Tuesday, 14 July 2009

Free eTax Software

After years of complaining, I’ve decided to take on the Australian Tax Office’s inability to create an eTax system that is platform-independent. While a minority of computer users use computing platforms other than Microsoft Windows, they have a right to access government services. It is also wrong that a government agency is favouring one company over other alternatives. It’s as if you were only allowed a tax break for business use of a car if it was a specific brand.

Let us be clear about this: some have said, what’s the big deal? Mac or Linux users are no worse off than people without computers who also lose out on the benefits of eTax. That’s not the point. Someone buying a popular (if not the most popular) computer platform may have their choice swayed if a major, mainstream application is not available. If you want to use a Windows machine, a Mac or a Linux system, you have good options for spreadsheets, word processing, email, web surfing, personal accounts etc. on all of them. A government agency such as the Tax Office ought not to be swinging competitiveness of rival computing platforms towards creating a monopoly.

If you want to make your voice heard, here are two things you can do:

What will I do with the petition? Once it’s reached 1,000 signatures I will alert the ATO, Wayne Swan, Joe Hockey and Bob Brown as to its existence. I will challenge each of them to take action.

The results count below includes a few bogus signatures that I’ve trimmed:

To illustrate the standards of other countries, here are some that support at least 2 platforms:

  • South Africa: Mac plus Windows
  • USA: Mac plus Windows – as far as I can tell the IRS also publishes the spec so anyone can develop software for electronic filing
  • UK – online filing, with options to submit information in more complex cases from other software (available from private sources, so a good guess is that the spec is available).

In summary, we are not talking about an insoluble problem. Even a developing country does better, and it’s not because Macs are much more popular in South Africa than in Australia. They represent an even smaller niche there than here.


Ed said...

Fantastic analysis of other countries' positions. It's about time someone took this up as an ethical argument to the government. How unresponsive can a democratic government agency be? How willfully naive can one of the nation's most influential organisations afford to be as to its impact in the entire national IT market?

Any top-tier Commonwealth bureaucrat worth his salt should be capable of saying to the minister, "we have an embarrassing situation, caused by the historical oversight of the previous government which will only be remedied with an increase in the eTax project budget of $2million. The benefits will be to extract the Commonwealth from an untenable position promoting an unhealthy monopoly and lead to a broader uptake of eTax, a reduction in processing costs as well as better positioning the federal government for the next generation of web-based service delivery."

As you point out, this is not an insurmountable technical challenge.

Unknown said...
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Unknown said...

The ATO MUST address this issue. I agree that it causes the ATO to be less accessible to everybody who uses a computer by supporting only Windows.

You can have almost ANY government documents in almost ANY language you like so as to ensure a balanced perspective on making service available to EVERYONE. Yet the ATO IT people can't find any programmers who speak Mac or Linux.....?

Governments around the world are increasingly scrutinising Microsoft for its' abuse of market power. Why hand Microsoft more links with which it can forge more shackles.....?

Silly, especially for a government body whose purpose is to collect revenue in the most expedient manner possible. The more users we reach, the more funds we can expect to recover.

Very, very foolish.