For the purpose of reporting under the Government’s portfolio budget statements framework, the ABR constitutes Program 1.3 of the Treasury Portfolio Budget Statement for the ATO, with the following objective, deliverables and key performance indicators for 2013-14.
The ABR undertakes work to enable streamlined interactions between businesses and government. The ABR is also moving to better support improved planning by government agencies for program and service delivery to the community through increased awareness and use of its services.
This is done by registering businesses and issuing them with an Australian Business Number (ABN) as their unique identifier, to reliably identify themselves and facilitate their dealings with government. These dealings are further streamlined through the use of AUSkey, an authentication system that provides secure and easy-to-use access to online services for business-to-government interaction. Standard Business Reporting (SBR) reduces the compliance reporting burden experienced by business in reporting to government through a common reporting language and development and management of the operating solution used for online services.
Our performance for the year is reported in this section of the Report against the deliverables and key performance indicators as shown in the table below.
A comprehensive, up-to-date and accessible business register for use across the government and business community.
See Australian Business Register.
An authentication solution that enables government and the business community to reliably and securely fulfil information and reporting obligations.
See AUSkey for trusted authentication.
Improved online services through expanded adoption of the SBR capabilities, including the use of the common reporting language and the SBR operating solution.
See Standard Business Reporting – digital framework.
Increased efficiency of government service delivery through the awareness and use of registration and authentication services.
See Using ABR data.
Proportion of registered ABNs that are eligible.
72% of respondents to the 2014 ABR survey of ABN holders reported they were still using their ABN, with individuals and partnerships more likely to be no longer using their ABNs (see ABR survey assesses accuracy).
Growth in ABNs was lower than the growth in the economy (measured by GDP) for the second year running. This suggests that the proportion of ABN holders who remain eligible is increasing as a result of our work to review entitlement (see Longer term trends).
Trend over time in the accuracy of the data held on the ABR.
The estimated accuracy of fields on the register ranged from 57.6% (business address) to 83.3% (associates). The estimated accuracy of these fields in 2012–13 was 80% and 92% respectively, however direct comparison of survey results is not meaningful due to significant differences in the survey methodologies. The revised survey methodology in this year’s survey has consistently lowered the estimates for the verification field question, representing a more accurate estimate of the integrity of the register.
The slower growth in ABNs suggests that improvements in the registration process and a more intensive and focused compliance program is improving the accuracy of data on the ABR (see Longer term trends and Improving the accuracy of the ABR).
Trend over time in the adoption and use of AUSkey by business, intermediaries and government agencies.
The number of active AUSkeys grew by 12.8% and the number of businesses for which an AUSkey is registered grew by 19.6% over 2013-14, while the number of authentications by businesses grew by 13.2%.
The number of agencies accepting AUSkey grew by 3 to 24, with the number of online services for which AUSkey is accepted for authentication growing by 11 to 45 at 30 June 2014.
(See AUSkey for trusted authentication)
Trend over time in the adoption of SBR:
The number of software vendors offering SBR-enabled software products increased from 33 to 54 in the year to 30 June 2014 (see Promoting SBR adoption).
The SBR national gateway processed around 4 million transactions including:
In the most significant adoption to date of SBR-compatible data standards for business-to-business transactions, the Superannuation Transaction Network, operated by a group of superannuation funds, is understood to have processed more than one million superannuation account rollovers between super funds.
(See Standard Business Reporting – transactions)
Level of satisfaction of stakeholders with quality and timeliness of SBR services.
We began surveying software developers to measure their satisfaction with how we work with them. While the results were generally positive, it identified some weaknesses with how we engage with them. The survey also set a benchmark for measuring their satisfaction on an ongoing basis (see Software developer engagement).
Level of performance in accordance with service standards.
All ABR Program targets for service standards were met.
The ABR Program is building a whole-of-government digital infrastructure for the exchange of entity-specific data among businesses and government agencies. The program’s ultimate scope encompasses all the ways that businesses report and use government services – providing the essential identification, authentication and transaction services.
The objective is to reduce the cost and intrusiveness of government regulation on businesses by re-engineering the business-to-government reporting process. The vision is an environment in which data is exchanged routinely and automatically using natural business systems rather than businesses having to prepare a multitude of bespoke reports for different agencies, requiring the creation of an unnecessarily large range of datasets.
For example, the ATO as a key user of SBR technology is developing a Standard Chart of Accounts that will enable a business to provide a dataset via SBR, from which the ATO can extract the information required to meet the business’s range of reporting obligations.
The same approaches can also be used for business-to-business (B2B) and government-to-government (G2G) interactions.
As well as reducing direct costs to business, the digital infrastructure will reduce administrative costs to government, which may be passed on to business (and their customers) under industry-funded regulatory models.
As a by-product, the program will deliver up-to-date, accurate and complete information about Australian businesses to inform evidence-based policy and law-making and effective service delivery.
By reducing duplication and fragmentation in interactions between business and government (including B2B transactions that are regulated), the ABR Program has the potential to make a major contribution to whole-of-government efforts to cut red tape and reduce business costs.
The SuperTICK service for rollovers between superannuation accounts and the payment of superannuation contributions for employees (together expected to occur over 100 million times per year) is one example of this contribution. The service is estimated to be delivering almost $48 million of savings to the industry each year, primarily from the replacement of manual proof-of-identity processes.
