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New Greens leader Christine Milne targets “progressive business” – here’s the good, the bad and the ugly of the party’s SME policies

Christine Milne has given a few hints about her plans for the Greens’ business policy after taking over as leader of the party following Bob Brown’s shock resignation on Friday.

Milne said she wants the Greens to work with “progressive” businesses.

“What we badly need is a new organisation for progressive business that stands up clearly and says ‘the big challenge for this century is climate change and decarbonising the economy, and we need to see this as an opportunity to diversify the Australian economy’,” Milne told the Australian Financial Review.

Peter Strong, executive director of the Council of Small Business Australia (COSBOA), told SmartCompany COSBOA has enjoyed working with Milne in the past and looked forward to meeting her and finding out what the Greens’ agenda for small business is under her leadership.

“We want to make sure she understands small businesses are not just businesses, they are people first and small business second,” says Strong.

While we wait to see what the leadership change at the Greens will mean for business, we have taken a look at the good, the bad and the just plain ugly of the Greens’ business policy so far.

The Good – Support for a broader definition of “small business” and banking industry reform

The Greens have won praise in the past from business groups for some of their tax policies which prefer less tax from the GST and more from income taxes.

The Greens support raising the threshold for SMEs from $2 million to $5 million and reducing the corporate tax rate for SMEs with revenue under $2 million from 30% to 29%.

“They had some good policies around GST and giving rebates to small business,” says Strong.

“The Greens’ approach to taxation where they are giving a break to big and small business is something we would of course support, but we need to work with them and others on getting a better definition of small business.”

The Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (ACCI) credited the Greens party for its work in helping to reform the banking industry.

The Greens supported the Coalition’s nine-point plan for banking reform which included a wide ranging review of the financial system.

“With Bob Brown leaving it would be wrong to gloss over the profound differences over economics, tax and industrial relations between the Greens Party and the business community,” said Peter Anderson, chief executive of ACCI.

“But it would also be wrong to ignore common working areas, such as banking industry reforms that help small business.”

The Bad – Tax and relations with business groups

But not all of the Greens’ tax policies have the support of the business community.

Current policies also include raising the top income tax rate from 45% to 50%, increasing company tax from 30% to 33%, taxing family trusts in the same way as companies and broadening the company tax base by reducing tax concessions.

Milne has already gone on the front-foot attacking industry organisations and saying that traditional business groups, including the Business Council of Australia, ACCI and the Australian Industry Group, progressive views were drowned out by the resources sector.

“The thinking in these organisations in the thinking of last century,” Milne said.

The trio all refused to comment to SmartCompany on Milne’s accusations, however Milne does have some support from Strong for this view.

“I agree that a lot of big business associations and unions are stuck in the last century, some of the unions are stuck in the century before, and what we have done at [COSBOA] is lead the way to this century.”

The Ugly Workplace Relations

Where it gets ugly with the Greens is some of the party’s extremely “progressive” policies on industrial relations.

The Greens have previously mooted increasing annual leave to five weeks a year and current Greens party policy includes ensuring all employees, including casual, fixed term and probationary workers, and employees of small business have the same rights to challenge termination of employment where it is unfair, with reinstatement to be the remedy except in exceptional circumstances.

“Their workplace relations stuff is at times disturbing,” says Strong. 

“Adding an extra week of leave to the workforce and increasing it from four weeks to five, would force, we reckon, 100,000 small businesses out of business.”

Cara Waters

SmartCompany editor

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Cara Waters is the editor of SmartCompany. Previously, Cara was a senior reporter at the Financial Times website FT Adviser in London and she also worked for The Sunday Times in London.
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