- CA ANZ has discussed with the NSW Government what accountants need as the economy opens up
- Clarity around employment and workplace issues is a high priority for both accountants and their clients
- Nationally consistent disaster assistance relief and compatible COVID apps are also highly sought
Chartered Accountants Australia and New Zealand (CA ANZ) has discussed issues our members will with the re-opening of the NSW economy with the New South Wales Government.
Legal clarity of key issues is required
Accountants have performed a vital role in supporting business during the pandemic. More than 90% of businesses use accountants to lodge income tax returns and most use accountants to lodge Business Activity Statements. Accountants are often considered an outsourced ‘CFO’ for small business.
The issues members face in the re-opening of the NSW economy are the same their clients face. Most clients expect their accountants to provide wholistic advice about their business and personal financial matters but accountants are (appropriately) limited to advising on matters within their expertise.
Accountants are not able to provide employment advice or legal advice. However, many of these matters are vital to success in a re-opened economy.
For example, businesses need to know:
- Whether they can mandate that their employees are vaccinated without falling foul of employment laws.
- Whether they can exclude clients etc that are not fully vaccinated without falling foul of anti-discrimination laws.
- How to handle workplace matters where vaccinated and unvaccinated employees are asked to work in close proximity. Similar concerns arise for those who interact with clients, regulatory officials etc.
- Whether they are liable if a customer or employee becomes infected due to the presence of an unvaccinated employee, client etc.
- Whether they are liable if an employee becomes infected due to the need to perform work on a client’s premises or attend other meetings relevant to their accounting work.
- How they should be legally checking and recording an individual’s vaccination status and what privacy obligations they have in obtaining and storing such information.
Legal advice is expensive and it is doubtful that a local solicitor could provide such employment, health and privacy related advice. It is preferable that the relevant rules are developed, promulgated and overseen by government – particularly as small businesses have been struggling through COVID may not be well placed financially to obtain professional or business advice on how to respond to new regulations. Unnecessary red tape should be avoided at all costs.
CA ANZ calls on the NSW Government to clarify the legal position of businesses in relation to these employment and workplace health issues and to provide clear guidance on trusted government websites so that businesses and their advisers can access information in a low-cost manner.
Businesses also need to know how to demonstrate to clients, suppliers and employees that business premises are COVID safe. Currently there is a mix of processes, such as a recent negative COVID test, letter from employer, NSW permit and/or vaccination status. Businesses need clear and consistent guidelines for what is acceptable practice for indoor, outdoor and even home environments.
Nationally consistent technology solutions are required
From a practical perspective, businesses need to clearly understand how the State and Territory COVID apps will be harmonised (e.g. to incorporate vaccination information necessary for cross-border business activity). This will be particularly important in border communities.
CA ANZ calls upon the NSW Government work closely with the State, Territory and Federal governments to ensure technological solutions are consistent, compatible and cyber-safe.
There is also a large cohort of our society that is not digitally savy. They do not have smart phones and may not have a myGovID. This cohort will not have a digital ‘passport’ and may have difficulty in even obtaining a paper based ‘passport’.
Clarity about how business systems can integrate these paper passports into a digital system is needed.
Need for national disaster relief framework
As much as it is hoped that normal life can resume once vaccination targets are met, it is likely that some lockdowns and restrictions will be needed. Like fires and floods, pandemics (albeit hopefully on a much smaller scale) will continue to affect businesses and government assistance will be required.
Ideally, natural disaster relief for individuals and businesses could be agreed and administered nationally on an ongoing basis, with the cost of its delivery being negotiated by the various governments. This would create a nationally consistent regime with in-built checks, utilising existing communication and delivery channels. Such a system would streamline the ability to interact with government and allow government to provide timely and targeted assistance.
CA ANZ calls on the NSW Government to initiate a National Cabinet discussion about the learnings from COVID and how a better national disaster assistance regime could be developed.
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