Achieving this objective depends on it being embraced by businesses, government agencies and software and service providers:
The key outputs of the ABR Program are:
Key outcomes for 2013-14
The total number of entities with an ABN grew by 2.1% to 7,667,896 over the year, the same rate of growth as during the previous year. The growth rates for the different entity types varied widely:
Figure 2: Number of ABNs by entity type, four years to 30 June 2014
30 June 2011
30 June 2012
30 June 2013
30 June 2014
Figure 3: Rate of growth in ABNs by entity type, four years to 30 June 2014
Figure 4: Comparison of percentage growth in ABNs with percentage growth in GDP, 10 years to 2013-14
Growth in business registrations should be expected to broadly reflect economic growth as measured by Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
The growth in ABN registrations in the past has not reflected this expectation, with the number of new registrations far outgrowing cancellations, with entities no longer needing an ABN not having cancelled it. This has led to ABNs being on the register when they are no longer required to be. Growth in ABNs is expected to be lower than growth in GDP for a number of years as this issue is managed and no longer required ABNs are removed.
Figure 4 compares Australia’s economic growth and growth in ABNs.
The change in the number of ABNs year on year reflects both the number of successful applications for registration and the number of cancellations over that year.
We received 755,184 applications for registration in 2013-14, an increase of 8.6% over the previous year, following a decrease of 2.4% in 2012-13. Of the applications, 704,211 or 93.3% were successfully registered for an ABN, compared with 92% in the previous year.
Applicants who are refused registration due to being ineligible may resubmit applications online, varying their details in an effort to succeed. (see Figure 5 Number of ABN refusals, four years to 2013-14).
Figure 5: Number of ABN refusals, four years to 2013-14
The number of new registrations grew by 10.6% to 704,211 in 2013-14, following an increase of 8.4% over the previous year. New registrations of super funds declined by 11.3%, and partnerships by 1.9%, while trusts increased by 7.8%, companies by 8.1% and individuals by 15.7%.
The number of cancellations rose by 12.1% to 543,944, with Registrar-initiated cancellations increasing by 7% to 378,986 and client-initiated cancellations increasing by 25.8% to 164,958.
Figure 6: ABN cancellations, four years to 2013-4
Of the largest industry sectors by the number of ABN holders, administrative and support services grew by 9.1% in 2013-14 after declining by 2.7% in the previous year.
Other strongly growing sectors included:
Financial and insurance services rose by 3.2%, a similar rate to the previous year.
Accommodation and food services and the rental, hiring and real estate services sectors both grew by 3.7% (after rises of 3.9% and 1.9% respectively in the previous year).
Retail entities increased by 1.74%, following a similar rise over the previous year, while agricultural entities increased by 0.6%, after being steady in the previous year.
Construction entities increased by 1.5%, following a slight decline in the previous year.
‘Other services’ entities fell by 1.5% after a rise of 7% in the previous year.
Overall the number of changes made to ABR records (ABR updates) in 2013-14 fell by 8.9%. However there was a significant increase in the number of changes made using AUSkeys or via business name changes through ASIC. While updates made by paper (for example BAS lodgment or tax return forms) decreased significantly (see Appendix 1, Table 30).
Changes are made as a consequence of details changing such as address, associates, tax roles, charity status or industry type.
Registrants are required to update their ABR details within 28 days of becoming aware of any changes. They can do this online via the ABR website (using their AUSkey), by calling the ABR, submitting a paper form or asking their tax or BAS agent to do it on their behalf. Changes are also made as a consequence of updates submitted to other agencies such as the ATO and ASIC.
The redesigned website (abr.gov.au) launched in December 2013, delivers a greatly improved online registration process. This process is not only easier to use but also captures more accurate and usable information about the applicant’s business operations, including geocoding of all business premises and details of all business associates.
Where the applicant satisfies the eligibility criteria and provides acceptable proof of identity they are generally issued with an ABN on the spot under an automated process. Otherwise the application is either refused as ineligible or referred for manual review and a decision.
In 2013-14, 59% of applications were processed on the spot. For the remaining 41%, 86.6% of these were finalised within 28 days (against a service standard of 93% and compared to 79.6% in the previous year) and 93.5% within 42 days (against a service standard of 99%, and compared to 90.3% in the previous year).
The main reasons why ABN applications are not finalised online is that the applicant has previously had an ABN, has not established their identity or not demonstrated their entitlement.
While people can apply for an ABN on a paper form, this method accounted for only 0.4% of applications in 2013-14.
Enhanced interactive application process
Currently, individuals applying online to register for an ABN (as a sole trader) are presented with a series of questions to establish their eligibility. This interactive assessment process is being extended to all types of entities other than companies (which already need to show an Australian company number).
The new process scheduled for implementation in December 2014 will provide more immediate feedback to applicants on the eligibility of their application and the accuracy or integrity of the identity information they have provided. The effect will be to reduce delays in processing applications and be transparent with applicants during the online application process.
As well as being easier for applicants to use, the new registration process at abr.gov.au is capturing more accurate and detailed information when applicants register for an ABN.
The new process more accurately captures the applicant’s business activity, as well as all its premises and associates. The location of business premises is geocoded by latitude and longitude.
The new process prompts the applicant to choose an ANZSIC code (Australia and New Zealand Standard Industrial Classification) consistent business activity description from a list based on their initial free-text entry. This ensures that every new ABN is associated with an ANZSIC code.
Existing ABNs without a valid ANZSIC code are being reviewed as part of our broader compliance activities.
ANZSIC coding applies at the business premises level, so that a business operating at multiple sites may have multiple ANZSIC codes depending on the nature of their business activities at the different sites.
Further enhancements to the registration process scheduled for implementation in December 2014 these will improve the accuracy and integrity of the process, as well as assessing an applicant’s entitlement to an ABN. (see Enhanced interactive application process).
