Open data on Australian companies could be the best response to tax avoidance

Open data on Australian companies could be the best response to tax avoidance

Imagine if Australia’s economy was as efficient as Silicon Valley is. It’s not that absurd an idea, and the keys are potentially at the government’s disposal.

In the US, technology sector companies including Mattermark and CB insights are now providing a “CIA-like” business data intelligence services about private companies in the startup ecosystem. They collect data on anything and everything, distilling it all into “signals” that may provide clues on who may become the next Apple, Google or Uber.

Australia has a unique opportunity to open more data on private companies in the way NZ has already done with their Open NZ Companies Register, making for a more transparent and efficient economy.

The company regulator ASIC, in its corporate registry business, holds a treasury of statistical data about Australian private businesses that researchers, policymakers and businesses could use to improve the productivity of the whole economy.

The government is exploring options to sell the ASIC registry business, which is estimated to be worth A$6 billion. The conditions of open public and research access to the data held in this register could provide either great opportunity or impediment to Australia’s long-term economic efficiency.

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At the same time, Australia is leading the way globally in its efforts to target tax avoidance by multinational corporations, which is an interesting and challenging undertaking.

Among a number of federal budget measures aimed at cracking down on tax avoidance are mandatory disclosure rules to uncover aggressive tax planning schemes.

This is aligned with the idea that sunlight provides the best disinfectant and perhaps one of the best approaches. Transparency and open data certainly seem to work within the corporate world at a micro level, so perhaps this is an important part of the solution to this tricky global problem.


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