No tax break for software mocks innovation and small business policies

An article in the Australian Financial Review on Friday about businesses buying art for the office because of the tax break investment allowance demonstrated the absurdity of aspects of the tax break.  Thanks to the treatment of software as an intangible, it is not eligible for the tax break.  However, art is a tangible asset and therefore qualifies.

Politicians from both sides need to resolve this. Software is a good investment for business.  Especially Australian software developed for Australian businesses.

Art, while nice in an office, will not lift business productivity the same as good software.

If our politicians wants a robust IT industry and greater efficiency from business then they need to address the treatment of software and make it eligible for the tax break.

I have written again to the Treasurer’s office about this, in response to their last letter to me.

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Government stimulus package ignores business

As I blogged at my Newsagency Blog, the stimulus package announced by the federal Government today misses an excellent opportunity to stimulate business spending. While it is important to support pensioners and carers, it is equally important to support business, especially small business.

I wish that Kevin Rudd had announced an Investment Allowance, accelerated depreciation and delayed GST payments. This would get business owners spending on their businesses. The flow on for employment, productivity and competition would have been tremendously beneficial to the economy.

I am concerned that too much of what was announced today will end down the drain.

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Expensive jury duty

The State Government in Victoria ought to review its jury duty arrangements. The $30 a day they pay does not even cover travel costs in most cases. Business is told it has civic duty to fund this, certainly that is what the public servant to whom I spoke yesterday said when I challenged a key member of my team sitting around for two days waiting to be called.

If I have a civic duty to fund the jury system then the Government has a duty to respect that investment and deal with it efficiently. Having 100 people waiting all day for no outcome, burning someone else’s money is bad form.

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Frustrating travel in Brisbane

I spent yesterday in Brisbane, up on the 6:05am and back on the 6:10pm.  I encountered frustrating traffic congestion in the morning and afternoon.  I don’t have high expectations of state governments except when it comes to planning.  Traffic goes to the heart of being planning for and managing growth.  Brisbane is so bad one has to now fly in the night before to be on time for a morning appointments.  Likewise, you either leave early afternoon or late at night.

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Another day another survey

I have lost another hour completing the latest Business Characteristics Survey for the Australian Bureau of Statistics. This is the sixth or seventh Bureau of Stats survey I have completed this year – usually on the weekend. It is frustrating because I see no outcome from this. At the very least benchmark feedback would be helpful for my business and reward the effort. When I mention this to the public servants who pressure us on the matter they say it’s outside their brief.

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Arrogant Glen Eira Council

Please excuse this rant. I am frustrated with my local council and blogging is better and cheaper than paying a therapist to deal with my anger.

Glen Eira Council, in their wisdom, decided the street in front of our office needed another pedestrian crosswalk – they thought the one at the end of the street, less than 100 metres away, was too far. So, the project began. They took away street parking in our street and the side street nearby. They also blocked access to our underground car park for several days.

On one of the days we could not access our car park, I had to drop off some boxes and could only find two buss bays vacant nearby – otherwise ‘d have to park 500 metres away. So, I broke the law, parked right at the end of a bus bay and carried the boxes to the office.

The ever-vigilant parking inspector booked me. Given that the council created the problem in the first place and had blocked access to my underground car park I complained. They refused to credit the fine. I complained. They refused again.

I proivided evidence of the disruption of the works to my business, their blocking of the car park as well as the damage done to stock we have in an underground store room – they jackhammered through our ceiling.

The council was not interested. Instead, they took me to court for the $50.00 fine for parking in the bus bay.

Sure, I knowingly broke the law, I deserved to be fined.

The injustice is that council offers no compensation for the damage they did to my business through this – the countless days of denial of access to our parking property and the hole in the ceiling of our store room.

There are two sets of rules – zero tolerance when Glen Eira Council can make a buck from an unfair parking fine and a no, we don’t compensate when we damage your property while building a road improvement which is unnecessary.

I paid the fine as wasting a half a day in court was not worth it. All I wanted was for the council to look at the damage they had caused and to say, yeah, you’re right, we’ll waive the fine this time as there were extenuating circumstances.

Glen Eira Council, or at least those representing it on this matter, are out of touch and care less about businesses in their area.

I feel better now.

