• Overview

    Registrar’s review

    I am pleased to present the Report of the Registrar. This report covers the financial year 1 July 2011 to 30 June 2012.

    The ABR is an extensive database of identity information, collected from businesses when they register for their ABN, which also acts as their unique identifier. The ABR was initially introduced to be a whole-of-government resource to streamline business-to-government interactions and to provide a trusted source of business identity information to support the GST system.

    The ABR, AUSkey and SBR form a national infrastructure that facilitates business-to-government dealings to promote a more efficient digital Australia. In addition, the increasing number of searches using the ABN Lookup service indicates that the ABR continues to play a pivotal role for the community. This year a greater take-up of SBR was encouraged by announcing the transition from the ATO’s electronic lodgement service (ELS) to SBR from July 2015. The Treasury has observed that our announced intention ‘has already had a significant impact upon software developers who provide the majority of accounting related solutions’.

    AUSkey is a whole-of-government authentication solution that provides ABN holders with a cost effective, secure and easy-to-use way to digitally verify their identity for online transactions with government agencies. This year the number of active AUSKey’s grew by more than 60%.

    As a national asset, the ABR’s potential is being used for beneficial purposes in ways other than authentication and verification. This year in particular we have encouraged the use of the ABR by local councils. The ABR provides them with an authoritative tool which is free and reliable to conduct compliance checks. It also helps to:

    • improve service delivery,
    • plan local infrastructure, and
    • achieve their business, social and environmental objectives.

    Over 200 local government agencies are now using ABR data for these purposes.

    In order to maximise the ABN’s potential, this year we have focused on data integrity, undertaking a program of registration cancellations and tightening eligibility checks. About a quarter of all cancellations were in the construction industry, reflecting our increased compliance focus on this sector.

    To better support these activities, the Government provided funding in the 2012–13 Budget to improve the operation of the ABR and the quality and currency of its data by:

    • enhancing the capacity to make determinations of who is entitled to be granted and hold an ABN
    • expanding the ABR data fields to include geocoded addresses, details of branches and comprehensive data on associates
    • developing additional tools to provide information in support of compliance activities, policy development, infrastructure and service delivery planning by the Australian Government, state, territory and local authorities.

    The ABR is proving to be a valuable community asset which assists businesses and all tiers of government.

    Improving data integrity will have a subsidiary benefit of reducing the erroneous use of the ABN as a means of establishing contractor status. Where an employee proves not to be a contractor, breaches of employer obligations could include the failure to remit pay as you go withholding and to make superannuation payments on behalf of employees, as well as non-compliance with other employer obligations.

    Michael D’Ascenzo AO
    Registrar of the Australian Business Register
    and Commissioner of Taxation 

    What we do

    The Registrar is responsible for maintaining the ABR. In this role, the Registrar and supporting staff also manage and operate AUSkey and host and develop the infrastructure for SBR in collaboration with the Treasury.

    These whole-of-government functions constitute Program 1.3 of the Treasury Portfolio Budget Statement for the ATO.

    Making it easier for businesses to deal with government

    The Australian Business Register (ABR), AUSkey and Standard Business Reporting (SBR) together form a whole-of-government framework designed to streamline interaction between business and government across Australia – making it easier for businesses to deal with government.

    The ABR is a comprehensive database of identity information provided by businesses when they register for an Australian business number (ABN). The ABN is a unique trusted identifier for all Australian businesses and other organisations including government bodies and non-profit organisations.

    The ABR makes it easier for businesses and government agencies to deal with each other. Using the online ABN Lookup facility, businesses and consumers can verify the identity of organisations they deal with, including their goods and services tax (GST) status and, in the case of charities and non-profits, their government-endorsed status.

    Government agencies can access more detailed non-publicly available information held on the register to support their programs. The ABR offers them an authoritative, free and reliable tool to conduct compliance checks, improve service delivery, plan local infrastructure and promote economic development.

    The ABR is also integral to the measurement of economic activity, providing a comprehensive register of businesses for compiling economic statistics that inform decision making by government, business and the community as a whole.

    Linked to their ABN, businesses can apply for an AUSkey, a secure digital credential that authenticates their identity for the purposes of undertaking electronic transactions with government agencies.

    AUSkey in turn provides the digital proof of identity for SBR, which aims to simplify reporting and reduce compliance costs for businesses by rationalising data requirements across government and providing a channel for businesses to report electronically to government agencies directly from their own business systems. This will also reduce administrative costs for government agencies and improve the timeliness of business reporting.

