I run a small business. No, let me rephrase that. It's just me selling my wares to publishers and calling it a "small business" tends to evoke images of the "battler", struggling to make it. It also implies that I'm part of the "small business" constituency. It implies a certain grandeur, as part of the Backbone of Australian Small Business that Makes Our Country Great.
No. Rather, I run an "itty-bitty" business. It's just me. All I do is write stuff and sell it to people. The scale of my operation is not that much different to someone sitting on their front lawn dispensing psychiatric advice for five cents.
In my itty-bitty business, I deal entirely with other businesses. As you can imagine, it's rare for people to wander in off the street and say, "hey, I don't suppose you could write me an article? I need something to read on the train". I can't even remember the last time this happened. In the vast majority of cases, I write for other, generally larger businesses - namely publishers - who then provide reading material for commuters, ad hoc shelter in the rain, birdcage liners, whatever.
But here's the thing. When I sell my scribblings to these businesses, I have to charge them GST. If I had a choice, I wouldn't - under the counter cash payments in brown paper, wink wink and all that. No problem here. But, unfortunately, there are laws about this and I'm afraid of incarceration. I've seen enough movies to know that prison is no fun. Except in Stir Crazy - that prison looked kind of fun, but what are the chances they'd put a tax fraud in a prison with a rodeo? I'd probably end up in the prison from Brubaker.
I digress. In keeping with my responsibilities to the law, I charge GST to the businesses I write for. And, mindful of their own legal obligations, they pay it. Don't know quite why - perhaps they haven't seen Stir Crazy.
Then, every three months, I have to fill in a BAS, just like you do. This is where my itty-bitty business takes its place alongside your businesses, the smallest of which no doubt dwarfs mine. My itty-bitty business is actually quite simple, and the reportage of its activities comparatively straightforward. The BAS, however, makes it as complicated as it can possibly be. I spent a very very long time preparing my BAS, and noted as much on the form. I even said so rudely, just to emphasise the point. I pray the tax commissioner has a sense of humour about these things. I am not an accountant, and despite a brief dalliance with that industry, I have little interest in becoming one. I spend my time writing - the time spent being a businessperson seemed an onerous burden.
All of this hassle was justified, in my own mind, by the thought that the revenue raised was going along to help worthy causes. All of the tax dodging that has gone on in the past is now impossible, because of the New Tax System (Goods and Services Tax) Act 1999, and no longer will taxpayer-funded schemes like schools, hospitals, welfare recipients and Peter Reith have to suffer. It seemed, somehow, noble.
But here's the thing. At the other end of the equation, the businesses to which I sell my wares, such as IDG, have rooms full of people who are accountants, bookkeepers and the like. They want to do that. It's their job to do that and, when it comes to the BAS, I warrant they earn their keep.
When they fill in their BAS, they look at all the GST they paid me, and you know what they do? They call it an "input tax". They then, quite rightly, claim it back from the Government. Follow this around now: they pay me, I pay the Government and the Government pays them. If anyone can point out where there is a revenue gain for anyone in this, I'll be pleased to hear it. (And don't tell me I was earning interest on the money during the three months it was in my bank account - have you seen bank interest rates lately?)So I don't see how making me, or anyone who deals entirely business-to-business, fill in a BAS helps anyone. There is no money to help Paul Reith phone home in emergencies, nor to build another swimming pool at Kings School. How the Centenary of Federation will be funded without my measly GST contributions, I don't know. I do know this: it's time the itty-bitty business lobby stood up to be counted.
Matthew JC. Powell invites horror stories about the BAS on firstname.lastname@example.org. Sometimes it's just good to get it off your chest.