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Australia ponders easier share options, crowdfunding

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Australia's tech sector will probably miss out on one of its longest-standing Christmas wishes. Although communications minister Senator Stephen Conroy has announced a review of the treatment of employee share schemes – a major gripe in titsup startup land – he's doing so from the point of view of a government already hearing the rattle of the tumbril.

The announcement was made with the support of assistant treasurer David Bradbury, and Greg Combet, who carries the brief for industry and innovation.

As well as looking at employee share treatment, the reviews announced by the government will also look at crowdfunding. This has been another sore point in Australia, with considerable uncertainty regarding how crowdfuding fits in the country's financial regulation.

During 2012, Australia's Australian Securities and Investment Commission, stated: “depending on the particular crowd funding arrangement, ASIC's view is that some types of crowd funding could involve offering or advertising a financial product, providing a financial service or fundraising through securities requiring a complying disclosure document. These activities are regulated by ASIC under the Corporations Act and ASIC Act and may impose legal obligations on operators of crowd funding sites and on people using those sites to raise funds.”

It warned that carelessly handled, crowdfunding efforts could bring themselves under various investment or fundraising rules.

The Australian Information Industries Association has been critical of how employee share schemes are treated in Australia, and has made this part of its lobbying platform ahead of the 2014 election. Back in 2009, in an effort to deal with perceived rorting of the system, the government capped the salary sacrifice into employee share schemes at $5,000.

The employee share scheme review has been scheduled to report in December 2013, while the crowdfunding review will be presented in April 2014. ®

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