Editorial: SMEs once again left in the dark on JobMaker design

Frydenberg-federal-budget-2020

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg arrives to address the media, ahead of budget 2020 at Parliament House, in Canberra on Tuesday, October 6, 2020. Source: AAP Image/Mick Tsikas.

It’s an all-too-familiar story. 

The federal government uses its budget to announce a flashy, new policy that will create jobs, jobs and more jobs. 

But when you look beyond the multibillion-dollar price tag, and the exaggerated claims, what’s left is some important questions about who will have to do the heavy lifting, and if the policy will in fact work. 

And as is often the case in Australia, small and medium businesses appear to have been left out of the discussion. 

Such is the case with the Morrison government’s JobMaker hiring credit. 

On budget night, Treasurer Josh Frydenberg boldly claimed the $4 billion program would “support” 450,000 jobs and help thousands of unemployed young people find work again. 

The hiring credits are available for employers who hire unemployed young people, with weekly credits of $200 available for those aged between 16 and 29, and $100 available for workers aged between 30 and 35. 

But as tight eligibility criteria emerged for the program, and legislation for the scheme was referred to a Senate committee, it became clear that all was not what it seemed. 

Treasury has now confirmed that the scheme is unlikely to create 450,000 ‘new’ jobs. Rather, the number of “genuinely additional” jobs created will be closer to 45,000. 

It’s a policy that’s designed for businesses already in a growth phase, which we know is not most Australian SMEs — many of which are still trying to recover from the devastating effects of coronavirus lockdowns. 

Even some businesses in the big end of town — some of the nation’s biggest employers of young people — have said they won’t be claiming the credits. 

There are also legitimate questions being raised about age discrimination and whether the parameters of the program are enough to prevent unscrupulous behaviour. 

And for small businesses, there are serious concerns about the program’s administration and implementation, which highlights a lack of consultation with the very employers which, in theory, could stand to benefit the most. 

There are signs that some of this consultation is now happening and these issues are being addressed. And there’s still time for interested parties to make submissions in response to the draft legislation. 

But the series of events points to a larger pattern of consultation being done after-the-fact, or not at all, when it comes to policies that affect SMEs.

This year’s budget also included $35.9 million over five years for the Boosting Female Founders initiative, a grant-led program that was piloted this year to help women entrepreneurs expand their businesses.

But the very businesses that should be supported by the program are being excluded because of strict eligibility criteria that overlooks the types of business structures used by most business owners when they are starting out.

There are 2.5 million small and family businesses in Australia and SMEs employ 68% of the Australian workforce. 

These business owners know about creating jobs, and they know what their communities need.

It’s well and truly time politicians and policymakers start listening before they put pen to paper.

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