same time, we want to bring the vocational education and training sector a lot closer to the university sector, so there's funds there for micro-credentials and short courses to upskill. There's, of course, 30,000 new Commonwealth supported places for our university sectors from this year, which is part of the Job Ready Graduate Scheme. And we'll seek to move the VET sector and the university sector closer and closer together by using a common nomenclature across training so people can actually quite seamlessly move in and out of VET and university, so they can upskill as they require. Many professionals don't need another university course. They need a micro-credential. They need a short course. They need a tax course operated by or offered by CPAs, or they need a compliance course, or a framework, or ethics. And all of these are the micro-credentials that we really want to see professionals take up and use. And we want to see a lot of the training provided by CPA and other great organisations to be brought into the training mix as accredited training, which means they can be recognised, so we’re building the micro-credential marketplace, so we can recognise all of that and make it a lot easier for professionals to have their training recognised and have it readily understood.

JANE RENNIE:

And of course, CPA Australia offers- it would be remiss of me not to mention that CPA Australia offers a range of micro-credentials, and information about them is available on our website. And that wasn't even a planted question, Minister, but thank you for mentioning micro-credentials. 

MINISTER ROBERT:

All good. Remember, I was your Minister previously as the Assistant Treasurer and Revenue Minister, so I've seen the level of courses offered by CPA Australia and other professional bodies and it's excellent. And I want to bring that into the entire training mix. So we create a library of units of competencies and credentials. We get a common nomenclature or credit point, if you like, across, so credentials or qualifications can be racked and stacked based on short courses, micro-credentials, accredited courses, industry training, university, or VET. I want to see the days of- well, that's university and that's VET, or that's TAFE, or that's an industry training and they're all separate. No, they're not. They're all part of a continuum and we need to see it that way.

JANE RENNIE:

Now, I guess people would have to be living under a rock at the moment not to be aware that a Federal election will be announced soon. In fact, if you'd care to, I'm more than happy for you to use With Interest to let us know what date the election might be held on, if you fancy giving us an exclusive?

MINISTER ROBERT:

Oh, I would have thought it would be somewhere between 7 and 21 May. I think those three dates would be a good bet.

JANE RENNIE:

There you go. You heard it here. Can you tell us what small businesses can expect during the campaign from the Coalition? Will there, for example, be any new small business announcements to build on what was already in the Budget?

MINISTER ROBERT;

Campaigns are always an opportunity for the government to go back on the track record, and our record economically is first class and world leading. The Budget, of course, laid out our plan for small business, building on those over 350 measures we spoke about. Everything from small business tax deductions down to 25 per cent, loss carry back structures, the instant asset write offs, the two 120 per cent measures we spoke about, cost of living packages, all measures in the Budget of course. And all that's on top of energy prices down to down 8 per cent, and the cost of living measure, especially when it comes to fuel and cutting excise, because that'll drop 25 basis points of any inflationary moves, as we see that impact of fuel and the impact that has on inflation. There are always different things in a budget context that we can make more salient and bring to the attention of Australia. And so you'll just have to wait and see how the election campaign rolls out. But you can be guaranteed that the Morrison Government has set itself as the best friend that small business has ever had, and we’ll continue to do that. Small business matters, what matters to us, it’s the powerhouse of the economy. It's over 99 per cent of our incorporated bodies and ABN holders. It employs well over 40 per cent of Australians, and we just need it to hum and sing, which is what it's doing now and it's the reason why unemployment's at 4 per cent and going lower. 

JANE RENNIE:

And as you say, small businesses are incredibly important to the Australian economy. They do continue to face a very unfamiliar and uncertain environment. We know that businesses, which access advice, are more likely to be resilient and to grow. So can you tell us a bit about what the government might be going to do to encourage businesses to seek advice?

MINISTER ROBERT:

The great thing about the Budget and those two 120 per cent measures, they are designed specifically for this. Now SBAS, of course the Small Business Advisory Services, we've expanded that to many tens of thousands of places for small business to go and seek advice on what they can do. There’s mid-career counselling there, especially for women looking to change careers within their profession and there’s substantial money to assist women to go and get that advice. But like all things, the best advice that businesses can do, first of all, is speak to their accountant, closely followed by their legal representatives; they're the top two. And that's where people should lean in. All of that advice is tax deductible. And if you work through and pick up those accountancy training courses, especially, more so than legal training courses, the accountancy training courses, that's where the 120 per cent tax deduction is brilliant. Your accountants will provide advice on accountancy software, be it the cloud-based software offerings now from houses, or cloud-based asset management, or cloud based payroll systems, all of those cloud based software and software as a system, again, all come under that 120 per cent tax deduction. So that's the whole purpose of those two skilling and digital measures, is to encourage businesses, especially small businesses, to go and seek advice, start with your accountant, look at the training opportunities that are available. Your accountant will be able to give you advice on those. I know that the accountancy profession well, having been its regulating minister for many years before the last election. The training is first class; and the 120 per cent deduction is specifically designed to help small business connect into that.

JANE RENNIE:

And a great many people and small businesses certainly have relied very heavily on their accountants over the last couple of years, and those accountants have played a critical role in advising and supporting them, as I'm sure you know. Is there a message you'd like to share with CPA Australia members and other accounting professionals about their vital contribution?

MINISTER ROBERT:

Oh, simply to say thank you for what you do. The Tax Act is complex, and that is disappointing in one breath and pleasing in another. Disappointing because we always want to move into a deregulated environment and a simple environment as much as possible. Pleasing in that it's a tax system that is designed for enterprise, designed to encourage people to get out there and make things work. That's why the tax system has got 25 per cent as a small business tax rate for those businesses under $50 million. But thank you to what the CPA and other accountants do. It is vital. Advice has never been more important now. It's a competitive environment. Our economy will grow at 4 per cent, unemployment will continue to come down, which is superb. We’re one of only nine countries in the world with a AAA rated credit rating from all three rating agencies. So we are in a great place. We have come through COVID stronger than almost every other nation on Earth. We need to continue to grow our economy and build the economic pie, so Australians can prosper all round. And at the centre of that, there needs to be good advice, there needs be good regulation, and that's where accountants play such a great part. So super pleased with what our accounting profession does. And I just want to say thank you for all the efforts.

JANE RENNIE:

And thank you very much, Minister. 

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