    Legislative framework and the Registrar’s powers

    The ABR is established under A New Tax System (Australian Business Number) Act 1999 (ABN Act).

    The ABN Act is a taxation act for the purposes of the Taxation Administration Act 1953 (TAA). For example, Part IVC of the TAA (which deals with objections, reviews and appeals in relation to decisions) applies to ABN reviewable decisions by the Registrar, and failure to update details on the ABR is an offence under 8C of the TAA.

    The Registrar

    The Registrar of the Australian Business Register is responsible for its administration under the ABN Act.

    The Registrar is required to maintain the ABR in accordance with the requirements of the Act, including issuing ABNs and maintaining a publicly available register.

    The Registrar is also required to provide an annual report to the Minister (the Assistant Treasurer and Minister Assisting for Deregulation) on the operation of the Act.

    The Act provides that the role of Registrar is undertaken by the Commissioner of Taxation.

    How we operate

    In providing a whole-of-government resource, the Registrar and staff work with a wide range of agencies, including:

    • 333 agency partners (Australian, state, territory and local government) that use ABR non-public data in accordance with the ABN Act
    • 15 agencies that have adopted AUSkey as an authentication solution for their online services
    • 12 agencies that participate in SBR, along with the Treasury, which coordinates the SBR program, and the Australian Bureau of Statistics, which provides definitional updates for the SBR taxonomy
    • the ATO, which provides a wide range of services for the ABR, including registration processing and information technology infrastructure
    • the Department of Industry, Innovation, Science, Research and Tertiary Education, which hosts the ABN Lookup facility (www.abr.business.gov.auExternal Link) and operates VANguard, the AUSkey validation service.

    ABR Advisory Board

    In administering the ABR, the Registrar is guided by the ABR Advisory Board, which has been formed to provide a whole-of-government perspective on the development and operations of the ABR in its function as a resource to be used by all levels of government in interacting with the Australian business community.

    While the Registrar is accountable for the ABR’s outcomes, the Advisory Board provides advice on priorities for the program of work with the aim of promoting the uptake of the ABR as a whole-of-government service and reducing compliance costs for businesses in dealing with government.

    The Advisory Board is also the governing body for the AUSkey authentication system.

    Membership of the Advisory Board is decided and approved by the Registrar in consultation with the Australian Government. The Registrar is the Chair of the Board.

    Membership of the ABR Advisory Board 

    Australian Government agencies

    • Australian Bureau of Statistics
    • Australian Business Register
    • Australian Customs and Border
      Protection Service
    • Australian Securities and Investments
    • Australian Taxation Office
    • Department of Finance and Deregulation
    • Department of Human Services
    • Department of Innovation, Industry,
      Science and Research and
      Tertiary Education
    • Department of the Treasury

    State, territory and local revenue offices

    • ACT Revenue
      (representing state and territory Revenue Offices)
    • Consumer Affairs Victoria
      (representing Victorian State agencies)
    • Industry and Investments NSW
    • Australian Local Government Association

    Membership of the ABR Advisory Board

    Back row: Greg Tanzer (ASIC), Ann Steward (AGIMO), Robert Ravanello (ATO),
    Neil Tothill (Treasury), Adrian Beresford-Wylie (ALGA), Michael Davies (ABS),
    Sue Weston (DIISRTE), Malisa Golighty (DHS) 

    Seated: Trisha Clarke (ABR), Mark Jackson (ABR), Michael D’Ascenzo
    (Registrar, ABR), Marion Grant (Customs), Clive Faro (NSW Industry & Investment),
    Brett Monger (ACT Revenue) 

    Challenges for the year ahead

    In 2012–13 we will be facing the following challenges:

    • Improving the accuracy of the ABR – every 54 seconds we issue a registration, and every 133 seconds we cancel a registration. Our challenge is to improve the way the information in the register is kept as accurate as possible.
    • Designing an innovative solution to get ABR information to agencies faster, more efficiently and in a user-friendly format. Of the 333 government agencies eligible to use ABR non-public data, 288 agencies received such data in 2011–12.
    • Considering ways to improve the ease of access for business who choose to take up AUSkey to access agency online services. Our challenge is to increase the number of government agencies who accept it as an authentication tool.
    • Monitoring and refining the SBR system, which offers so much promise but is still in the early stage of its development. Our challenge is to make sure that SBR continues down the right path to deliver the benefits that it promises to the community.
    • Moving from ELS to SBR – in support of the SBR program, the ATO decided to decommission ELS and transition the services it provides to SBR by 2015.
    • Last modified: 28 Nov 2014QC 443