Specially funded active compliance work under the four-year Towards a better business future (TBBF) program continued for the second year in 2013-14, with two objectives; ensuring that only those entities entitled to an ABN hold one, and ensuring that details of entities on the Register are correct.
This large-scale compliance work is designed to educate ABN holders about their eligibility and their obligation to keep their details up–to-date, as well as directly correct inaccuracies in the Register.
This involves writing to ABN holders asking them to check their details, reviews of ABN holders to check eligibility and the accuracy of registration details, and visits to business addresses. Our mail, desk and field compliance work is integrated to address specific risks including geographic and industry-specific risks.
All targets for compliance casework under the TBBF and Taxable Payments Reporting System (TPRS) programs were achieved for 2013-14. In summary, we:
In total, across all our compliance activities we reviewed the entitlement or the accuracy of details of over 843,000 ABN holders.
We focus on ABN holders where there are indicators of their business activity ceasing or never having started and where we don’t have a valid ANZSIC code. Depending on the circumstances, we may write to ABN holders advising that we have cancelled their ABNs or give notice that we intend to cancel unless they can confirm their details, including their continuing eligibility for an ABN.
In less than one in 10 Registrar-initiated cancellations does the ABN holder apply to reinstate their ABN, suggesting that this process is well targeted.
We also implemented a reinstate-by-phone process in September 2013 for entities who, having had their ABNs cancelled by the Registrar, wished to have them reinstated. This provided a streamlined reinstate process for low-risk cases.
As well as reviewing eligibility, the desk and field reviews involve checking and validating ANZSIC codes. Desk and field reviews resulted in 37,632 corrections to ANZSIC codes in 2013-14 (against a target of 30,000), as well as corrections to other details including addresses.
Field reviews are geographically focused and involve visits to ABN holders based on indicators that identify industry sectors and geographical areas where there are particular risks, as well as specific cases based on intelligence. In 2013-14 we undertook field visits across a range of metropolitan and regional areas creating an intensity and visibility of compliance activities among at-risk groups of ABN holders.
Our compliance activities, particularly processes for mail-outs including standard letters, are being reviewed and revised as necessary. This is based on our experiences in undertaking an expanded compliance program over recent years, with consequent large increases in Registrar-initiated cancellations. We are also piloting the use of email for initial client contact.
In May 2014, we implemented a process to cancel the ABNs of companies that have been deregistered by ASIC, starting with a backlog of almost 100,000 deregistered companies dating back to 2000. The backlog has now been cleared and in future, deregistered companies will have their ABNs cancelled as a matter of course, based on information provided by ASIC.
The increase in cancellations of superannuation fund ABNs reflects a bulk cancellation in August 2013 of 8,402 self-managed super funds that appeared inactive and where the trustees had indicated their intention to wind up the fund.
As well as broad analysis of risk patterns, our compliance program is informed by referrals from other agencies of cases where there are indicators of potentially non-compliant behaviour relating to entitlement and use of an ABN. We also refer cases to other agencies where our ABN compliance work identifies indicators of potential non-compliance that fall within their responsibility.
Building on an established working relationship with the ATO, we put in place protocols with ASIC and Fair Work Building and Construction for referrals relating to the integrity of the ABR.
The external referral initiative will be expanded in 2014-15 to include the Fair Work Ombudsman. We are also exploring joint compliance activities with state revenue offices and other state agencies. These will focus on indicators, such as unexpectedly high numbers of ABN applications associated with certain addresses that may indicate a broad range of regulatory compliance risks.
During 2013-14, we received 5,395 compliance case referrals from other agencies. We also referred 84 cases to the ATO where there were indications of potential non-compliance with tax provisions. No cases were refereed to other agencies.
The latest Australian Business Register (ABR) survey, conducted in May and June 2014, found 72% of respondents reporting they were still using their Australian business number (ABN).
The annual survey, conducted by an independent research firm, measures the extent to which ABN holders still use their ABN, the currency and accuracy of key data fields, and the understandings and attitudes of ABN holders in relation to keeping their information up-to-date.
The survey’s aim is to assess the health of the ABR for the purposes of both reporting to the Minister and Parliament on the administration of the ABN Act, and to give us a better understanding of how effective the Register is as a reliable source of information on Australian businesses.
While the results may suggest a significant fall in the number of ABN holders who legitimately need an ABN (with 83% of respondents to the previous survey reporting they were still using their ABN) there were significant changes in the survey methodology, so comparisons are difficult.
In particular, earlier surveys did not adequately address ‘non response’ bias or bias due to relying only on the contact details on the ABR when attempting to contact respondents.
Although the survey methodology has shortcomings, the results are useful, particularly for identifying those aspects of the ABR that are more or less likely to be accurate – and for designing our responses accordingly.
On the question of eligibility, individuals and partnerships were more likely to indicate that they no longer needed or were no longer eligible for an ABN (41% and 35% respectively) than superannuation funds (7%), companies (9%), government entities (16%) and trusts (21%).
Figure 7: ABR reported usage – ABR Survey 2014 *
Accuracy of key data fields
Of the respondents who still required their ABN we found that:
Legal/main name – 77% of all respondents indicated this field in their ABR entry was correct, with 90% of superannuation funds and 87% of government entities reporting this field to be correct.
Postal address – 66% of all respondents indicated this field in their ABR entry was correct, although this was lower for individuals at 59%.
Business address – 58% of all respondents indicated this field in their ABR entry was correct. The accuracy of the business address was lower for trusts (57%) and partnerships (58%) than the other entity types.
