Earlier this week, the Senate inquiry’s report into the Government’s proposed cuts to the R&D tax incentive was delayed yet again – this time until after the Federal Budget in October.
Whilst this seemingly never-ending story is generating a lot of discussions, many startups and scaleups are wondering what this actually means for their R&D claims. Here, we cut through the noise to understand exactly what impact the proposed changes will have on businesses.
How did we get here?
As part of the Government’s National Innovation and Science Agenda back in 2016, a review was made into the effectiveness of the R&D tax incentive. The review found that the incentive was failing to achieve its objectives of generating additional R&D activities and so recommendations were made on how to address these failings, such as introducing a cap on the amount of eligible R&D expenditure that can be claimed.
In 2017, Innovation & Science Australia then provided their recommendations in their report “Australia 2030: Prosperity through Innovation”.
Subsequently, the Federal Government attempted to implement the main thrust of these recommendations on two separate occasions by releasing proposed changes to the incentive rules.
We focus on the most recent set of proposed changes and what impact to expect from each.
Impact on startups and scaleups
If the changes are passed in their current form (and that’s a big “if”) then the following is a summary of the key changes:
Proposed change: For companies with turnover of less than $20 million, linking the R&D tax offset to the company’s corporate tax rate + 13.5%.
Proposed change: For companies with turnover of at least $20 million, introducing an “intensity threshold” where the size of the R&D tax offset is determined by the percentage of the company’s spend on R&D expenditure compared to total business expenditure.
Proposed change: Introducing a $4 million cap on the amount of the refundable tax offset.
Proposed change: Increasing the R&D expenditure threshold from $100 million to $150 million.
Proposed change: Information about R&D claimants and their total spend on R&D expenditure to be published and made publicly available two years after the income year.
What we want to see from Government
Given the current COVID-19 disaster, the Government has regularly expressed its aspirations to use tax cuts and additional public spending to dig the Australian economy out of its doldrums. In that context, a two-year-old proposal to cut Government spending on R&D looks outdated and irrelevant. For businesses struggling with the financial impact of the pandemic, what is needed at this time is certainty and support from Government, not retrospective spending cuts.
Reinforcing this sentiment is the idea that even when the economy returns to a new form of normality, support of the tech sector is key to modernising the Australian economy and creating new jobs. Government support of R&D already lags behind peer OECD nations and any further cuts to the incentive would further stifle innovation instead of encouraging it. We are hopeful these changes will be scrapped altogether.
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