With Australia currently implementing stage 2 coronavirus restrictions that have seen a number of businesses, including pubs, cinemas and gyms forced to close, Chartered Accountants Australia and New Zealand, CPA Australia and the Institute of Public Accountants are now racing to lobby federal and state governments to consider accountants as “essential”.
The joint accounting bodies believe access to the government’s $84 billion stimulus package, which includes a raft of tax and business incentive measures to support individuals and businesses affected by the coronavirus outbreak, lies heavily on the accounting profession and should therefore be deemed as an essential service.
“It’s one thing to create these cash boosts, but then say, well, the people who help businesses access it are locked down,” CA ANZ tax leader Michael Croker told Accountants Daily.
“The accounting industry should be regarded as an essential service because even though we have Xero, MYOB, Reckon and all these wonderful software products, the fact is that there are still quite a sizeable group of business clients who rely on that direct contact with their accountant or bookkeeper.
“At times like this, that’s even more important. It’s having that ability to have that contact with your clients, subject to the social distancing requirement, of course.”
Likewise, the IPA’s Tony Greco believes that with nine in 10 small businesses using a registered tax professional, the government should think twice before excluding accountants from the currently undefined list of essential services.
“Getting clients through this difficult period and making them understand what the government has provided, if that’s not an essential service, then what is?” the IPA’s Tony Greco told Accountants Daily.
“The government has put the incentives in place, but the help required to facilitate that lies on the accountants, tax agents.”
What is an essential service?
Earlier in the week, Prime Minister Scott Morrison refrained from defining an essential worker, noting that every individual who held a job was essential.
“Everyone who has a job in this economy is an essential worker,” Mr Morrison said.
“It can be essential in a service, whether it’s a nurse or a doctor or a school teacher or a public servant who is working tonight to ensure that we can get even greater capacity in our Centrelink offices, working till eight o’clock under the new arrangements, in the call centres, these are all essential jobs.
“People who are stacking shelves, that’s essential.”
Across the ditch, New Zealand has now moved to a stage 4 lockdown, with accountants excluded from its definitive essential services list.
CPA Australia’s general manager of external policy, Paul Drum, believes the Australian government should not follow in New Zealand’s footsteps, considering the difference in stimulus measures and the way they are administered.
“Certainly in Australia, where over 90 per cent of businesses use a tax agent, and given that access to much of the stimulus funding relies on the successful completion and lodgement of a BAS, then absolutely, accountants should be on the essential services list,” Mr Drum said.
Jotham Lian is the editor of Accountants Daily, the leading source of breaking news, analysis and insight for Australian accounting professionals.
Before joining the team in 2017, Jotham wrote for a range of national mastheads including the Sydney Morning Herald, and Channel NewsAsia.