Email address – This field recorded the lowest level of completeness for all respondents at 51%, with the lowest level reported by individuals (48%). Of those that had an email address recorded on the ABR, 66% indicated that it was correct.
Business/industry activity – Overall, the level of accuracy of the ‘Business/industry activity’ field was 63%, with higher levels of accuracy reported by superannuation funds (90%) and government entities (81%).
Contact names(s) – Overall, the level of accuracy of the ‘Contact name(s)’ field was 63%. By entity type, government entities (42%) and companies (59%) reported the lowest levels of accuracy.
Associates – Respondents representing partnerships, trusts, companies and superannuation funds were asked to confirm the details of associate(s) listed on the ABR. Overall, the level of accuracy of the ‘Associates’ field was the highest of all ABR data fields at 83% (defined as all listed associates on the ABN being confirmed as correct at the time of the survey). The estimated level of accuracy for this field was higher for superannuation funds (91%) than for partnerships (80%), companies (82%) and trusts (83%).
Awareness of the need to keep details up to date
The law requires that the Registrar be notified of any changes to the information on the ABR within 28 days of the ABN holder becoming aware of it. Overall, 61% of respondents were aware of this obligation and 29% had updated their details at least once. The level of awareness was significantly higher among companies (66%), trusts (75%) and superannuation funds (81%) than among government entities (42%), individuals (50%) and partnerships (56%).
Respondents who had previously updated an entity’s ABN details on the ABR (either for themselves or on behalf of a client) were asked how easy or difficult they found the process. Overall, 51% of respondents found the process to be easy.
Of the respondents who had updated ABN details on the ABR, the main method for updating details was the website (63%). This was followed by ‘tax/BAS agent does it’ (17%) and by phone (5%).
The Australian Business Register (ABR) and information from the Australian Taxation Office (ATO) form the starting point for the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) in publishing statistics on Australian businesses (see ABS, Counts of Australian businesses, including entries and exits (CABEE), 8165.0).In the CABEE publication, the ABS defines a business as 'economically active' if it is actively remitting Goods and Services tax which is more narrow than the Registrar, who has a regulatory role under the ABN Act in making decisions that directly affect the rights and obligations of individuals and organisations. The ABS publishes statistics to inform decision-making by the community and governments, and in the CABEE publication the way it defines businesses as economically active reflects this.In defining whether a business is economically active for statistical purposes, the ABS CABEE publication makes adjustments to the number of entities on the ABR, subtracting some categories, including entities that:
Further details of these adjustments can be found as part of the explanatory notes attached to the CABEE publication.
ABR data is a national asset, available in two broad formats:
Geocoding of entities on the Register was introduced in December 2013, with ABN applicants being asked to provide addresses for each of their business premises, which are then geocoded by determining latitude and longitude.
At the same time as geocoding for new registrations was introduced, we progressively applied geocoding to all existing address records on the Register. Matching techniques allowed us to successfully attach a geocode to 83% of addresses.
Geocoding has greatly increased the usability of ABR data for government agencies. This will continue to improve as ABN records are updated, with more accurate and more complete business address records. Geocoding particularly increases the value of ABR data for analytics that involve spatial models of economic activity.
Geocoding at the business premises level compliments other information fields to provide an increasingly rich source of data.
ANZSIC coding also applies at the business premises level. A business operating at multiple locations may have multiple ANZSIC codes depending on the nature of their business activities at the different premises.
Phone and email contact details for the business are also captured at the business address level.
The new registration process also captures details (with proof of identity) of all the applicant’s business associates (including directors, company secretary, top 20 shareholders for unlisted companies, and trustees and beneficiaries for closely held trusts).
Mesh blocks provide a fine grain view
Mesh blocks provide a fine grain view of ABR data. Mesh blocks, the smallest geographic region in the Australian Statistical Geography Standard (ASGS), are identified with a unique 11 digit code. As a result of geocoding, around 83% of ABR entries are now identified by mesh block, as well as the more precise latitude and longitude for the business address.
In 2011, there were approximately 347,000 mesh blocks covering the whole of Australia without gaps or overlaps. They broadly identify land use such as residential, commercial, agricultural and parks and typically contain 30 to 60 dwellings.
Figure 8 shows the mesh block location of ABN holders in the ANZSIC category of Agriculture, Forestry and Fishing in Tasmania, while Figure 9 shows those in the category of Manufacturing. The darker the colour, the more ABNs in the respective category in that mesh block.
Figure 8: Mesh block location of ABN holders in the ANZSIC category of Agriculture, Forestry and Fishing in Tasmania
Figure 9: Mesh block location of ABN holders in the ANZSIC category of Manufacturing in Tasmania
Figure 10 shows all ABN holders in Tasmania by mesh block, while Figure 11 shows all ABN holders in the Hobart area by mesh block. Data on businesses at the mesh block level is a valuable resource for agencies using ABR data and more broadly for all users of ABS statistics that are derived from ABR data.
Figure 10: ABN holders in Tasmania by mesh block
Figure 11: ABN holders in the Hobart area by mesh block
The online ABN Lookup search facility (www.abn.business.gov.au) provides access to public information on ABN holders including:
The Registrar may withhold details if satisfied that it is appropriate to do so.
This year the use of ABN Lookup for manual searches through the website fell by 6.4%, accounting for 24.7% of all searches, while automated searches via the web services facility grew by 20.2%.
Web services functionality allows registered users to integrate ABN Lookup with their own software applications. For example, a software application that uses the ABN as a business identifier can interact with ABN Lookup to automatically validate details or populate a database with public information from the ABR.
