ATO announces $2k cap on self-education expenses

An Australian Government announcement that tax-deductions for work related self-education expenses will be limited to $2000 per person per year penalises well intentioned vets, according to the Australian Veterinary Association.

The cap, which comes into effect on 1 July 2014, is designed to yield savings to help fund the Government’s National Plan for School Improvement.

But AVA President Ben Gardiner said the $2000 figure did not make sense.

According to numbers provided by the AVA, in 2010 the average veterinarian claimed an estimate $2728 for self education, with some spending in excess of $5000 educating themselves and staff.

Gardiner said that the association, which represents approximately 7500 Australian veterinarians, was still seeking clarification about what educational expenses will fall under the proposed cap.

“The announcement was made in a media release without consultation,” he said. “It’s a poor way to introduce a new policy.”

“It sends a very negative message to the profession, namely that if you want to deliberately go about improving your career you will almost be penalised for it. We still don’t know where someone plucked the two thousand dollar figure from,” Gardiner said.

He admitted that someone flying to the annual AVA conference from interstate could easily generate expenses of over $4000, when airfares, registration and accommodation were taken into account.

He said that while the ATO may be targeting a minority of people who generate excessive expenditure, it seems unfair to penalise the majority who are genuinely seeking to learn.

“Veterinarians are a very energetic and willing cohort of professionals when it comes to getting themselves up-skilled, and certainly newer veterinarians have a very good appetite for continuing education.”

“Professional development is mandated in most states,” he said. “There are certainly cheaper ways to learn, such as online training, but people seeking to learn a new procedure or technique really need to attend workshops or labs.”

Another issue the AVA is seeking clarification on is whether postgraduate training at masters and PhD level would be subject to the cap.

The AVA has been in touch with the Australian Medical Association and the Australian Dental Association.

“We’ve contacted our members and asked them to express their concerns both to us and their local MPs,” Gardiner said. “We are not happy, we want to talk with the Government of the day and have a fair opportunity to express our needs to them.”

The Australian and New Zealand College of Anaesthetists raised similar concerns, with president Lindy Roberts suggesting that the cap introduced a “huge disincentive” for doctors to attend courses to keep their skills current.

“This will have a major impact on anaesthetists, especially those in rural and remote areas, who already face significant out-of-pocket expenses to maintain their skills to the standard that is expected of Australian practitioners,” Roberts said.

AVA executive officer Mark Fraser echoed these sentiments. In a letter to the Government from the NSW AVA division, he wrote that the changes put veterinarians at a “significant disadvantage.”

“To deal with emerging diseases such as Hendra virus, new technologies, new pharmaceuticals, new procedures and higher client expectations, veterinarians must be able to continue to attend professional education events.”

Ilana Mendels, founder of private educator Vetprac, expressed concern over the changes.

“As a practical skills continuing education provider it is important to me that I bridge the gaps in the professional community which cannot be managed by journals, web contact and intermittent lectures,” she said.

But workshops are inherently more costly to run.

“I don’t want to cut corners in the quality of education I provide because that will dilute the quality of professional service which the public ultimately receives.”

Mendels added that the cap would not only impact veterinarians and education providers, but associated industries such as conference organisers, hospitality and companies who display their products at conference stands.

Private practitioner James Thompson called the proposed changes “a sick joke”.

Over the past two financial years, Thompson, owner of Turramurra Veterinary Hospital, has invested $17,000 into continuing education. This includes course fees for the Master of Veterinary Studies through Murdoch University, conference registration fees and accommodation, wet labs and text books.

He said the figure did not include personal time sacrificed for study or mentoring.

Thompson is meeting with his local MP later this month to express his concerns directly.

The AVA encourages concerned veterinarians to contact their local parliamentary member.

Anne Fawcett

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