Small Business Ombudsman supports ‘right-sized’ privacy changes for SMEs

  • Legal

“THE PUBLIC rightly expects any personal information collected and stored by business – whether they are large or small – will be protected,” Australian Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman, Bruce Billson has said in support of a Federal Government decision to remove a privacy exemption for the sector.

Mr Billson said he supported the decision by Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus to remove the privacy exemption for small business and is working with the Australian Government to ensure new regulations are “right-sized and appropriate” for small business, easy to implement, with clear advice and timelines “and will give confidence to customers”. 

“It is not credible for small business to have a blanket exemption from providing necessary and appropriate protection of the personal information they have about their customers, staff and other businesses they are dealing with,” Mr Billson said.  

“To make this change work and to provide confidence to the community, we need to have right-sized and appropriate requirements that are readily implementable by a small business.  

“While the exemption is no longer tenable, nor is it practical to apply to full suite of privacy principles to a small business – principles that big business and government agencies need to decipher, interpret and apply to their circumstances which a small or family business can never hope to have the resources or staff to navigate and implement.” 

Mr Billson said he welcomed the Attorney-General's acknowledgement of the special circumstances and limited time and resources of small business and that the exemption would only be removed following an impact analysis once what replaces it has been determined through consultation with the small business community, consideration of a support package and a transition period giving small businesses time to prepare. 

“We have been engaging constructively with the Attorney-General and his department and look forward to continuing to do so to establish a right-sized, actionable, fit-for-purpose and efficient approach to privacy protections and personal information management with appropriate support and guidance,” Mr Billson said. 

“Small businesses will need clear guidance on the active steps they can take to protect the information of their customers, their staff and themselves and to fulfil their responsibilities. This may include procedural templates, information guides and checklists explaining the clear steps required to meet their privacy obligations. 

“And it would be sensible to join this up with other important reforms around cyber risk management, Digital ID, payment times, deepening the digital engagement of small business and the responsible use of artificial intelligence (AI). 

“Small businesses themselves know they can lose business if customers lose confidence in their ability to protect personal information and will benefit from increased certainty around the way information is being managed and protected. 

“A cyber hack or malicious information release is harmful at many levels, including for the targeted small business as it can irreparably damage the businesses’ ability to operate and it may never recover or re-earn the confidence of its employees, customers, suppliers and partners.”

Master Builders say case for construction watchdog remains strong

MASTER BUILDERS Australia has acknowledged that the Federal Government’s announcement of changes to the Building Code result from it taking its policy to abolish the Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC) to the electorate at the recent Federal Election.

Master Builders Australia CEO Denita Wawn said she was also cognizant that the Federal Government has not yet released the detail of the regulatory framework that it plans to put in place for the industry going forward.

“However, we continue to call on the government not to depart from decades of bipartisan recognition that the building and construction industry requires industry specific regulation and oversight,” Ms Wawn said. 

“This is particularly important at this precarious time for our economy and people’s standard of living when all Federal Government action should be about fighting inflation, protecting growth, and boosting productivity.  Leaving the construction sector without a specialist regulator will fail this test.

“Abolishing the ABCC cannot be separated from the economy and economic management. Making changes to the industrial relations system is one of the strongest economic levers that any government has at its disposal and abolishing the construction industry watchdog will have substantial negative flow on effects,” Ms Wawn said.

“Economic modelling by EY has found that scrapping a specialist construction regulator will drive up inflation just when the Reserve Bank is increasing interest rates to tackle inflation and will result in a reduction in economic activity by $47.5 billion by 2030.

“It also found that it will drive up the cost of constructing the substantial pipeline of infrastructure including health, defence, aged care, and transport projects costing taxpayers in the order of $9.5 billion by 2029 and result in an estimated reduction in investment in infrastructure of $45.6 billion by 2030,” Ms Wawn said.

“When the Rudd Government commissioned the late Murray Willcox AO QC to inquire into the creation of specialist regulatory division for building and construction work the Willcox Report found that “the ABCC’s work is not yet done” and recommended a specialist construction regulatory agency which retained many of the powers of the ABCC.

