AT LARGE: Taxing times

AT LARGE: Taxing times

OK, we've survived the doom and gloom, and GST D-Day has come and gone. If there was mass chaos in the streets, I didn't notice it. I did enjoy watching John Howard's tour of the trenches on the news, though. Wherever he went, crowds screamed abuse and praise in roughly equal measure, and lots of people bought him beer and coffee. I'm sure there's something very cruel to say about that, but I won't.

The day after D-Day, a shopkeeper tried to add 11 per cent to the cost of a book I was buying. I queried this before handing over any money, and he tried to blind me with gobbledegook about changes to wholesale taxes and operating costs meaning that books would rise by 11 per cent, not 10. I gave him my very best "we both know that's not true" frown, and he relented. I wouldn't normally argue over a 1 per cent difference in the price of a book, but there was a principle involved here. Quite what principle it was, I don't know. But I felt morally vindicated, and that's all that matters.

On the other side of the GST battle line, where I'm a small, service-providing business, I'm having even less fun. When I signed up for my ABN, I was given the option to submit my Business Activity Statements on paper or electronically. Had my turnover been greater than $20 million, I wouldn't have had the paper option, but a quick flick of the abacus confirmed I'm under the line. Being an environmentally inclined person, though, I decided not to kill trees.

Not that my stance had any effect on the Government's subsequent arboreal carnage. Page after page of formerly lush flora has arrived in my postbox since then, informing me of my myriad responsibilities and duties with regard to making sure someone else's tax system is given the fair go it deserves. Three separate mailouts, multiple pages all, arrived merely to inform me in slightly different ways what my ABN is.

Then there was the electronic submission software. The disk containing the vital software I must have if I am to comply with my legal responsibilities and avoid going to jail arrived on the 30th of June. This deadline, before the exciting new era of Australian tax reform, has been known publicly for at least a year now, and by John Howard probably since 1975. Nonetheless, the software that arrived is not compatible with my non-Windows computer, and I'm not going to hop systems just to please Little Johnny. I told them when I signed up to do this electronically what type of system I have, but apparently this information did not seep through. A note attached to the disk said a Mac version will appear "soon". Apparently the June 30 deadline does not apply equally to everyone.

(Nota Bene: I have a Windows machine in good working order here, but I instinctively rebel against the notion that "creative" work gets done on Macs and "real" work on Windows - again, there's a principle involved).

The 30th of June was also the deadline, as I understood it, to obtain accounting software using my GST assistance voucher before the end of the old, less exciting tax system. The deadline was extended, I believe, because just about every shop in Australia sold out of accounting software before then. I didn't know this, and practically melted my phone before tracking down a copy of MYOB at Harvey Norman in Chatswood (free plug, but hey I'm grateful). My accounting needs are simple, so I got the most basic version (also the only version fully covered by the voucher). I was there amongst a frenzy of tired-looking people, many of whom had come from further afield than I, clutching accounting software at the checkouts. All would rather not have been there, all were there because they needed to keep records electronically and thought this was their last chance for free software.

Then, some days after the dawning of the new age, a disk arrived in the post, containing very simple record keeping software with the minimal capabilities required for GST-compliance. Free. No drive out to Chatswood, no fighting with some crazy person for (possibly) the last copy of FirstAccounts, no huddling with the masses yearning to breathe free. And it's cross-platform. Had it arrived a week earlier, I'd have been happy. But that doesn't matter to the architects of our exciting new tax system, who have wisely left the country.

In the words of Joe Cocker: "Why lead me to a life of misery, when you don't care a bag of beans for me?"Matthew JC. Powell wishes to assure ASIO that he represents no real danger to John Howard. Interrogate him at

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