Perspective features the opinions of prominent people in the fitness industry. Here, Fitness Australia CEO, Lauretta Stace, urges the fitness industry to take collective action to help amend the Fringe Benefits Tax Act and positively benefit more individuals, as well as our industry.

Everyone in the fitness industry would agree that good health is fundamental to Australia’s future social and economic wellbeing.

The need to prevent chronic disease and to keep people healthy and out of hospital has become increasingly important. Australia has an impressive track record in addressing public health challenges, and much is already being done to address the risk factors of harmful alcohol use, smoking, overweight and obesity, poor diets and physical inactivity that are contributing to our chronic disease burden. More, however, needs to be done, particularly for those at increased risk or that have not enjoyed the benefits of health gains equitably1.

So, as an industry that is committed to the principles of good health and quality of life, can we do more to effect meaningful change for the good of our nation’s health and fitness?

The answer is YES WE CAN. But we cannot do it alone. We cannot do it unless we unite and take collective action.

The federal and state and territory governments continue to work hard to address the behavioural and environmental challenges that have contributed to the significant rise in obesity over the past few decades. The fitness industry is an important part of the solution, however, and it is gratifying that our industry’s contribution is receiving greater recognition than it has previously done.

As an industry, we need to capitalise on this increasing profile and continue on this positive trajectory. If our objective is to engage more people in the services we provide, then we need to clearly identify the barriers that impede our progress. We then need to know the arguments for and against our objective. We need to undertake research, articulate our arguments and advocate for change. These are the fundamental principles of effective lobbying.

At the FILEX 2013 Business Summit, Greg Oliver (director of Fitness Australia and CEO of Goodlife Health Clubs) called on the fitness industry to get organised and work together to help achieve change. Fitness Australia supports this call to action. Over the next few months, Fitness Australia will be hosting a series of Political Advocacy Forums designed to inform, educate and activate the industry to use our collective strength to address some key policy and legislative issues that could be the key to successfully delivering exercise to more Australians.

One of these issues is reform to the Fringe Benefits Tax (FBT) legislation. One of Fitness Australia’s priorities is to work with employers to promote a healthier workplace through physical activity. Fitness Australia supports its members in the development of ‘fitness in the workplace’ programs and in connecting with local businesses to develop programs that encourage employees to lead more active and healthy lifestyles.

However, the Fringe Benefits Tax (FBT) Assessment Act 1986 currently discourages virtually all small-to-medium sized businesses from participating in and delivering such programs to their employees. Currently, the first $1,000 of the aggregate of the taxable values of certain ‘in–house’ benefits given to an employee in a year is exempt from FBT. This includes gym membership provided to employees when the gym/exercise/recreation facility is located on the business premises. The problem is, few companies have ‘in-house’ gyms. Those that do are, in the main, large corporations often with a high proportion of middle-to-high income earners.

Fitness Australia is, therefore, recommending to government that the FBT Assessment Act 1986 be amended to allow the first $1,000 of the aggregate of the taxable values of certain benefits to employees to include the fitness and exercise services delivered via any registered gym or exercise professional.

Fitness Australia estimates the cost of making this change to be in the region of $72 million, but believes that the costs will be more than recouped by the benefits in reduced healthcare costs, increased workplace productivity and growth in the fitness industry (leading to greater income tax revenue).

This is just one example of a legislative reform being advocated by the fitness industry that could have immensely positive benefits for society. So let’s all get on the same bus and start using our collective strength as an industry to achieve lasting change and a better quality of life for many more Australians.

1. State of Preventive Health 2013, Australian Government, Australian National Preventive Health Agency

Lauretta Stace
Lauretta is a leading advocate for the health and fitness industry in Australia. Since becoming the CEO of Fitness Australia in 2006, she has embarked upon a systematic and strategic journey to raise the profile of the fitness industry, help integrate it within the health sector and ensure that it is recognised for its important role in helping millions of people improve their health and wellbeing.