The Albanese government has ordered an independent review of the Coalition’s modernising business registers program after it emerged a further $1 billion would be needed to complete the overhaul.
Financial Services minister Stephen Jones on Thursday announced the review to better understand the current state of late-running project and to make recommendations that put it in the “best position” for success.
The review will determine whether changes to the chosen technology solutions, including the registry platform provided by New Zealand-based specialist software company Foster Moore, is required.
The troubled program is consolidating dozens of business registers to help businesses to meet their obligations, make business information more trusted and improve the efficiency of registry service transactions.
It will involve replacing the 30-year-old Australian Business Register, as well as 31 other registers owned by the Australian Securities and Investments Commission, with a single platform run by a one-stop shop service called Australian Business Registry Services.
Since the program began in 2018, the former Coalition government allocated more than $500 million until the end of the 2023-24 financial year, including $60.6 million in the 2019-20 Budget and $419.9 million in the 2020-21 Budget.
But last July, the new Labor government was told by Treasury that the project was “not properly resourced” and would now likely come in at $1.5 billion, with Mr Jones accusing the Coalition of hiding a $1 billion blowout.
At $1.5 billion, the project is significantly more expensive than when it was first flagged by then-finance minister Mathias Cormann, who said it was likely to cost “somewhat more” than $100 million.
Recognising that the project would not be complete as planned in 2024, he also moved legislation to give the Australian Taxation Office another four years to complete the overhaul and provided lifeline funding of $166 million in the October Budget to sustain the project until 2025.
Announcing the review on Thursday, Mr Jones said the government was seeking assurances that the once-in-a-generation overhaul of the country’s business registers “gets delivered with the best possible technology for the least cost to the taxpayer”.
“We recognise the critical nature of this project as part of our plan to modernise economic infrastructure. From small businesses to large corporations, everyone will benefit from better data and faster registration process,” he said.
According to the terms of reference, the review will assess expenditure on the program to date, including “drivers contributing to cost increases”, while measuring what has been deliver and what work is remaining.
Around half of the funding allocated to the project during the former Coalition government’s term has been spent with consulting giant Accenture – which has landed more than $200 million for its work since 2019 – and Foster Moore.
The review will also seek to identify any significant risks to the programs objectives, costs and underlying assumptions, validate “current estimated costs and underlying assumptions”, and evaluate “governance and management practices”.
The government will then consider changes to technology solutions, alternative design approaches that reduce costs and accelerate delivery, and any strategies that mitigate significant risks to the program.
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