There are around 750 active registered web services users. The biggest users include credit agencies, government agencies and other organisations that deal with large number of suppliers and customers.
ABN Lookup is hosted by the Department of Industry. The service was available 99.9% of the time during 2013-14.
Figure 12: ABN Lookup searches, four years to 2013-14
One of Australia's leading providers of software for small business has launched an automatic validation in two of its popular accounting packages to make it easier for small business to check whether their suppliers have an ABN and are registered for GST.
The 50,000 business operators who use the software will no longer have to switch from the accounting package to the ABN Lookup website to check supplier details. The software will automatically conduct the check whenever the supplier details are accessed.
Other software providers are currently planning to include the service in their products.
Agencies at all levels of government have access to non-public data on the ABR under conditions set by the ABN Act.
Agencies use ABR data for a wide range of applications including service delivery, licensing and registration, compliance and enforcement, grant funding, research and analysis, community consultation and education, disaster recovery and procurement.
Data is used in many different ways (see case studies). Entity-specific data can be used for regulatory compliance and to reduce compliance and administrative costs across the economy, while aggregated data informs policy making and the planning and delivery of services.
During the year, 39 new agencies signed on to use ABR data, taking the total to 462 at 30 June 2014. Some of the new users have been prompted by the availability of geocoded data for the first time.
Agencies access non-public data under a terms and conditions agreement with us. We regularly review partner agencies to ensure they are storing, using and disposing of ABR data in line with the agreement and the ABN Act.
For the full list of the ABR partner agencies see abr.gov.au.
We have recently initiated an ABR Data Improvement Project to address issues around:
The goal is improved ABR data quality, completeness and accessibility leading to:
During the year we introduced a new secure electronic mailbox, the Data Transfer Facility, for partner agencies to access ABR data. The mailbox, which is refreshed weekly, allows agencies to download data directly into their own IT systems, including the new geocoding, branching and entity associates data being added to the Register.
Agencies can also continue to access ABR data on disk.
Data items are defined and described in the ABR Data Dictionary, which is based on the SBR Definitional Taxonomy.
We continue to provide training to staff of partner agencies, including local councils, in the use of ABR data.
We are also working with partner agencies to encourage them to share capabilities for using ABR data, including use of advanced database techniques that allow agencies to use the full data set. This is particularly important for smaller agencies and local councils with limited IT support capabilities.
We continue to provide ABR data to government agencies including local councils in support of their disaster response efforts. For example, datasets were provided to local councils within hours of serious bushfires affecting parts of the NSW Blue Mountains and Central Coast in October 2013.
The number of data extracts providing information to emergency services increased to 25, up from seven last year.
This type of data enables agencies to identify businesses most likely impacted, including those whose operations are critical to recovery efforts. Geocoding of business addresses is increasing the value and usability of ABR data.
Our experiences with emergencies and feedback from user agencies have informed the development of a process for delivering emergency data in near real time to partner agencies. The aim is to establish a process that can be readily activated to provide the right data, at the right time, to the right people.
A new, mandatory framework for reporting by Victoria’s 79 local councils to the state government requires them to source information from the ABR.
The new Local Government Performance Reporting Framework, a cornerstone of local government reform, builds a comprehensive picture of council performance through 70 quantitative measures and 24 qualitative checklist measures.
Local councils are required to report on economic development within their region, using ABR data to identify the number of businesses involved in business development activities.
Comparative performance information will be reported for the first time in councils’ annual reports to their communities in 2014-15.
Residents and ratepayers will be able to view their council’s results alongside a council explanation.
Bass Coast Shire Council in Victoria used ABR data to identify and contact over 1,000 agricultural businesses in the area to survey their views about rural land use including agricultural tourism, food production and protection of natural assets.
The responses were used in developing a Rural Land Use Strategy for the Shire. Endorsed by Council in 2014, the strategy supports long-term economic and social changes consistent with government policies and plans.
Economic development coordinator Roslyn Jenzen describes the strategy as a 'major piece of work' and says the Council regularly uses ABR data to assist with economic development activities of this kind.
'We have been accessing ABR data for several years now - there are so many ways you can use it.
‘In addition to our own database of land owners, ABR data provides us with an extra layer of information about businesses. Being able to establish the numbers and types of business by industry segments is really helpful.
‘Also, the recent addition of geocoding of all ABNs is going to prove most useful, particularly in a rural area like ours.'
The Standard Business Reporting (SBR) Program is developing whole-of-government endorsed standards for business-to-government reporting and transactions, including a dictionary of terms and messaging standards for electronic data exchange.
SBR aims to replace the need for dedicated business-to-government systems and services by promoting the use of commercial software products and services based on widely adopted standards and designed around natural business systems. The same standards will also facilitate more efficient business-to-business and government-to-government interactions.
Ultimately, adoption of SBR standards by both business and government sectors has the potential to replace conventional form-based reporting with the automatic exchange of data. A company’s business system will draw on a regulatory agency’s system for information on the company‘s regulatory obligations and previous interactions – in the same way that individuals lodging an electronic tax return will find it pre-populated with previously reported information.
The Australian Reporting Dictionary, released in July 2013, presents a searchable and easy to understand view of the SBR Definitional Taxonomy. The dictionary defines standard data items so they have the same meaning when used across business and government for the range of regulatory purposes.
As well as widening the utility of the SBR taxonomy beyond those with technical knowledge, the plain English dictionary addresses concerns about the ever increasing number of terms arising from new reporting requirements on business. The dictionary will improve understanding of information already being reported by business. This will in turn facilitate the re-use of terms and data concepts wherever possible when new legislation is designed.
