In the high-pressure, deadline-driven environment of construction, earthmoving and transport, it’s easy to overlook your administration load as you move mountains to satisfy your clients.

However, understanding and complying with your legal requirements is essential to your long-term success. Financial penalties for unlicensed work, unwanted attention from the taxman and lawsuits from injured employees can cripple your business.

In New South Wales, for example, the maximum penalty for unlicensed contracting is $22,000 for individuals and $110,000 for a corporation. That’s a hefty chunk of change, and just the beginning if your business doesn’t comply with your legal responsibilities.

That’s why we’ve broken down your statutory obligations into four categories so you can assess the legal health of your business at a glance. You can use this guide to ensure your construction, earthmoving or transport business complies with all regulations, and put an end to those sleepless nights.

Register your business

If you conduct business under any name other than your own, you must register a trading name. You’ll also need an Australian Business Number (ABN). And if you’re setting up or running a company, it must be registered with the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) under the Corporations Act 2001.

Sound stressful? Thankfully it no longer is. The Australian government recently launched a new Business Registration Service that allows you to apply for your key business and tax registrations via a single online form. Applying for an ABN is free; registering a business name will cost you $35 for one year or $82 for three years; and company registration fees vary depending on the type of company you are registering.

Complete your tax registrations

To keep the taxman off your back, you’ll need to complete the appropriate tax registrations. The good news is that you can register for goods and services tax (GST), pay as you go (PAYG) withholding and fringe benefits tax (FBT) via the government’s Business Registration Service when you apply for an ABN and business name registration.

You are legally required to register for GST if you expect to make more than $75,000 per year. You must apply for PAYG if you make wage or salary payments to employees, directors or to businesses that don’t supply their ABN to you. And FBT registration applies if you give fringe benefits such as cars, loans, housing or entertainment to your employees.

Protect your business

There are certain types of insurance that are compulsory for a construction, earthmoving or transport business. For example, you’ll need to take out a workers compensation policy to cover your employees for workplace injuries, public liability insurance to protect you if your operations injure or damage the property of another person, and third-party personal injury insurance as a minimum for any vehicles you operate.

Insurance premiums and application processes vary between insurers. However, partnering with a specialised industry insurer will save you time and ensure you’re getting the right advice.

Get licensed

The licences and permits you’ll need vary widely depending on your state and council regulations, as well as the type of work you’ll be carrying out. However, as a minimum, most states require building and construction contractors to have a current white card – also known as a general construction induction card. To qualify, all contractors must complete training with a registered training organisation (RTO).

You might also need an asbestos-removal licence, high-risk work licence, demolition licence and explosives licence for earthmoving works. And in the transport industry, all your drivers will need to be appropriately licensed and you may need a customs broker licence if you act on behalf of owners of imported goods.

Search the Australian Business Licence and Information Service (ABLIS) to find the licences that apply to your business.

Cheat sheet

Cut through the confusion and use this checklist to ensure your construction, earthmoving or transport business is legally compliant. Or if it still seems like a headache you can do without, consider contacting a company that specialises in helping small businesses get set up. The Start Up Factory, for example, can look after all your business registration paper work, legal documentation, insurance quotes and tax accounting for you. Likewise, EasyCompanies is a registered ASIC and tax agent that makes registering your company a breeze.

1. Business registration

You’ll need:

  • An ABN.
  • An ACN.
  • A registered trading name.

How to do it: Apply online via the Business Registration Service.

2. Tax registration

You’ll need:

  • GST registration.
  • PAYG withholding registration.
  • FBT registration.

How to do it: Apply online via the Business Registration Service.

3. Business insurance

You’ll need:

  • Workers compensation insurance.
  • Public liability insurance.
  • Third-party personal injury insurance.

How to do it: Contact an insurance company that specialises in your industry.

5. Licences

You’ll need:

  • A general construction induction card (white card).
  • Asbestos-removal, high-risk work, demolition and explosives licences where relevant.
  • Appropriate drivers licences.
  • A customs brokerage licence where relevant.

How to do it: Search the Australian Business Licence and Information Service (ABLIS) to find the licences that apply to your business.

Authored by Shane Conroy

Shane Conroy is an experienced freelance journalist. He contributes feature stories and business profiles to construction industry trade magazines, and has developed content for leading construction, earthmoving and transport equipment suppliers.