There is no doubt 2015 was a year of outcomes for the small business people in Australia.
In 2015 the government focused on growth for the economy through small business people. The Council of Small Business of Australia can celebrate our role in gaining this focus and in converting our policy needs into outcomes. As a result our economy is now better placed to build on the recent innovation statement and support the people who do the innovation, employ others and add to productivity.
It will take several years to turn the budget deficit into a surplus but that has a better chance of happening with small business people free to start up, innovate and grow. There will always be other hurdles and we will continue the good fight, but we should also celebrate success.
This focus on our sector certainly does not mean all small businesses are well off but it does provide motivation to develop new products and processes.
Kelly O’Dwyer, as the new minister responsible for small business, has continued the work of the redoubtable Bruce Billson and we look forward to 2016 with confidence.
What was achieved in 2015
A summary of outcomes from this year includes:
- The 2015 federal budget was branded “The Small Business Budget” following its focus on our needs and issues. The details of the budget are listed below. Some people called this the COSBOA budget and our board and members should be pleased with this outcome.
- The root and branch review of competition policy, also known as the Harper Review, came to fruition and this helps focus on new growth opportunities particularly in human services.
- The position of Small Business and Family Business Ombudsman, was advertised and will be filled early in 2016. This has been an aim of COSBOA since our creation in 1977.
- Unfair contract term protections were extended to small businesses; another aim of COSBOA since our creation in 1977.
- The innovation statement addressed issues around insolvency and bankruptcy as well as set the scene for our innovators to blossom. This has been another long-term aim of COSBOA.
- The implementation of a code of conduct for franchising, where those who breach the code will face much fiercer financial sanctions.
- A partnership developed with beyondblue around the mental health of the self-employed.
- Continued support for the development of Standard Business Reporting, which will streamline government communications with business.
- Woolworths taken to court by the ACCC for unconscionable conduct, which follows similar actions against Coles. This action supports what COSBOA has stated for decades: our competition policy needs a much stronger Section 46 for the sake of competition and productivity.
- We unearthed covert threats and hidden influence on policy from a few large businesses and confronted that issue with those businesses and with the government.
- We started the process of empowering local business communities to influence the economy through a national program of local economic development.
- The Fair Work Commission has started a campaign for using plain language in industrial awards. Well done, as well, to the Pharmacy Guild for promoting this important change.
- Australia concluded Free Trade Agreements with China, Korea and Japan, growing export opportunities for small businesses.
- The government introduced legislation to support crowdsourced equity funding.
- There was a continued focus on red tape reduction.
The 2015 “Small Business” budget
This year’s budget was certainly focused on small business people and it was universally welcomed in our community. The budget was comprehensive and consisted of various measures including:
- The headline item – immediate tax deductibility on every asset costing less than $20,000 purchased from the 2015 budget until the end of June 2017.
- A cut to company tax rates by 1.5% to 28.5% for incorporated small businesses with a turnover of under $2 million.
- A 5% tax discount for unincorporated businesses.
- Immediate deductibility of professional expenses incurred when starting a business.
- Capital gains tax rollover relief when businesses change their legal structures but keep the same owners.
- Expanded tax concessions for employee share schemes.
The $20,000 instant tax write-off was a welcome surprise and by the latter half of 2015 almost 100,000 had taken advantage of this opportunity.
Mental health for the self-employed
We have developed a partnership with beyondblue to help focus on the mental health of small business people. For too long the focus in this area has been solely on the employees of businesses and the employer’s needs as a person have been ignored. So have the needs of over 1 million people who are self-employed but do not employ other people. We have contracted Leanne Faulkner, a great advocate for mental health for our sector, to work on the project. This is also a first as very rarely have health issues for the self-employed been considered or discussed. There will be more on this in 2016.
COSBOA members to take a bow
The achievements this year are a credit to the government, after all they make the decisions. It is also a credit to the COSBOA board and our members without whom we could not have campaigned for the changes and fought and won many battles for fairness and respect. An organisation is only as strong as its membership. Our underpinning campaign to have the owners of small business recognised as people has brought results.
These outcomes achieved all in one year are also a credit to past supporters of COSBOA, people who have been involved for many years. This includes our previous long serving chief executive Rob Bastion and Tony Steven as well as many supporters such as Bob Stanton and the late Peter Judkins in particular. There are many more people, too many to name, but well done.
The fight will never be over but we have progressed a long way in the last year.
What will 2016 bring and what do we want?
There will be an election in 2016 and at some stage we will be conducting a mail-out to marginal seats highlighting the policies of COSBOA and comparing that to the policies offered by the major parties. We want the business community to understand what policies are being presented by the parties and how that compares to COSBOA’s needs.
No one tells small business people how to vote but we will do our 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. Big business has power, resources and influence but they don’t vote in those numbers.
The details of what we want from 2016 will be clarified at a COSBOA planning workshop to be held in mid-February and there is no doubt the focus will be on vocational education and training, competition policy, productivity, workplace relations and finance.
We will continue to push for a national program of local economic development to empower business communities to break free of the shackles of dominant businesses and red tape. Our aim is to get innovation and productivity happening in the small economies right across Australia.
Another area where there will likely be a focus is about “on-time payment” of invoices from big business to small businesses. There are some industry sectors that are notorious late payers, the mining sector for example, which averages 90 days. Late payment places undue pressure on small business people and their families and we hope to confront this issue.
COSBOA, with our increased membership and continued close engagement with government, the opposition and the Greens, expects more to be achieved in 2016 for those people who give and add so much to our economy, to our culture and to diversity.
Peter Strong is executive director of the Council of Small Business of Australia.