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  • Program 1.3 Australian Business Register

    The Commissioner of Taxation is also the Registrar of the Australian Business Register (ABR). While the program is delivered by ATO staff, the Registrar has separate and distinct responsibilities as outlined in section 28 of the A New Tax System (Australian Business Number) Act 1999, and the ABR program receives separate funding.

    The ABR program encompasses:

    • the ABR – a comprehensive national business dataset
    • AUSkey – a secure authentication system giving business easy-to-use access to online government services
    • Standard Business Reporting (SBR) – which defines a common language for business information and standards for electronic information sharing. SBR is used in business record-keeping software to support running a business and reduce the burden of reporting to government.


    The ABR’s purpose is to:

    • reduce the administrative cost to businesses in their dealings with other businesses and in complying with government regulation
    • influence government policy development and implementation, through advocating the use of whole-of-government services, technologies and processes that minimise the administrative impact on business
    • encourage the broader use of the national business register information, and the ABN as the key identifier for business.

    Performance results

    The ABR provides a complete and single source of business information and consistent information exchange standards.

    Measuring the increased use of ABR program initiatives such as lookup services and adoption of Standard Business Reporting, allows us to track reductions in the impact of government regulations on business as well as improvements in business productivity.

    Our two performance criteria are set out on page 199 of the Australian Taxation Office Budget Statements (in the Treasury Portfolio Budget Statement), and page 24 of the ATO corporate plan 2017–18.

    The following symbols are used in table 2.10:

    Target achieved

    Target achieved

    Target substantially achieved

    Target substantially achieved

    Target not achieved

    Target not achieved

    Result not available

    Result not available

    TABLE 2.10 ABR results

    Performance criterion








    Increased use of the ABR as the source of national business information by government agencies and the community

    PBS 199
    Corp plan 24

    140 government agencies using ABR Explorer

    14% increase in ABN Lookup searches

    232Target achieved government agencies using ABR Explorer (66% increase)

    32.5% increase in ABN Lookup searches

    312Target achieved government agencies using ABR Explorer (34%) increase

    11 agenciesTarget achieved using ABR connect

    Total ofTarget achieved 1,031 million ABN Lookup searches, a 32.5% increase


    300 using ABR Explorer

    9 using ABR Connect


    750 million ABN Lookups

    Reduction in the administrative cost to businesses and government in dealing with each other(b

    PBS 199
    Corp plan 24

    $1.2 billion

    $1.39 billionTarget achieved

    $1.58 billionTarget achieved

    $1.54 billion

    (a) There were no targets set in 2015–16.
    (b) The wording of this initiative has been updated; the methodology is the same as 2016–17.

    Results analysis

    Increased use of the ABR as the source of national business information by government agencies and the community

    A 34% increase in the number of government agencies using the ABR, as well as a 32% increase in ABN LookupExternal Link searches (each exceeding their performance targets), reflect the value of the national business register information (the ABR) to government agencies and the community. The number of government agencies using ABR Connect web services has increased from 6 to 11, exceeding the target of 9 agencies.

    In 2017–18, a new service, ABR Agency Connect was developed, joining ABR Identifier Search but using contemporary technology and additional data elements. ABR Connect web services provide cost savings to agencies by giving them access to the latest business information, thereby reducing their need to separately collect and maintain their own information and allowing them to better design and deliver programs. Use of the services has steadily increased to an average of more than one million searches per month. ABR Agency Connect was released in a Beta version, with an expectation that it will supplant ABR Identifier Search once it goes into full production.

    We continued to enhance services to better support the increased use of ABR data, with improvements to ABR Explorer and ABN Lookup. The ABR Explorer tool supports over 310 eligible government agencies at all levels of government, with activities such as disaster response and recovery, planning and economic development, compliance and service delivery.

    Reduction in the administrative cost to businesses and government in dealing with each other

    In 2017–18, an additional $184 million of reduction in administrative costs was achieved, bringing the total annual reduction, relative to the cost of businesses using lodgment methods via previous systems, to $1.58 billion. This exceeds the performance target of $1.54 billion. This result is largely due to a greater volume than anticipated of SuperStream transactions, contributing to SBR savings of $1.45 billion across the industry, while ABR savings were approximately $123 million and AUSkey token savings were $10 million.

    This indicates that savings to business and government from ABR program initiatives continues to deliver in reducing the reporting burden, minimising cost to business and enhancing business interactions through natural-based systems for the business community.

    As new initiatives such as e-invoicing and Single Touch Payroll are implemented, savings are expected to increase further for both business and government.

    Reaching our objective

    In our 2017–18 corporate plan, we identified two initiatives to enable easier interactions between businesses and government through trusted business registry services and digital standards.

    Provision of a trusted ABR

    Through our work on the Australian Business Register in 2017–18, the ABR remained a trusted source of data for business, government and the community, with over 1 billion ABN lookups taking place. We continued to make improvements to the register and the registration process to ensure the experience strikes the right balance between making it easy to get things right, and hard not to.

    Starting up a business has been made easier through the launch of the Business Registration Service at Link. In addition, an approved third-party registration service has been successfully trialled since February 2017, saving businesses time by letting them apply for their ABN and other multiple key business and tax registrations on the one form.

    We continued to strengthen our communications to educate ABN applicants about their entitlement prior to applying for an ABN, and conducted a range of ABN reviews and integrity activities.

    The Commissioner initiated a review of the ATO’s approach to administering ABNs in November 2017, in response to issues that highlighted the impacts of cancelling ABNs through one-on-one case reviews. As a result, the ATO will be implementing improved strategies to manage ABN entitlement risks. This will see an increased focus on education, pre-issue ABN entitlement checks, and the ATO adopting a whole-of-industry, or employer-level approach to identify and address ABN misuse. We expect this will be a more effective way of ensuring a level playing field for business and to make sure workers understand their obligations from the start.

    During the review, the majority of our planned integrity measures were reduced or stopped, along with changes to the data model used to manage the bulk cancellation of non-entitled ABNs – one of our key strategies in maintaining the integrity of the register. As a result, the number of bulk cancellations dropped to 200,000 in 2017–18, compared to 700,000 in 2016–17 while these campaigns were paused.

    We also contributed to the government’s review of the recommendations from the Black Economy Taskforce over the past twelve months. As a result, Treasury has asked us to consult on a new ABN regulatory framework.

    Adoption of the Standard Business Reporting (SBR) program

    By promoting a common language for business information and standards for electronic information sharing, the SBR program contributed $1.45 billion in administrative savings to business and the government in 2017–18. To support its evolution and ongoing relevance, we continue to engage and build our relationships with key partner agencies. This included delivering SBR future state plans which will adopt a federated data model.

    The government has announced support for e-invoicing and associated Interoperability Framework to support the digital transmission of payment information between supplies and customers. This includes the development of the digital capability locator (DCL) being built by the ATO. The DCL is a critical component of the framework that helps clients identify the digital capabilities of trading partners.

    Evolution of the ABR program of work

    In order to streamline and maximise use of registry services, the ATO is working in partnership with other agencies to examine opportunities for the government to modernise key business registers, including the ABR, the Companies Register and the Business Names Register through the Modernising Business Registers program.

    The program achieved a number of key deliverables this year, including public consultation and the discovery phase for modernising the registers, testing the market for registry information technology systems, and progressing submissions for government consideration.

    As a result of this work, in the 2018–19 Federal Budget the government announced that it will provide $19.3 million to develop a detailed business case for a registry platform for modernised business registers, including director identification numbers (DIN). The new platform will be hosted within the ATO.

      Last modified: 26 Oct 2018QC 57103