The Australian Taxation Office (ATO) has announced the expansion of a program that aims to help small Indigenous businesses with their tax and superannuation obligations through education and support.

The Reach Out Indigenous business support program started in Townsville and Brisbane in 2018 and is now being rolled out to New South Wales, South Australia and Victoria thanks to the success of its pilot program.

The program delivers workshops throughout the states to improve Indigenous owners’ business and financial judgement, build a connection to the Indigenous community, increase financial literacy, and raise awareness around taxation and superannuation obligations for employees.

The idea for Reach Out came from a group of ATO Evergreen program employees, an Indigenous program that runs annually over 18 months and combines training with work experience for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders as employees of the ATO.

ATO Assistant Commissioner Andrew Watson said the success of the program was based from the knowledge gained through the Evergreen program employees and their initiative in the Indigenous business space.

“Reach Out was actually the brainchild of a group of our Queensland-based Evergreen Indigenous employment program participants, so we owe the success of this pilot program to their initiative and willingness to get out and about to try something new,” Watson said.

Assistant Commissioner Andrew Watson said the program was conceived by participants from a Queensland Indigenous employment program. Photo supplied.

The program seeks to provide over 130 workshops in 2020 and forms part of the ATO’s Reconciliation Action Plan (RAP), which is committed to inclusion and racial diversity.

The ATO said in a statement the programs’ results will be used to enhance future services.

“Insights gained by ATO staff involved in the pilot program have also helped inform new educational products and resources to help new Indigenous businesses,” the statement read.

In terms of the specific aims and outcomes the workshops would provide, an ATO spokesperson said the focus would be on issues faced by Indigenous small businesses.

“As part of our Reach Out program, we are planning a series of workshops tailored specifically for Indigenous small businesses. The content of our workshops is consistent nationwide.

“By tailoring our education and assistance to Indigenous business owners, we are able to help them get the tax and super basics sorted and hit the ground running.

“We know that Indigenous businesses face unique challenges, for example, sometimes internet connectivity or technology issues due to being in a remote location,” the spokesperson said.

“If we help Indigenous businesses get things right from the get-go, we know they are more likely to succeed and thrive in the long term.”

A statement released by the ATO also outlined the significant contribution Indigenous business will contribute to the economy.

“The Indigenous business sector is estimated to contribute 10 billion dollars to the economy. The ATO is also committed to maintaining its strong track record of engagement with the Indigenous business sector,” the statement read.

The ATO implemented several changes in 2019, such as providing a specific helpline for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders for enquiries about superannuation and face-to-face engagement in remote communities.

“The ATO has taken an active role in face-to-face initiatives for our Indigenous Australians. We continue to participate in the First Nations Foundation’s ‘Big Super Day Out’ events and ASIC’s Indigenous Outreach Program,” said an ATO spokesperson.

Last year, the ATO helped to reunite 500 Indigenous people with over $10 million in unclaimed superannuation.

The ATO provided around 30 employees for the Big Super Day Out (BSDO) program run by not-for-profit, First Nations Foundation.

The team travelled to remote and regional parts of Western Australia and the Northern Territory to provide a free service to Indigenous people to help them claim lost superannuation.

Watson said the ATO is committed to helping First Nations people achieve their business goals through giving a clear understanding of their financial and superannuation obligations.

“We want Indigenous small businesses to thrive. Reach Out is all about helping build sustainable businesses that will support themselves, their families and their communities,” Watson said.

Watson was happy to report there have been tangible results from the program, including improved understanding of superannuation and tax obligations, and that the program has been well received by members.

By Caris Duncan