Computer Society blindsides Treasury with demands for child-care tax breaks

With the Federal Budget only weeks away, the Australian Computer Society (ACS) has bypassed Communications and IT Minister Senator Helen Coonan to court the chorus of discontent emanating from the government's back bench with a costed demand for widespread tax reform.

Released on the same day as Coonan's Teleworking Taskforce announcement, the ACS submission substantially ups the stakes for influence over workplace and tax reform by pushing its fight over the IT portfolio fence directly into the Treasurer's office.

Advance copies of the ACS document are understood to have landed in the inboxes of many of the so-called "ginger group", a faction of around 20 government backbenchers currently trying to force both the Prime Minister and Treasurer to reform marginal tax rates and superannuation.

Sources close to two members of the ginger group described the document's proposals as "positive", "creative thinking" and "at least worth thinking about", while another Liberal Party source urged that the government "not be afraid of fresh ideas, or looking at things in a new way".

According to the ACS' policy document, bluntly dubbed "Work / Life", the government must seize the moment - and presumably a portion of an estimated record $10 billion surplus - to produce more flexible working hours and better parenting time for Australians at large through tax reform.

The ACS is arguing that such reforms will produce broad societal and economic benefits necessary for sustained economic growth.

The ACS' latest foray into big-picture social policy painting calls on the government to urgently change superannuation and tax laws to allow employees to use salary-sacrifice provisions to accrue parental leave for up to one year.

Under the ACS proposal, all Australian employees would be given the option of access to parental leave "by providing favourable tax arrangements to encourage employees to salary sacrifice a portion of income that can be used to fund parental leave".

ACS president Ed Mandla, who enlisted conservative thinktank Access Economics to crunch his numbers, told Computerworld the cost impact to the government - for the entire Australian workforce - had been reckoned at a mere $155 million for 14 weeks; $287 million for 26 weeks and $575 million for 52 weeks leave (per annum).

Another option the ACS paper has dropped into Treasury's lap would allow employees to invest more in superannuation and thus "be able to draw down on this investment (at a favourable tax rate) prior to the current retirement age to fund parental leave.

That proposal is costed at $141 million for 14 weeks; $262 million for 26 weeks and $524 million for 52 weeks leave.

The nagging curse of spiralling childcare costs has also come in for a serve in the ACS's bold pitch to Treasury, with the society advocating the introduction of tax deductions worth a massive $771 million to assist parents.

"The ACS strongly urges the government to provide tax deductions for child care arrangements for working parents. The government has acknowledged that with a current birth rate of 1.75 percent it is in the national interest to promote both a higher birth rate and higher female participation in the work force ...Tax deducibility should cover public and private child care facilities as well as nannies," the ACS document states.

The Treasurer's office has so far declined to officially comment on the submission, but conceded it had managed to capture an unexpected amount of attention.

Computerworld understands the society's document is presently being assessed by the Treasurer's office to see just what all the fuss is about.

A spokesman for Senator Coonan said the Communications Minister had received an advance copy of the document some time before its release.