“The profession is doing so much of the heavy lifting and there isn’t any compensation, there isn’t any reprieve on other things they’re obligated to do,” said Elinor Kasapidis, who makes the issue a key theme in her presentation to the Accountants Daily Strategy Day on Thursday (3 March).
Ms Kasapidis, who is senior manager tax policy at CPA, said the professionalism of accountants means they are committed to making things work but the government is taking advantage.
“Tax practitioners and accountants are so trusted and make things much easier and cheaper for the government to implement, they are built into the design of programs without much thought as to the specific and cumulative impacts of every change on them,” she said.
“While it’s fantastic that the profession is so valued – and rightly so – it is important that they are supported by the ATO and other agencies, and receive government services that reduce their costs.
“The government might say, ‘Just pass on the cost or change what you do or just don’t help your clients’. But accountants are professionals and they’re committed to making things work.
“The Government is taking advantage of that. Accountants are being overwhelmed.”
The ATO is also accelerating the move towards digital systems, but many businesses are not ready.
“When you’ve got good data, things move a lot faster and smoother. The challenge is data literacy and digital literacy – not just accountants themselves both also for their clients. Everyone needs to be on board,” she said.
“That can be a real challenge, particularly with Australia being slower than some other jurisdictions in taking this up.
“There are millions of small businesses and for them the decision is whether to have that upfront cost and paying subscription fees.
“Sometimes they can’t see what business benefits it will bring and so it’s harder to get them to shift.”
She said getting people to the stage where they are comfortable with the technology means it is crucial to improve digital literacy.
Earlier consultation with the industry would also help relieve unforeseen impacts on the profession.
“Tax practitioners are essential to the efficient and effective operation of the tax system because the ATO can’t audit everybody and can’t prefill everything,” she said.
“We’d like to see more explicit recognition of their important role. We’d like policies and announcements that don’t surprise the industry – that reflect a level of consideration about what it will take to make these things happen.”
Good ideas are only part of the solution, because “as you go through the process of trying to make them work, the true cost becomes apparent – and the dependence on accountants and tax agents becomes clearer.”
“It would be good if those sort of issues were identified and assessed and costed from the beginning,” she said.
Ms Kasapidis will present “Tax transformation: Australia’s changing tax landscape”, at the Accountants Daily Strategy Day in Sydney today and next Wednesday in Melbourne.
Philip King is editor of Accountants Daily and SMSF Adviser, the leading sources of news, insight, and educational content for professionals in the accounting and SMSF sectors.
Philip joined the titles in March 2022 and brings extensive experience from a variety of roles at The Australian national broadsheet daily, most recently as motoring editor. His background also takes in spells on diverse consumer and trade magazines.