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Roadworks botch up

roadworks.JPGThe Glen Eira council’s road works project is now six weeks in. Besides having access to our undercover garage blocked for days at a time, the two-way street made one way and most street parking removed in favour of the ever growing army of busses in and around us, someone made a mistake on a speed hum/pedestrian crossing. They built the thing in front of the driveway of a funeral home. On Friday, they dug it up (as the photo shows).

While the road works may seem irrelevant to people interested in Tower Systems, they are impacting on our business. There is considerably less parking for our team, we access to our street is considerably more difficult, you enter and leave the office through a haze of dist and the noise makes for an unpleasant workplace.

The Glen Eira Council, is doing it bit for the inconvenience they are causing by ensuring that they have two gun parking inspectors ready to pounce at 6pm each night when the permit parking kicks in. Having created the parking problem in the area, they have clearly figures that the 6pm curfew is a good money making opportunity. It’s another tax on the small businesses in this area as well as a major inconvenience for the residents.

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And there was light

light.JPGThe road construction outside our Head Office got a little too close for comfort on Thursday. They jack hammered through the footpath and part of the foundation of our building and into a storeroom we have in our space in the underground car park. Now, we have structural engineers, road workers, council types, OH&S and all manner of experts coming and peering int and out of our hole.

The council promised their works would be good for the street. So far, we have had around six weeks of hell as they block our entrances dig up the road, build things, teasr them down and take up just about every spare car park – only to have parking inspectors in the starting blocks at 6pm when permit zones kick in and take the few spare spaces on the street.

Well, at least we have a skylight in our little store room.

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Government red tape

The brochure accompanying the 32 page Economic Activity Survey from the Australian Bureau of Statistics says that they work to minimise the costs to the business community. Based on the three and a half hours I have lost providing a more comprehensive breakdown about revenue and expenses than in my company tax return or even used for our management accounts I’d say they have failed in their goal.

Since Tower Systems employs more than 20, the ABS does not offer us the opportunity of an exemption – having completed three of these in consecutive years. I think this is a small business. It surprises me how many different benchmarks the government has for a small business – it’s another example of red tape.

But back to this Economic Survey. This is the fourth or fifth ABS survey I have been asked to complete this year and it is by far the worst.the accounting breakdown is onerous. The requirement to provide the data is frustrating since it is close to the end of the 2006/07 Financial Year – given that this is a busy time of year for us, completing last year’s accounts is thre last thing on our mind right now.

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Broadband key to small business

With more and more products being offered electronically the politicians will have to stop their bickering and start delivering is small business is to have half a chance next year and the year after. Our development team (and development teams in other software companies I am sure) are busy adding facilities, links and hooks into products and systems within other companies – enabling more products and services to be offered at the sales counter.

Each new facility relies on access to fast and secure broadband yet many parts of Australia are yet to have this. Small business is affected the most since they rely more on public networks. The challenge is that many small businesses currently do not understand the risk to their businesses of not having such access. Some who do understand have gone as far as ensuring redundancy in their broadband plans.

All I know is that small business owners are to be swamped over the next two years with more business to be conducted online than ever. Right now Australia does not have the speed or coverage to enable these businesses to compete efficiently.

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University research season

We are participating in eight different university studies ranging from a simple fifteen minute interview for one study through to a thirty page questionnaire plus interview plus follow up questionnaire for another study. We are happy to contribute if we have experiences appropriate to the area of research. I guess the planets have aligned to see us involved in so many at one time.

I am impressed with the practical nature of the uni research. Each of the current studies we are involved in has a practical connection to businesses my size and this makes potential outcomes accessible.

After one interview yesterday I was comparing the experience to completing surveys for the Federal Government Bureau of Statistics. With each uni study there appears to be a specific goal as well as a guarantee of feedback. With the hours spent on Stats surveys there is no such feedback. The only time I talk with someone is when they threaten me with legal action if I do not fill in their paperwork.

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Followup from Economist interview

Further to my blog post last week, it seems the answers I provided the researcher for The Economist left them with more questions. They interviewed me again last night, longer this time. Again, the questions were stimulating and went to the heart of government IT policy and it’s impact on economic development.

I have been interviewed on TV, radio and for newspapers over the years and these questions for The Economist are the most probing, drilling down into detail which demands one to be certain of their views and the reason for those views.

