Small business campaign calls on government to bring in an effects test and not “bow” to vested interests

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Small businesses around the country will flex their muscles in the coming weeks in order to pressure the Turnbull government to strengthen competition laws.

Retailers, including IGA supermarkets, will be putting up signs calling on the government to implement an effects test.

The campaign, which is being organised by the Council of Small Business of Australia, will try to build momentum from the broader community by targeting consumers with the message that granting small businesses further protections from larger companies will result in “lower prices, more choice”.

The campaign will also target politicians in the lead-up to this year’s election by reminding them that around 75% of Australians agree the country’s competition laws need to be strengthened.

Industry Minister Christopher Pyne, deputy National leader Barnaby Joyce as well as independent senator Nick Xenophon are understood to be among the politicians lending their support.

COSBOA executive director Peter Strong told SmartCompany this morning the campaign is about saying enough is enough.

“We can’t fight secret threats, conferences, phone calls and meetings,” Strong says.

“The only way we can fight is by being overt and aggressive in what we want. We’re going right around the nation saying this is an important issue and has to be addressed by government.”

Last year, it was revealed the Business Council of Australia sent cabinet a confidential, eight-page letter to cabinet warning innovations like the iPhone would “be at risk” should the government changed Section 46 of the Consumer and Competition Act to introduce an effects test.

Introducing an effects test was one of several recommendations made by the Harper competition review.

Strong says while COSBOA members believe the Harper competition review did not go far enough to protect small business interest, he accepts the findings and believes big business should do the same.

“Because it’s independent, we’re going to accept it,” he says.

“This is a message for the Turnbull government to go through with what the independent people came up with.

If they don’t, you can only come up with one assumption – they’ve bowed to the will of [big businesses].”

Strong says the campaign will involve local IGAs and industry associations handing out posters to small businesses to hang in their shop windows in order to provoke a conversation with customers.

“There’s a petition we’re looking at as well, as well as open letter to the Prime Minister and Treasurer,” Strong says.

Late last year the government announced it was delaying its decision on whether or not to introduce an effects test, saying it would release a discussion paper to be delivered in February.

Small business minister Kelly O’Dwyer told SmartCompany this morning she had been holding roundtables with a range of stakeholders to discuss potential changes to competition law.

“These roundtables have been held prior to the closure of formal submissions, which will inform the Treasurer’s decision in this important issue,” O’Dwyer said in a statement.

“I encourage anyone who would like to comment on the discussion paper to submit a response before the close of submissions tomorrow.”

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Broede Carmody is a former senior reporter at SmartCompany. Previously, he was a co-editor of RMIT University's student magazine Catalyst.

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