Following an initial investigation by the Board of Taxation, supported by Treasury and the ATO, the Government (in December 2016) established this Taskforce to develop an innovative, forward-looking and genuinely whole-of-government strategy to combat the black economy.
The black economy is a significant, complex and growing economic and social problem. In our opinion, it could have increased in size by up to 50 per cent since 2012.
The costs it entails are not only financial in nature (lower tax revenues and higher welfare costs), but also societal. The black economy is manifestly unfair, allowing some to play by their own rules and penalising businesses, employees and consumers who do the right thing. Under cover of the black economy, vulnerable workers are exploited, criminal groups flourish and social capital and trust are undermined.
The black economy is not standing still, but rapidly shifting and evolving in step with wider economic, technological and social changes. It is a growing problem which, if not dealt with, can develop a dangerous momentum of its own: a ‘race-to-the-bottom’ which we are already seeing in particular areas.
In 2012, the Australian Bureau of Statistics estimated that the black economy equated to 1.5 per cent of GDP, with the illicit drug industry adding a further 0.4 per cent of GDP. This estimate is now outdated. We consider that the black economy could be as large as 3 per cent of GDP (roughly $50 billion) today, given the trends we identify in this Report.
A sense of urgency is needed from policymakers, leaving behind business-as-usual approaches from the past. A new strategy and commitment is required: one which addresses underlying causes, not symptoms, while keeping regulatory burdens low; one which goes beyond tax; and one which breaks down agency silos and embraces joint action and the intelligent use of data and analytics. This Taskforce was a genuinely whole-of-government undertaking, bringing together 20 Commonwealth agencies.
This agenda has a clear purpose and objective: to make our society both fairer and more equitable by creating a level playing field. To the extent that this yields a revenue dividend, the Government’s capacity to fund needed services (or provide tax relief or lower deficits) will be greater.
Combatting the black economy is not just a matter for governments. We all need to be part of the solution. We need a new social contract: a renewed commitment from the business community and wider public to fight the black economy. Our hope is that our work, including our public hearings and consultations, has helped start an overdue national conversation.
In the time since the Interim Report in March, the Government announced the adoption of two of our key recommendations in the 2017-18 Budget.