Last night’s questions covered, among other topics, access to skilled IT professionals and how government policy impacts the size and candidate of the candidate pool. I was surprised to find myself with a strong view about the impact of government education policy on what the politicians now call a skills shortage.

I am of the view that the skills shortage is a symptom of a poor education policy. A government with eleven years in office has nowhere to point the finger but back at themselves.

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Government surveys … ugh!

Is it just me or other small business owners tired of the constant stream of surveys they are asked to complete by the Australian Bureau of Statistics? I am now on my third survey this year. While they tell me these things guide government spending I see no evidence of that. I only complete these things because they tell me I will be fined if I do not.

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Australian university students under financial stress

There are news reports today about a study showing that Australian University students being under more stress today because of what it claims is Government’s failure to provide adequate financial support. I heard the Federal Education Minister, Julie Bishop, on ABC Radio rejecting the findings of a study and saying that things have not changed.

Through my retail business I employ uni students and I know from personal experiences the financial pressure of students. The Minister is right to say that financial support is available. However, the hoops one has to go through to access these make it easier to ask your boss for more hours than deal with the Government’s Centrelink processes.

The situation has to change it we want students graduating from university with a good education. As it stands today many university students I know are undertaking full time study while holding down full time work because they have no choice.

Maybe Ms Bishop and hr colleagues could take a year off and live the life of a student and then comment as to whether the government policies are working and whether the assistance it claims to offer students is fair and good for the future of the country.

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Weak telecommunications infrastructure slows office search

We are looking for a new office in Brisbane and are finding ourselves constrained by Australia’s telecommunications infrastructure. We want an office in an area serviced by an exchange which supports the IP technology which is central to communication between our offices. We have used IP telephone between Melbourne and Sydney to cut inter office call cost to 6 cents. This enables us to take local calls out of Sydney and place them in our Melbourne based national call centre. We want to do the same in Brisbane but the exchange requirements dictate where we can locate our offices.

If only Australia had a robust state-of-the-art communications infrastructure. The boost to competition would be enormous.

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Two years to achieve ATO victory

My dispute with the Australian Taxation Office has finally been resolved. It took two years, at twelve letters, countless phone calls and a face to face meeting. On Friday I received a letter, full of public service double speak as usual, saying they agreed with my position and that I owed nothing further. I actually spent more than I saved to achieve this outcome.

Based on my experience it seems that their spend on pursuing people is the inverse of the amount in dispute. That’s in the past now. The dispute is finally over.

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Damn statistics

I must be on a list somewhere deep within the Australian Bureau of Statistics as it seems that every few months I have another set of data gathering forms to fill in. I’ve been doing this for almost 25 years with no noticeable benefit: no reduction in red tape; no offer of government assistance; not even government support for the sector in which my business operates. While I understand the need for government to gather data in order to develop policies, surely it is fair to expect an outcome from the time spent providing the data.

What really irks me is the threats the ABS folks make if you suggest you will not complete their forms.

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ACCC slow to respond

We have brought several complaints to the ACCC about a competitor and what we consider to be false and misleading conduct. It’s been three months and still nothing, not even a response. In the meantime the competitor is claiming something for their offering which is not true.

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The Victorian Land Tax scam

I received a state Land Tax bill claiming I owe tax on a property I have no interest in. I contacted the State revenue office and their response was pay the bill and we’ll sort it out later. I refused. They said there would be penalties. I still refused to pay. Two weeks later I received a letter advising that they had made an error. May would have paid and waited for their investigation. It’s nuts that State Revenue acts in this way.

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The ATO and privacy

I have an on going dispute with the ATO about privacy. They refused to respond to letters from me because my home address was not the address registered for my tax file. They did not tell me this at the time. Eventually they told me their refusal to respond to my home address was due to privacy regulations and that I would need to apply to have the address changed. Apparently their privacy provisions do not permit them to respond to a letter sent by a taxpayer unless the return address is the registered address. That seems okay but it took months for them to tell me.

Imagine my shock when I walked into a Tax Office and changed my registered address without providing any proof of identity. My complaint to the ATO about this flaw in their management of my privacy remains unanswered.