“We understand this action by the Rudd Government caused intense resentment in the union movement, but the retention of a specialist construction industry regulator was the right public policy response then and remains so now,” Ms Wawn said.

“Going back decades Labor and Coalition governments at a state and federal level have implemented industry specific measures aimed at improving the performance of the construction industry.

“Tackling the extreme militancy found only in construction unions has also received long standing bipartisan support. It was Labor Governments at the federal and state level which abolished the notorious Builders Labourers Federation,” Ms Wawn said.

“These measures were not focussed on discouraging the flying of construction union flags on construction sites but responded to the overwhelming evidence that construction unions use unlawful industrial tactics to bully, intimidate and coerce people working in the construction industry to sign up to union deals,” she said.

“The critics of the ABCC cannot simply ignore the continuous succession of Federal Court judgements documenting this reality.

“Master Builders welcomes the government’s announcement that litigation commenced by the ABCC will be managed by the Fair Work Ombudsman,” she said.

“Importantly, the government deserves commendation for its recognition of the vital role that the Office of the Federal Safety Commissioner plays in improving safety culture and outcomes in the construction industry,” Ms Wawn said.

Queensland Land Court hears human rights challenge to Clive Palmer’s Galilee Coal Project

THE OPENING arguments in Youth Verdict and The Bimblebox Alliance’s human rights, nature and climate legal challenge to Clive Palmer’s proposed Galilee Coal Project will be heard from today at the Queensland Land Court.

The Queensland Land Court will hear what Youth Verdict and The Bimblebox Alliance has called "compelling evidence that the Mining Lease and Environmental Approval for the mine should be refused". 

Represented by the Environmental Defenders Office, Youth Verdict and The Bimblebox Alliance will argue coal from the mine will impact the human rights of First Nations Peoples by contributing to dangerous climate change. They will also argue the mine would destroy the Bimblebox Nature Refuge which sits on top of the proposed mine site. 

In a legal first, First Nations people in Gimuy/Cairns and the Torres Strait Islands of Erub and Poruma will give evidence to the Land Court on Country and in accordance with First Nations protocols.

The court will travel to the traditional lands of First Nations witnesses to hear first-hand "how climate change is impacting their lives and what will be lost if climate change is worsened by the burning of coal from new mines, including the Galilee Coal Project".

Youth Verdict’s First Nations-led argument is the first time a coal mine has been challenged on human rights grounds in Australia.

According to Waratah Coal's website statement, "The Galilee Coal Project (Northern Export Facility) consists of two open cut operations and four underground longwall mining operations, coal handling preparation plants and a rail transportation network to Abbot Point and a proposed port facility at Abbot Point. The project intends to mine 56 Mtpa [million tonnes per anum] of run-of-mine (ROM) coal, which will be later processed to produce 40 Mtpa of product coal. The project will initially commence operations with a 10 Mtpa open cut mine, eventually ramping up to 56 Mtpa several years later."



Barrister Ian Neil warns about ‘big government’ changes to how Australia works

By Leon Gettler, Talking Business >>

THERE ARE TWO seismic changes that have modified Australian workplaces and which challenge employment law, according to leading Australian employment and industrial law barrister Ian Neil SC.

The first is the way employees can work from home. The second is JobKeeper. Both will have implications for years to come, Mr Neil said.

The prospect of many people now working from home, across all industries, being reluctant to come back in the office to work full time will have enormous commercial implications.

“The central business districts of our large cities will probably never be the same as they were before the pandemic,” Mr Neil told Talking Business. 

“It also has profound implication for the way work is organised and I would suggest, finally, deep pervasive implications for the way employers and their employees relate to one another.”


Similarly, the implications of JobKeeper will last for years, despite the Federal Government now winding it back.

“With income support on such a large scale, once it’s been done once, it becomes easier to do it again, and perhaps to do it in different circumstance,” Mr Neil said.

