The shadow minister for small business, Brendan O’Connor, has now written to Assistant Treasurer Michael Sukkar, calling for the introduction of “a voucher scheme for accredited accountants to assist small businesses” with the JobKeeper payment scheme and cash-flow boost measure.
“These schemes address the immediate need for assistance, and also the inevitable adaptation businesses will need to undertake once the health crisis has passed,” Mr O’Connor said.
“Such schemes will not only help ensure businesses can access professional information and support through the government’s packages, but will [also] help the integrity of the operation of those support packages.
“Additionally, the accounting profession itself has been hard hit by the COVID-19 pandemic, and this proposal has the additional benefit of being a form of industry support with many positive spillover effects.”
Labor’s request follows on from CPA Australia and the Institute of Public Accountants, who had similarly called for a voucher scheme, albeit before the COVID-19 crisis.
CPA general manager of external policy Paul Drum said that while the glut of the government’s stimulus measures was flowing through the tax system, it did not necessarily translate to an increase in revenue for professional advisers.
“One shouldn’t assume that the various governments’ fiscal stimulus measures equate to rivers of gold for professional services firms,” Mr Drum told My Business sister title Accountants Daily.
“When it comes to small businesses, priorities such as keeping the lights on, the doors open and stock on the shelves are of much higher priority than paying for professional advice.
“We are not talking about unbillable hours — we are talking about billable hours for which the adviser may not be paid.
“A government-backed voucher or grant to such businesses would encourage them to access the professional advice they need at this very critical time. Such advice would not only be beneficial to these businesses, but also indirectly to their employees and the broader economy.”
A spokesperson for Mr Sukkar said the government would be exploring all measures that would be beneficial to the economy, and pointed to ASIC’s temporary Australian financial services (AFS) licence exemption for accountants as an example of its commitment.
“The government is committed to working with the industry on measures that assist Australians get the right advice during the COVID-19 health crisis,” the spokesperson said.
“The government recognises that many Australians are currently seeking assistance in relation to their finances due to the impact of COVID-19. In recognition of this, the ATO is providing a short-term blanket deferral for a number of lodgement and payment obligations to ease the burden on tax professionals during this difficult time.”