The results of a new survey conducted by CPA Australia show that the accounting profession has grown quietly confident in the future of the Australian economy, with 32% of respondents reporting confidence in the performance of the Australian economy over the next three months, up from 20% in August.
However, 42% continue to feel worried about Australia’s economic rebound, down from the 51% that felt so in August.
CPA Australia chief executive Andrew Hunter suspects that concerns stem from confusion over how businesses are expected to reopen.
“General economic sentiment has lifted, which is positive; however, accountants remain more likely to be pessimistic notwithstanding rising vaccination rates,” Mr Hunter said.
“We think this reflects ongoing uncertainty about reopening requirements and what they’ll mean for businesses, their employees and customers, as well as how future outbreaks will be managed.”
As the outlook period increased, so, too, did the level of confidence. Over the next 12 months, confidence in the Australian economy swelled to 44%, up from 30% in August.
Sentiment was much stronger in the success of their employer or business. The survey found 31% of respondents expect their employer or business revenue to increase through October.
Confidence dipped when attention was turned to the impact of government-administered COVID-19 support schemes, which only 28.5% of respondents described as having a positive impact on their business and that of their clients.
“This surprised me, and I can’t say for certain why respondents feel this way,” Mr Hunter said.
“But from talking with members and businesses, I’d suggest that it’s a consequence of challenges associated with the design, rollout and administration of support and grant programs, and the fact that many businesses weren’t eligible despite experiencing difficulties.
“Issues such as these have left a sour taste in the mouth of many accountants. They’ve been the ones trying to make hastily designed and often vague support schemes workable for business.”
In NSW, some businesses were left waiting up to four weeks for business support, as Service NSW struggled to process applications and get cash into accounts.
The state department faced momentous backlash from the profession through July and August, after changes to eligibility requirements and extended customer service wait times riddled the administration of critical support schemes.
The Tax Institute’s senior advocate, Robyn Jacobson, said ever-evolving guidelines meant businesses were left wondering if they were eligible for any support, while putting practitioners on the back foot when advising clients.
“This has to stop,” Ms Jacobson said. “Accountants and businesses, who have been extremely agile and accommodating as the intermediaries throughout the pandemic, are frustrated with the lack of certainty on the eligibility requirements for the NSW COVID-19 support measures.
“We certainly acknowledge the challenge faced by the NSW government, which has had to quickly respond to the fluid health situation, but it is equally challenging to correctly advise businesses when the rules keep changing.”
It’s a sentiment shared by Mr Hunter, who said governments should be doing more to ensure the profession is consulted before measures that greatly impact them are introduced.
“Our members have worked incredibly hard over the past 18 months assisting their clients or employers access this much-needed support quickly,” Mr Hunter said.
“We encourage governments to consult early, openly and often with professional and industry associations on the design, structure and administration of support schemes before implementation. This will enhance their effectiveness once introduced.”