“It’s affected a revolution, I would say, in that it’s overturned the consensus over the last 15 to 20 years, the no-liberal consensus, about the role of government in our society, in our economy and in relation to people’s employment.

“Now once that consensus is overturned in that way, the implications of it remain. They will sit there.”

That means we will not be going back to an age of smaller government.

“We’ve seen attempts by our Federal Government to sell the idea that it’s time for governments to step back, that the Australian people don’t want governments to play such a large role in their lives as they have over the last two years but that message does not seem to have resonated and rather, seems to have foundered on events,” Mr Neil said.

“The floods in northern NSW and Queensland are a perfect example of that.”


Mr Neil said people ‘working from home’ raised a number of important occupational health and safety issues that the law still has to grapple with in a conclusive way.

“Once you have employees working from home, then for all practical legal purposes, at least while they are performing work, the worker’s home becomes a place of work,” Mr Neil said. “And because it’s a place of work, it attracts the stringent statutory and other obligations that all employers have to provide safe places of work for their employees and workers.

“Now that is an extraordinary idea if you think about it, the idea that employers have a legal responsibility to ensure that if their employees are working from home, those homes are safe places to work.”

Mr Neil cited one case where a woman was tragically murdered by her partner and that case was held to be covered by workers’ compensation legislation because her home was a place of work.

“If you think about it, it’s easy to see how the notion that employers have that kind of responsibility is revolutionary,” he said.

This raises a number of issues for employers. How do they ensure their workers’ home is a safe place to work? What steps do they take? What powers of control and direction do they have?

The question of whether an employee can refuse coming into work will largely be determined by the growing trend of society now ‘living with COVID’.

“An employee will be no more at risk by coming to work than they will be going to the shops, or moving about the streets or going to a cinema,” Mr Neil said.

“There may be some places of work that pose some special risks, working in close proximity to other workers in unventilated workplaces and so on, but they will be rare.”


Hear the complete interview and catch up with other topical business news on Leon Gettler’s Talking Business podcast, released every Friday at


Foreign investor buys multiple residential properties, fined $250,000 after ATO orders re-sales

THE FIRST penalty order for breaches of Australia’s foreign investments rules -- a foreign investor was penalised for purchasing multiple properties in outer Melbourne without receiving permission from the Foreign Investment Review Board (FIRB) -- has been issued by the Federal Court of Australia, attracting $250,000 in penalties.

The Australian Taxation Office (ATO) identified the purchases using its data sources as part of a multi-faceted compliance approach to detect foreign investors in breach of the Foreign Acquisitions and Takeover Act 1975 (FATA).

In July 2020, after a compliance investigation, the ATO filed proceedings in relation to six breaches of the FATA by Vijay Balasubramaniyan, who purchased four properties without permission and simultaneously owned two established properties at once, in contravention of the Act.

"We welcome this decision as it is the first penalty decision under the FATA. This serves as a clear deterrent to other foreign investors who believe they can operate outside of the law." ATO Assistant Commissioner Keir Cornish said. 

“There are obligations under Australian law for foreigners that have invested in, or plan to invest in Australian residential real estate. The ATO promotes voluntary compliance of the rules by foreign persons, but where foreign investors resist compliance action, stronger enforcement action is taken.”

Foreign investors are limited in the type of residential property they can acquire in Australia and must apply before doing so. Foreign investors found to be in breach of the FATA face civil penalties to enable the government to recapture capital gain or 25 percent of value of the property, whichever is greater.

Mr Cornish said the case showed the strength of ATO’s data driven approach to monitoring compliance with Australia’s foreign investment rules. The properties were sold as a result of ATO compliance action, making these houses available to Australian residents.

The ATO is the co-administrator of the Foreign Acquisitions and Takeover Act 1975 (FATA), and has been responsible for monitoring compliance of foreign investment in residential real estate since 2015. In the period 2015-2021, 434 properties have been disposed as a result of ATO compliance action. The ATO detects non-compliance by using systems and processes such as data matching, data analysis and monitoring, information sharing with other agencies and community referrals

Ombudsman welcomes Feds' cash flow boost, red tape reduction

THE Australian Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman, Bruce Billson has welcomed today’s Federal Government pre-Budget announcement providing a cash flow support to small and family businesses through changes to PAYG tax and commitment to reducing red tape.

