What will 2019 bring, what do we want?

| January 12, 2019

There will be an election in 2019 and at some stage we will be conducting a mail out to selected marginal seats highlighting the policies of COSBOA and comparing these to the policies offered by the major parties. We want the small business people, who of course are also voters, and their employees to know what business policies are being presented by the parties and how that compares to what we COSBOA, as a voice for small businesses in Australia, what we believe we need.

Big business has power, resources and influence but they don’t vote. Big unions have money and muscle but not many members. While no one tells small business people how to vote COSBOA will do its best to inform those votes, after all there are some 2.1 million small business people out there who employ over 4.5 million other people and they all vote.

This includes a focus on vocational education and training, workplace relations, competition policy, productivity, the efficiency and capacity of our regulators and access to finance. The health of the self-employed must be considered as equal to the health of others. We must have a dedicated small business minister in cabinet.

We will continue to push for a national program of local economic development to empower business communities to break free of the shackles of centrally controlled policy regimes. This includes: too much control from the remote boards of big business; identifying and improving, at the local level, poorly designed or superfluous regulations; and ensuring local vocational training meet the needs of the local community. This will increase innovation and productivity in the small economies right across Australia.

COSBOA, with our increased membership and continued close engagement with government, the opposition and the Greens, expects more to be achieved in 2019 for those people who give and add so much to our economy, to culture and to diversity.

Before highlighting the policies we expect to take to the election let me also highlight the enemies of small business, and indeed of the broader community. Those enemies include the far right and far left of policy development. These extremists live on text books and/or old ideology and rarely reflect reality or facts. Another enemy are those who claim to represent small business people, and are their self-proclaimed champions, when in actual fact they are late comers to the fight and only want to use small business for their own purposes, normally for political purposes or to make money. The true champion of small business is the Australian Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman (ASBFEO) Kate Carnell and the state based small business commissioners.

The policies we want are highlighted in our advocacy framework on our website. The main issues for this election will be built around:

Vocational education and training which has to improve and focus on the skills needs of employees and businesses not on the needs of the training sector. Government programs must be separated into separate education programs and industry skills training. There is a strong argument to move “skills training” (back) to the Department of Industry. Also, the welfare and community-based training could be funded separately to skills-based training so that community welfare and support programs can be used to “break the cycle” of unemployment before transitioning into skills and employment programs. Employers should not be asked to take the place of welfare and social workers.  There should also be greater support for group training of apprentices into small businesses.

Late payment of invoices from big business to small and medium business is a blight that must be confronted. We have good focus on this key issue and will continue to punch hard for all businesses to pay on time.

Workplace relations must be simplified for the benefit of employers and employees. There will be less conflict in the workplace if the system is more transparent and easier to comprehend.

Competition policy must continue to be refined to ensure that as technology, communications and consumer needs change, that there is fairness in competition and less concentration of power with fewer and fewer firms. We need to continue to apply our domestic policies and laws to all businesses and not be influenced by the (international and global) interests who have money to “push” their business model.

Australian regulators are, in the main, world class and can and must always improve their performance. They must continue to review their performance and consult with stakeholders. The government needs to ensure they are properly resourced and the Senate needs to make sure they are driven by reality. In particular the regulator of the training sector, the Australian Skills Quality Authority (ASQA), is one regulator who is remote from the business community and needs to step up a mark or two and re-engage with industry and reduce overly bureaucratic processes.

The government funded employment services such as Job Active and Australian Apprenticeship Centres are a woeful waste of money and do not meet the needs of local employers or employees.  We want to see good policies that rectify this waste.

Policy development and legislation must have better consideration of the impact on the small business community. Currently the people who make these assessments ignore the fact that a small business is a person or a couple and normally just apply the ‘no impact’ rubber stamp on policies that have obvious and detrimental impacts.

Access to finance for small businesses who want to grow is a big problem and they must have every opportunity to grow within a reasonably managed environment.  No real solution can be developed until the final report of the Royal Commission is received but we want to see the policies of all political parties focused on this important market segment.

Energy prices must be confronted while the environment is also considered. The extreme ideologues, a minority, have controlled this agenda for too long. We need realistic and sensible policies that reflect current and future needs for today’s and future generations.

Unfair contract terms for B2SB contracts must be strengthened so that a small business person family does not lose everything including their health due to unfair behaviour and abuse of power by large businesses. The current approach of “squeezing” the supply chain in the long term damages the economy’s prosperity and small businesses viability.

All businesses must be professionally regulated. This includes in particular the biggest businesses and the biggest unions. For too long the ‘biggest’ believed they were beyond or above the law and could do what they wanted and they must always be held to account.

The current collection process for superannuation is flawed, difficult and full of vested interests. Employers need to be removed from this process which would give certainty to employees, save administration costs for funds and free up employers to concentrate on their business.

Unnecessary red tape or poorly designed compliance process must be removed or changed with quality and fairness to small business as the centre piece of any changes – not the so called “cost reduction” approach. External auditing of the policies and regulation is a must to ensure there are no “unintended consequences” on the businesses and the consumer.Employers, for example, need to be removed from managing paid parental leave payments on behalf of the government. The PPL payments should be sent direct to the eligible person not directed unnecessarily through a third party, the employer.

Other issues that will be investigated include: continued review of tax incentives for small business; training vouchers for employees and employers for “life-long learning”.

The year ahead represents some uncertainly, but regardless of the outcomes, COSBOA will continue to be a strong and influential voice for small business in Australia.

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Peter Strong

Peter Strong became the CEO of the Council of Small Business of Australia in June 2010. The role involves advocacy for the Small Business community and lobbying politicians and government agencies.

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