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Government attacked over business name register privacy fears

Wednesday, 5 December 2012 | By Michelle Hammond

The Opposition has accused the Federal Government of breaking “yet another promise” by failing to remedy the issue of home-based business owners’ personal addresses appearing on the National Business Names Register.

 

The register, which went live on May 28, is administered by the Australian Securities and Investments Commission.

 

It replaces the previous state and territory services so that businesses only need to register their name with a single national register.

 

However, the register has been causing headaches for home-based businesses, which are required to include a physical address on the register.

 

For many home-based businesses, their only physical address is their personal address, which has some people concerned for their privacy.

 

Home-based businesses can address privacy concerns by using their accountant’s address but this will incur a fee.

 

According to shadow small business minister Bruce Billson, the government promised to fix this issue but has failed to do so.

 

“At a meeting in September, the government undertook to fix the issue and to report back on their progress by the start of October but we’ve heard nothing,” Billson said in a statement.

 

“This is a serious issue, which demonstrates that the government is asleep at the wheel and focused on saving face in the media for its poor management of the country.

 

“People have a right to privacy and this issue should be of the upmost priority for the government, yet they seem to be taking the approach that it will hopefully blow over.”

 

A spokesperson for Bernie Ripoll, parliamentary secretary to the treasurer, says: “We set up a meeting for [Billson] with ASIC on business names because he wanted to raise a number of issues around that. This is one of the issues he raised.”

 

“Whilst we’re sympathetic to businesspeople who are caught in this situation, ASIC has valid policies and legal reasons for why people have to produce a physical address, such as serving papers.

 

“They can go through an agent to collect their mail and so forth instead of producing their home address. We acknowledge in some cases there might be a fee involved with that.

 

"ASIC is looking into this. There was never any understanding we would fix this by October.

 

"And it’s going to be impossible anyway, even if we wanted to, because the fact is it would require changes to legislation and these things always take time.”

 

But Peter Strong, executive director of the Council of Small Business of Australia, says Billson is “probably right to say nothing’s been done”, agreeing it is a serious issue.

 

“My understanding is that ASIC are aware of the issue and looking at various mechanisms to fix it but they have to move much more quickly,” Strong says.

 

“[One of the main issues is] you have to have a place to serve papers – this is a problem for ASIC.

 

“One of the solutions would be people saying, ‘No, you can’t have my address’ but if they’re involved in serving papers then people can ask for it.”

 

Billson and Strong’s comments come after ASIC released an update of the register, providing a snapshot of the service for the fortnight of November 19 to December 2.

 

During this period, 11,117 business name registration applications were received, and 8,124 business names were fully registered.

 

Since the register went live back in May, more than 148,000 business name registration applications have been received, and 129,689 business names have been fully registered.