Under the proposed changes, the 10 percent GDP uplift rate that applies to PAYG and GST instalments will be reduced to 2 percent for the 2022-23 financial year, subject to the legislation being passed in parliament.

“This measure would free up some cash flow for the collective kitty of small and family businesses, by reducing the tax burden on them,” Mr Billson said.

“Small and family businesses are however advised to keep abreast of their tax obligations as they would need to pay any extra tax owed at the end of the financial year, if their business earnings exceed what is calculated quarterly. 

“We welcome the government’s proposed update of the PAYG system from early 2024 to allow for PAYG to be calculated in real time, based on the how the business is tracking financially.

“These proposed changed would provide an automatic refund of tax paid in the year if a company with PAYG instalment obligations reports a substantially lesser profit than anticipated or indeed a loss,” Mr Billson said.

Today’s pre-Budget announcement also included broader measures to utilise technology to help reduce compliance costs and improve processing times for small and family businesses.

Links between Single Touch Payroll data from the ATO and state governments means tax returns and other forms can be pre-filled – a change the government estimates will benefit about 170,000 businesses that pay payroll tax. 

Similar technology will be used to pre-fill annual tax returns using BAS for contractors who use the taxable payments reporting system. The government states this will benefit up to 190,000 businesses.

“Reducing red tape allows small and family businesses to get on with what they do best – growing their business,” Mr Billson said.

“Ultimately, we welcome any measure that supports small and family businesses in driving jobs growth, particularly during this national recovery phase.

“Moves to remove unnecessary headwinds are helping make Australia the best place to start, grow and transform a business.

“We look forward to seeing further detail on these small and family business measures and more in the Budget next week.”


ATO and Tax Practitioners combat cybercrime


THE Australian Taxation Office (ATO) and the Tax Practitioners Board (TPB) have developed new guidelines on client identity verification. These guidelines will also help improve security to stop criminals from committing tax fraud by stealing taxpayer identities, according to the ATO.

“We are increasingly concerned that criminals are committing tax refund fraud by stealing data and impersonating taxpayers,” ATO Deputy Commissioner, William Day said.

“Protection of privacy and information is important for all Australians. Tax Practitioners have a trusted role and these new guidelines will further help them to meet their obligations to secure the personal and financial details of their clients.”

The TPB and ATO have consulted extensively with industry and tax practitioners in the development of these guidelines. A cyber security incident can have serious financial consequences for its victims, whether they are an individual, small business or large company.  

The TPB has released proof of identity (POI) guidance to help tax practitioners verify their clients’ identities and reduce the risk of identity theft and tax fraud. The ATO has also released the 'Strengthening client verification guidelines' which complements the TPB’s guidance and is intended for registered tax practitioners using online services for agents or practitioner lodgment service software.

The TPB will soon be running a free webinar with the ATO, to explain the POI requirements to tax practitioners. Details of the webinar will soon be published on the TPB website.

The new guidance has been developed with the ATO and TPB to support tax practitioners in adopting a practical and robust proof of identity process.

“In a period where cybercrime is becoming increasingly prevalent, maintaining best practices for client verification is vital," TPB chair Ian Klug said.

He said the TPB guidelines outline appropriate requirements for verification-- "this includes defining the documents to be sighted, maintaining records and recommendations about achieving remote verification of clients”.

The ATO and TPB will conduct additional consultation to support tax practitioners with transitioning to the new guidelines, which are intended to become minimum standards in due course.

Mr Klug said many tax practices had already implemented robust proof of identity systems as part of their risk management and governance processes.

“I encourage other tax advisers to review and update their systems as soon as possible," he said. "After an appropriate time for education, consultation, and transition, we will formalise these guidelines and their date of effect.



Contact Us


PO Box 2144