Over the last ten days I have experienced more inconsistency from the ATO on privacy. My businesses have established digital certificates for online activity with the ATO. This requires them calling to confirm details. In only half the cases did the ATO officer confirm that it was me answering the phone.

The point of this is that the ATO has financially penalised me over a matter which could have been quickly resolved had they responded to my letter over a year ago. They now hide behind their privacy regulations on their non response and to justify a penalty on a penalty.

Yes, minister.

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Poor customer service from the Australian Tax Office

On September 16 I wrote here about my experiences with the Australian Tax Office. At the same time I wrote a letter of complaint to the ATO. I followed it up a month later and then again a month after that. No response now from three letters. This is despite evidence of double standards in terms of the Privacy Act and appallingly poor customer service.

If they want money they will pursue you more than vigorously. If you want just treatment from them, and you’re from a small business like mine, they’ll ignore you. This is appalling customer service. My questions are fair and deserve to be answered. Indeed several questions need to be answered before the actual matter I have with them is resolved.

Of course there is a risk bitching about the ATO here. Maybe it earns one an entry on a watch or even audit list.

My request of the ATO is not unreasonable – answer your letters, list your customer service focus. I am a taxpayer and deserve to be treated with respect, and on time respect at that.

I hope other Australian taxpayers blog about their experiences. It galls me to read about individuals and corpo0rations walking away from huge tax liabilities when the small folk are the ones pursued to the end of the earth. Maybe their collection policy is like their customer service/correspondence policy – the little guy is treated differently to the big fish.

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Australian workplace changes are uneccessary and divisive

I am watching, reading and listening to the stories about the Federal Government’s proposed workplace changes and wondering about the impact on the employer / employee relationship. To make their case the unions paint employers as bad guys. To make their case the employers paint the current system as bad for business. The government says nothing (much) changes. The opposition says the world as we know it will end.

Caught in the middle of this are workplace relationships, especially in small business where employers and employees are close, friends even. Are the advertisements getting traction with either side? Are we more suspicious of each other since the campaigns started.

I’m not keen on the changes. While I think the current unfair dismissal laws are open to abuse (I know of employers who have settled for $5,000 rather than spend $10,000 on a case) I don’t see a need to legislate away basic rights which employees have come to enjoy. I appreciate that retail is now a 24/7 business (almost) however, I still see no reason to wind back employment terms as forecast.

I suspect the winners of the proposed legislation, if passed, will be big business. I would expect than many small businesses like mine will not alter current arrangements which have served the business and the employees well.

The legislation seeks to serve a one size fits all world. I am more interested in a cooperative arrangement which does not rely on legislative and contractual change for support.

I wish the government was spending its resources on measuring the social responsibility of business and obliging us to do more for the environment and the community. This would deliver greater economic benefit than these workplace changes.

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The Australian Taxation Office and their double standards on the Privacy Act, this taxpayer risks retribution (an audit) and complains

Last year I had cause to write to the Australian Taxation office about an adjustment they had made to my tax return. It took six letters before someone from the ATO called me to advise that they could not write to me because they did not recognise me at my home address. They said they would only write to my accountant.

I had written November 2004 proposing a face to face meeting. The telephone call to me was made six months later. The meeting I wanted finally happened last week.

By their admission in the meeting last week, the ATO refused to correspond with me because my home address was not registered for my tax file number. They claimed that the Privacy Act precluded them from writing to my home address and responding to my letters.

There have been several instances where the actions of ATO prove it is not the Privacy Act which precluded them from responding to my letters and my request for a meeting:

1. When called by two officers of the ATO on my mobile phone on two separate occasions no effort whatsoever was made to determine if it was me they were speaking with. Anyone could have answered my phone.

2. When I met with tow officers of the ATO last week, no effort was made to determine if I was who I claimed to be.

3. When I requested an ATO officer change my registered address details while at the ATO office last week no proof was sought that I was who I claimed I was. Indeed when I offered the officer proof of identity his response was that the computer does not require it.

Each of these events makes a mockery of the ATO claim that they did not respond to my six letters because it would be a breach of privacy to write to my home address since it was not the address registered with the ATO. The ATO has demonstrated a systemic disregarded for privacy rules.

As a customer of the ATO I expect at least the courtesy of a response to correspondence.

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