Government, in all its forms, is not renowned for its
understand of technology. History is littered with idiotic decisions founded on
a limited grasp of even the fundamentals of what technology can do and
prosecuted with a vigour usually reserved for flag ceremonies in schools, the
launching of a new naval vessel or the decision to build a statue of the
politician in question.
One of my favourite responses to technology from a
government would be from an anonymous Hamilton City councillor who couldn’t
understand what the fuss was all about with regard to metro-area fibre
deployments. Hamilton’s had one for years, he told me. Great, said I, what do
you use it for? Oh we monitor CBD burglar alarms with it.
Then of course we saw Melissa Lee (not Sandra as I originally had) and her cohort at the
so-called Skynet debate in parliament. She was a standout defender of the new
copyright legislation, forthright in her argument that any copyright
infringement was intolerable and pointing out that in South Korea the economy
is booming, thanks to such infringement. To top it all off she happily tweeted
that after a hard day’s legislating, she’d be going home for a glass of wine
and to listen to a CD of K-pop that her sister had sent her. One can only hope
it included PSY’s take on Alanis Morissette’s song “Ironic”.
Now, however, we have a move designed to close a nefarious
loophole in our law, something which is causing government to quake in its
boots and is keeping Treasury officials awake at nights with the sheer horror
of it all. That’s right, you’re all taking your smartphones home with you without
paying fringe benefit tax.
It’s hard to know where to start with such drivel. Do we
attack it on the basis that it’s going to cost more to implement a tax on smart
devices than it would ever bring in as revenue? Do we point out the efficiencies
inherent in allowing staff to have such a device in the first place? What about
the revenue from all those personal apps we buy on our smart devices? How about
the benefits to the environment of giving someone a device which they can use
remotely so avoiding the need to drive into the city each day?
If the government decides to tax smart devices, companies
face two choices – either figure out a complex, costly, annoying model for
managing personal use (not just voice calls of course but also data consumption
– but let’s rule out data consumed via your home wifi) thus driving staff
members to forgo the whole idea in the first place, or simply don’t allow the
staff member to have a smart device at all. No company I can think of would
cheerfully absorb the cost of any such FBT so that’s ruled out right off the
And what about BYOD? How would any such tax apply in
reverse? If I bring my own iPad to work do I get some kind of credit on my
personal tax for using a personal item for work? Surely I should be forced to
account for the work time accrued when I use my own devices?
Stupidity aside, there is a very real risk that we will
damage our employees’ ability to work remotely, to use these devices as
thoroughly as possible and potentially get in the way of that “aha” moment when
a staff member, noodling around on a device at home, finds a new way to do
something more efficiently or even better, discovers a whole new service to
build a business around. We run the risk of employers deciding there’s no point
in issuing smart phones to staff because of the added red tape. We run the risk
of stifling innovation for the sake of potentially very few dollars more in the
Governments always trumpet their keenness to cut through the
red tape and make it easier for business to get on. Somehow, they seem to
forget that when dollar signs are involved.