Since its launch, the online Australian Reporting Dictionary has experienced steady growth in use (see Figure 13).
Figure 13: Use of the online Australian Reporting Dictionary, November 2013 to June 20141
Data elements are defined once in the SBR Definitional Taxonomy and reused across multiple reports and agencies. This reduces duplication in reporting to different government agencies, with the benefits including minimising the work required by software developers to interpret government legislation when developing their products.
The Definitional Taxonomy continued to expand in scope during the year, with a continuing program of work to identify, consolidate and rename duplicate data items across agencies and reporting forms. By 30 June 2014, the number of data elements had been reduced from 33,647 (unharmonised) to 6,837 (harmonised) – see Figure 14.
Historically, reports to different government agencies have often used different terms for what are essentially the same accounting concepts. In Australia’s federal system, this has extended to the use of different terms across states and territories for the same regulatory purpose.
For example, before the adoption of a standard term (data element) in the Australian Reporting Dictionary for payroll-taxable wages and salaries, the state and territory revenue offices used eight different terms:Gross Taxable Wages (TAS)NT taxable wagesGross Taxable Victorian WagesQueensland Taxable WagesSA Wage Components TotalTaxable Wages (WA)Total ACT wages in the financial yearTotal NSW Wages.
In this case, the different terms didn’t reflect any real differences in the way that wages and salaries were required to be calculated, but the onus was on businesses operating across multiple jurisdictions to check for any differences and use the different terms in their payroll tax reports. Accounting software and service providers had to accommodate the different terms in their products or leave out the relevant reporting functionality.
Now, as result of harmonisation, a single data element for payroll-taxable wages and salaries, described as Remuneration.WagesAndSalaries.TaxableStateTotal.Amount, has been defined in the Australian Reporting Dictionary to replace the eight different terms.
This process of standardisation has been repeated thousands of times over, in a collaborative process involving stakeholder agencies, accounting software and services industries. The benefits in lower costs for business, and ultimately their employees and customers, are substantial if difficult to quantify.
Where data elements can’t be standardised across all jurisdictions because they reflect real differences in law, the harmonisation process makes any differences in definition visible, aiding reporting and also prompting review of the need for this difference when Acts or regulations are next being substantively reviewed.
The scope of the Definitional Taxonomy depends on the scope of the SBR Reporting Taxonomy, which documents the technical standards for electronic data exchange. Further development during the year saw the scope of the reporting taxonomy increase from 1,151 to 1,279.
Figure14: Rationalisation of the number of data items since the SBR Program began
30 June 2010
Following the adoption of the international messaging standard for SBR (ebMS3/AS4), the Government’s Chief Information Officer Committee endorsed the SBR implementation of this standard, in November 2013, as a whole-of-government standard for business-to-government and government-to-government transactions under the National Standards Framework.
Use of this standard offers major benefits for business, including reduced costs for software developers, service providers and participating agencies who wish to set up their own gateway.
In particular, it opens up the opportunity for commercial service providers and government agencies that may wish to operate their own electronic data exchange services for business-to-government and government-to-government transactions. Currently only the ABR, the Australian Prudential Regulation Agency and a superannuation funds network operate SBR-enabled services. However, the adoption of the ebMS3/AS4 messaging standard opens up opportunities for new and innovative service offerings that are based on SBR standards but are not constrained by the need to use infrastructure operated by particular agencies.
Development and support of SBR-enabled products by software developers is central to increasing use of SBR. We continue to liaise and engage with software developers to help them incorporate SBR into their software as efficiently as possible.
Along with new SBR-enabled software products being offered during the year, suppliers of existing products have added more report types to their products. This has been especially prompted by the announcement of the upgrade of the ATO’s Electronic Lodgment Service (ELS) to make it SBR compliant.
Currently, a few major software products account for most lodgments via the SBR gateway.
The number of commercial software developers licensed to develop SBR products grew from 129 to 169 over 2013-14, with 91 testing products, and number of software developers with one or more products in the market increased to 54 this year.
ABR sponsored a research project during the year with the aim of better understanding the barriers to SBR adoption by small and micro businesses. The key finding was that smaller businesses are more concerned about the cost and burden of collecting and entering data, and doing calculations than of submitting reports to government. This reinforces the emphasis on SBR being seen as a set of enabling standards for business information systems rather than a channel for lodging reports with government agencies.
For a full list of SBR-enabled products and developers see sbr.gov.auExternal Link.
Figure 15: Number of software developers engaged with SBR, four years to 30 June 2014
Level of engagement
In light of feedback that suggests there is scope for improvement in how we engage with software developers, they were surveyed them to better understand their views and needs. This has established a baseline measure of their level of satisfaction with our support, against which future trends can be measured.
Positive indicators from the survey included:
Aspects that could be improved include:
The SBR Board has endorsed the establishment of a whole-of-government software developer forum to provide a mechanism for consultation and coordination of SBR-related issues with the software industry.
We are also engaging with industry groups, including the Australian Business Software Industry Association, to understand their business drivers and to promote the SBR standards.
The Department of Human Services (DHS) has indicated that it will be redeveloping its major systems and in the process making them SBR-compliant. Towards the end of this financial year we began working with DHS to develop a proof of concept to incorporate data concepts from its reporting in the SBR Definitional Taxonomy.
In implementing its business and technical roadmap, the ASIC is actively standardising data items as part of the SBR taxonomy.
