The former Coalition government has been accused of hiding a $1 billion cost blow-out in its modernising business registers program, which is now expected to cost up to $1.5 billion in total.
Treasurer Jim Chalmers on Thursday said that the new Labor government had been told by Treasury that the project, launched by the Coalition in 2019 and led by the Australian Taxation Office (ATO), was “not properly resourced”, behind schedule, and over-budget.
The federal government has already moved to delay the transfer of all registry functions from ASIC to the newly created body by four years.
The program will see the consolidation of dozens of business registers into a new service which will help businesses to meet their obligations, make business information more trusted and improve the efficiency of registry service transactions.
It will see the 30-year-old Australian Business Register replaced and 31 other registers combined in a single platform to be operated by the new Australian Business Registry Services.
The Coalition first allocated $19.3 million to the program in its 2018-19 budget, followed by $60.6 million and $419.9 million in the following years. About half of this allocated funding has already gone to outsourcing of key functions of the project.
Assistant Treasurer Stephen Jones this week said that the program could be up to $1 billion over-budget, and that the former government had been keeping this secret.
“It was well known the Modernising Business Registers technology upgrade was in trouble, but the former government never revealed how much. Now Treasury briefings are revealing to the Albanese government it could cost $1.5 billion, more than a billion dollars over what the Coalition said it would cost,” Mr Jones said.
Labor has thrown its support behind the aim of the program, labelling it a “core economic and commerce management program”.
The program has already been flagged by the Australian National Audit Office for a potential investigation this financial year.
Irish-domiciled firm Accenture has been brought in by the tax office to deliver a large bulk of the work under the modernising business registers program.
The company has landed more than $200 million in contracts for work on the scheme since 2019, including a $6.5 million contract revealed last week for security services.
New Zealand firm Foster Moore will also be paid $40 million to provide its registry software.
Last month the legal transfer of all registry functions were moved from ASIC to the new register automatically. Labor on Wednesday introduced legislation to Parliament which would defer this move back to July 2026.
“Since coming to government we’ve discovered significant issues that have been affecting the delivery of this program and put it significantly behind schedule,” Mr Jones said in Parliament.
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