‘Dearth of transparency’ from Treasury on R&D

Denham Sadler
National Affairs Editor

Federal Labor has slammed a “dearth of transparency” at the Treasury after public submissions on controversial changes to the research and development tax incentive were released 18 months late, and only after a freedom of information request had been made.

It said this was a growing trend, with Treasury either delaying the release of submissions to consultations on various pieces of legislation, or not releasing the submissions at all.

InnovationAus has found a number of consultations run by Treasury on various tech-related policies where no submissions have been made public, some more than a year after completion. A Treasury spokesperson has said there were no guidelines relating to when submissions are made public, if ever.

Treasury is under fire for a lack of transparency

Late last year shadow employment and industry minister Brendan O’Connor lodged a FoI request with Treasury asking for the release of non-confidential submissions to its consultations on the draft R&D tax incentive reforms.

The consultation related to the first time the Coalition tried to pass the changes to the R&D tax incentive, and was open from late June to late July 2018.

“As consultation closed 1.5 years ago, and two versions of the reforms have been introduced into Parliament since then, submissions should already be on the website publicly,” the request said.

That piece of legislation was eventually rejected by a government-led Senate committee. The Coalition reintroduced legislation making cuts to the R&D tax incentive late last year, with few changes from the original bill.

The submissions to the Treasury consultation were posted on the consultation page last week, following the Labor FOI request. More than 75 submissions were made on the legislation, with most criticising some aspects of the controversial reforms.

Mr O’Connor said the lack of transparency is concerning.

“A dearth of transparency is becoming a growing trend for the Morrison government,” Mr O’Connor told InnovationAus. “A wide range of stakeholders have expressed concerns with the R&D tax incentive bill, and yet stakeholder submissions were made public 18 months late and only following Labor’s freedom of information request.”

Mr O’Connor also pointed to another consultation run by Treasury on the Australian Business Growth Fund, which was only open for five days in early November. Submissions to the whirlwind consultation have also not been released.

“The Morrison Government gave stakeholders just five days to respond to the Business Growth Fund bill. Does Scott Morrison seriously expect small businesses to drop tools, digest legislation and write a formal submission in less than a week? No reasonable person would consider that due process,” he said.

“Important business policies require due diligence and proper processes, not a lack of transparency and details.”

In response to a series of questions from InnovationAus on the lack of public submissions for some consultations, a Treasury spokesperson said the department is committed to transparency but is not bound by any rules relating to the publishing of submissions.

“Submissions made to Treasury consultations are not automatically accepted and published. In the interests of informed public debate, Treasury aims to publish non-confidential submissions on its website where it is appropriate to do so,” the spokesperson told InnovationAus.

“However, Treasury reserves the right to publish or not publish submissions on its website at its own discretion. There is no set timeline or guidance for the publication of any non-confidential submissions.”

There are several other consultations run by Treasury for business or tech-related pieces of legislation where submissions are also still yet to be made public.

Submissions to consultations on regulations for Mandatory Comprehensive Credit Report have not been released despite being made in June 2018, while those on e-invoicing also haven’t after being made in October 2018.

Submissions on improving black economy enforcement and offences and open banking designation instrument have also not been made public despite closing a year and six months ago respectively.

The government consulted on potential changes to employee share schemes in April last year and only released submissions on this over the New Year.

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