The year saw strong growth in SBR-enabled transactions. Gateways which transmit SBR transactions are currently operated by the ABR (SBR national gateway), the APRA and a private sector superannuation funds network:
The SBR national gateway is used mainly for lodging reports with the ATO.
Over the past year, the increasing availability of SBR-enabled software has been instrumental in this growth of SBR-enabled lodgments (see Software developer engagement). In particular, the rise in lodgements during 2013-14 appears to be due to one particular vendor upgrading its product to become SBR-enabled. With SBR-enabled software coming on-line from another vendor, a further boost to lodgement numbers is expected to occur in 2014-15 for tax lodgments.
The number of entities lodging reports was about 10 times the number in 2012-13. This figure includes both businesses that report on their own behalf, intermediaries including payroll and other service providers, tax agents and business activity statement (BAS) agents. Tax and BAS agents each accounted for about 4% of lodgers.
In total, reports were lodged on behalf of almost 50,000 entities – that is, the business end users, for three ATO reports – activity statements, tax file number (TFN) declarations and PAYG annual reports. Of these entities, 65% lodged through a third party, although this rises to 94% for activity statements alone. Of the more than 26,000 entities for which activity statements were lodged, 41% used tax agents and 53% used BAS agents. For TFN declarations, only 4% used a tax or BAS agent.
While lodgment of business tax returns through the national gateway has been limited, almost 600 lodgers were identified, including 92 tax agents and seven BAS agents.
Excluding scheduled outages, the SBR gateway was available 100% of the time during 2013-14. This has remained the case since July 2011.
Table 16: Number of SBR gateway report lodgments, 2010–11 to 2013–14
SBR-enabled transactions are expected to increase significantly in the short to medium term due to some key drivers, including:
More generally, adoption of the ebMS3/AS4 standard will encourage competing gateway services (see Standards for interfaces).
The Australian Taxation Office (ATO) is responsible for delivering significant components of the Government’s Super Reform Program. A major part of that reform is the introduction of a new Superannuation Data and Payment Standard for rollovers of superannuation amounts between funds and the payment of superannuation contributions for employees. These two transactions alone are estimated to occur over 100 million times per year.
In designing the standard, the ATO leveraged existing investment to reuse a number of important SBR capabilities. This reuse led to a faster design and development process for the ATO when co-designing the standard with the superannuation industry.
SBR was also used to deliver the SuperTICK service which supports the operation of rollover and contributions transactions under the standard. SuperTICK allows registered superannuation entities to validate, and even correct, tax file numbers under certain conditions. This benefits both the ATO and the superannuation industry by correcting errors at the source and removing the need for re-work later in the process.
Importantly, reusing the capabilities of SBR helped solve major problems that are key drivers of the Super Reform Program including:
The financial benefits are substantial. For example, the SuperTICK service alone is estimated to deliver almost $48 million of savings to the industry each year. This saving comes primarily from the replacement of the previous time-consuming manual proof-of-identity processes.
The lessons from this experience are clear. The investment that had already been made in SBR meant that the existing capabilities were able to be reused – rather than creating something new – to quickly respond to Government policy and deliver reforms and savings to the superannuation industry. For the community, SBR was pivotal in delivering important changes that, ultimately, will help to improve the retirement savings of all Australians.
AUSkey is a whole-of-government authentication solution that provides a single digital key to access government online services, simplifying how businesses interact electronically with government.
AUSkey’s acceptance as the preferred national authentication solution is reducing the need for businesses and other organisations to maintain multiple identifiers and passwords to interact with government online. It reduces business costs by providing cost effective, secure and easy to use access to online services through sharing common authentication infrastructure and support services across government.
We continue to work closely with the Department of Industry, VANguard Services who provides TrustBroker services for all AUSkey authentications.
AUSkey has continued to demonstrate strong growth since its introduction in May 2010, with 941,880 active AUSkeys at 30 June 2014 (up from 834,741 the year before) used on behalf of 498,336 businesses (up from 416,678). (An active AUSkey is one that has neither expired nor been cancelled and is available for use by the business holder.)
AUSkeys were used to authenticate government services over 43 million times in 2013-14, a 13.2% increase over the previous year.
The number of online services accepting AUSkey has increased during the year, with three new participating agencies and 11 new online services accepting AUSkey as an authentication solution. This takes the number of participating agencies to 24 and the number of services to 45. Once an agency adopts AUSkey as an authentication solution there are strong reasons for it to expand AUSkey’s reach across a range of online services.
Around two-thirds of entities for which an AUSkey has been issued have a single AUSkey. Over the past year there has been a slight decline in the number of entities with multiple AUSkeys – see Table 42 in Appendix 1. (While an AUSkey can only be used for transactions by the entity to which it is registered, the digital keys are issued to individuals associated with the entity, so that an entity can have more than one AUSkey.)
Whilst the AUSkey is used extensively for ATO lodgments there has also been continued growth in the number of authentications for other government agency services. We expect to see the use of AUSkey continue to increase, as more agencies adopt it for their online services and community awareness of the advantages of a single identifier grows.
The ATO estimates its digital program will generate a significant increase in the need for AUSkeys within two years.
Figure 17 Number of active AUSkeys by entity type, three years to 30 June 2014
Figure18: Number of AUSkey authentications, four years to 30 June 2014
System changes implemented in early November to address compatibility issues for users of some operating systems resulted in a significant drop in call numbers to the AUSkey technical help desk.
However, the system changes have not completely eliminated the current compatibility issues, and we are exploring solutions to reduce registration issues.
The rise of cloud computing, where the user is using software and data hosted in data centres remotely from their desktop systems to undertake transactions, is presenting challenges for AUSkey.
We’re now working with the Australian Government Information Management Office (AGIMO) to develop a clear policy that supports secure and convenient use of AUSkey in the cloud. This will involve consultation with the full range of stakeholders, including agencies, software developers and service providers.
In the meantime we will monitor risks associated with current service offerings and advise participating agencies of any risks and issues as they arise. The solution may involve service providers using their own AUSkey, with each transaction approved by their client using a secure token service.
Other features under development during 2013-14 include AUSkey access manager, which will allow administrators to manage access by subsidiary AUSkey holders in an organisation. This is due for implementation in in January 2015.
We continue to work with government agencies that are seeking authentication solutions for new and existing online services.
At 30 June 2014, 24 agencies were accepting AUSkey authentication for 45 online services. New AUSkey adopters during the year included the Department of Veterans Affairs, Department of Health and the Workplace Gender Equality Agency. All APRA-regulated entities are now reporting to APRA using AUSkey.
Agencies are adopting AUSkey for a range of reporting requirements including SBR-enabled lodgments (see SBR p. xx).
Currently 17 agencies are working to implement AUSkey as an authentication solution for their online services. These services, scheduled for implementation over the next two years, will see the use of AUSkey continue to expand beyond its initial focus on tax and financial reporting to encompass support for a broader range of government services. These include industry, education, community services, environment and natural resources programs.
As well as business-to-government reporting, the new services include government-to-government interactions.
The ASIC is implementing AUSkey as an authentication mechanism for access to the company register.
We support agencies implementing online services to make informed decisions about authentication. When they have decided to implement AUSkey, we work with them to communicate with stakeholders and clients about how to access and use AUSkey, and to address technical challenges that arise during implementation. We also provide ongoing post-implementation support.
For a full list of established online services accepting AUSkey see abr.gov.au/AUSkey.
Figure 19: Number of services and agencies accepting AUSkey authentication, four years to 30 June 2014
The New South Wales Department of Education and Communities has adopted AUSkey as the authentication solution for its Early Childhood Contract Management System (ECCMS).
Launched in October 2013, ECCMS uses AUSkey to provide more than 950 funded early childhood service providers with secure access to information about:
The department needed an authentication mechanism that is secure and highly available. AUSkey is a stronger authentication solution than a username and password solution as it includes non-repudiable identification of user transactions.
The department reports that AUSkey has also removed the costs and complexity of managing credentials, including ID checking, creation, maintenance and revocation.
The Department of Veterans' Affairs (DVA) introduced a new Provider Portal for to support Veteran’s Home Care (VHC) service providers in May 2014.
The VHC Provider Portal provides a reliable and user-friendly interface that allows service providers to manage:
The new portal provides a range of improvements over the old system, including the ability for VHC service providers to submit bulk claims, process and review data in real time and perform a range of reporting.
In addition, the portal allows service providers to perform the user management for their own details and staff system access, saving telephone time arranging access levels for their team members.
Leveraging the existing AUSkey authentication solution for DVA’s Booked Car Scheme, DVA adapted its systems to allow VHC service providers to securely access their information and perform selected transactions.
The portal replaced a combination of legacy systems and manual processes, leading to greater efficiencies in dealings with the department. In its first two months the portal has 1623 registered provider organisations and 850 users and has processed over 140,000 claim transactions.
The portal provides substantial benefits for DVA and its service providers through the automated and timely processing of online transactions with greater data accuracy. VHC service providers have payments allocated to their account more rapidly, and improvements in the accuracy of the data results in more efficient home care services and ultimately, a better service to DVA clients.
The ABR Program welcomes feedback – about its decision-making and operations generally. Feedback helps us assess the extent to which we are achieving our objectives and identify areas where our services and operations can be improved.
People who are dissatisfied with certain decisions of the Registrar may lodge a formal objection. We also receive and respond to less formal complaints about decision-making processes and operations.
The main issue on which we received complaints during 2013-14 was the progress of reinstatements following Registrar-initiated cancellations (see Table xx).
We have been closely monitoring and analysing data on our performance in responding to complaints since January 2014. In the six months to 30 June 2014, we achieved the following levels of service:
Table 1: Complaints by reason, 2013- 14
Complaints received 2013-2014
Registrar-initiated cancellation – Progress of reinstatement
The large number of complaints in October 2013 was due to a backlog of ABN applications that required assessment. These were responded to and number dropped back down the following month.
Table 20: Complaints by month, 2013-14
If an applicant for an ABN or an ABN holder disagrees with certain decisions made by the Registrar of the ABR, they may lodge an objection under Part IVC of the Taxation Administration Act 1953.
Objections can be lodged against the following decisions:
Objections must be lodged within 60 days of the date the decision was made.
Before, or as an alternative to lodging a formal objection, a person who disagrees with a decision by the Registrar to refuse an application or cancel a registration may seek an informal review of their entitlement. We are working with our service providers to ensure we provide applicants with the most effective and efficient way of reviewing entitlement decisions.
Our service standard for dealing with objections is to finalise 70% within 56 days. In 2013-14 we finalised 93% within 56 days.
Following the RBC improvements to the entitlement process it is expected the number of objections will be reduced by approximately 44%.
Table 2: Objections, three years to 2013-14
Figure 21: Objections, three years to 2013-14
There was one appeal to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal in 2013-14 in regard to objections that were disallowed against reviewable ABN decisions made by the Registrar. However, this was withdrawn. There were no appeals to the Federal Court during the year.