Last night, Labor leader Anthony Albanese got his chance to respond to the federal budget, laying out an alternative vision for the country under his own government.
In his speech, Albanese noted the Coalition’s budget earlier this week was decidedly a pre-election one, calling it “a budget for the next six weeks, when we need a plan for the next six years”.
He also promised to address the ongoing cost of living crisis, saying if a Labor government is elected, “our work on cost of living won’t stop when the votes are counted”.
But when it came to offering direct and concrete support to the small business and startup communities, the speech was largely found lacking.
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Here are eight key takeaways for business owners:
1. No mention of small business
Albanese uttered the words ‘small business’ a grand total of once during his budget reply speech, and only then in a throwaway line about Labor backing the “aspirations of all Australians”.
CPA Australia’s general manager of external affairs Dr Jane Rennie noted this was disappointing, given the importance of small businesses to the Australian economy. Small businesses make up about 98% of all businesses, employ more than 40% of the workforce and contribute the equivalent of a third of GDP, she said.
“We encourage the opposition to let Australians know how it intends to support the small business sector.”
Rennie said the government’s tax cuts for technology and skills training, announced on Tuesday evening, are “incredibly important for business investment”, yet neither of the measures were mentioned in the Labor leader’s reply.
This “may leave businesses wondering if they should proceed with technology purchases”, Rennie said.
“The opposition should clarify whether it will support these programs if it forms government.”
2. Respectful workplaces for women
While he didn’t talk about it at any length, Albanese promised to implement “every single one” of the recommendations made in the Respect@Work report, in a bid to create “safe and respectful workplaces for women”.
Published in 2020, the report made a total of 55 recommendations to address sexual harassment in Australian workplaces.
Of 16 legislative and regulatory reforms that could have been adopted so far, six made it into the Respect at Work Amendment Bill, passed by Parliament in September 2021.
3. Aged care wage increase
However, Albanese did address what has been highlighted as something of a glaring omission in Tuesday’s federal budget — the aged care crisis, and in particular, wages in the sector.
The opposition leader announced five “concrete, practical measures” to address the challenges in aged care, including:
- Mandating that all facilities have a qualified nurse on site 24/7;
- Raising the standard of care so each resident receives a minimum of 215 minutes of care each day;
- Higher wages for aged care workers;
- Nutritional standards for facilities; and
- More funding to bring these measures into effect.
In total, these reforms are expected to cost about $2.5 billion.
4. ‘Tech’ and ‘innovation’ absent
Also conspicuously absent from Albanese’s speech were the words ‘tech’, ‘innovation’ and ‘startups’.
There was a passing mention of tech-focused defence spending, a promise to “revitalise Australian manufacturing”, and a pledge to “transform our country into a renewable energy superpower”, all of which could be construed as tech-positive.
However, there was certainly no concrete promises of support for a sector crying out for clarity on the R&D Tax Incentive, and targeted support to tackle the skills shortage.
Albanese also failed to mention cybersecurity, something that poses an increasing risk to all Aussie businesses — and something the federal government committed $9 billion to bolstering in the budget.
5. What of skilled migration?
The Labor opposition has already put forward plans to address the digital skills gap, pledging to see 1.2 million Aussies in tech jobs by 2030.
The plan would see the creation of 465,000 new, free TAFE places and 20,000 additional university places.
However, ahead of the budget, many startup founders and small business owners argued that new training initiatives should be paired with measures to boost skilled migration, such as easier pathways to sponsorship of foreign workers.
Some in the tech sector were also calling for sector-specific apprenticeships to help close the gap, something neither party has committed to.
While Albanese did note in his speech that “too many businesses can’t find skilled staff”, he didn’t go into any further detail as to how a Labor government might tackle the challenge.
6. More commitment to climate change
Albanese said a Labor government would establish a ‘Disaster Ready Fund’, to help with recovery when natural disasters strike.
But he also said his party would “roll up its sleeves” and tackle climate change, drawing a direct comparison with funding backed by the Coalition that has failed to materialise for many.
In another not-so-subtle dig at the Prime Minister, he told Aussies: “You deserve a leader who holds a hose.”
Tackling climate change presents “opportunities, not just challenges”, Albanese added.
“We will act on climate change and seize the chance to transform our country into a renewable energy superpower,” he said.
“It will make us more resilient and less dependent on global supply chains.”
7. Cheaper childcare
Albanese also used his speech to reiterate a promise he made in his first budget reply speech back in 2020: to make childcare cheaper and to “eliminate the complicated mess of subsidy cliffs and barriers to working”.
“Cheaper child care is an economic reform,” he said.
“Our plan will end the economic distortion that stops mothers in particular from working more than three or four days a week.
“It will boost productivity and workforce participation across the economy.”
8. How will either government pay?
Mark Molesworth, tax partner at accounting firm and advisory BDO, suggested that both Tuesday’s budget and Albanese’s reply read more like election manifestos than financial plans.
“There was certainly nothing in the budget about a tax system appropriate to the 21st century,” he said in a statement.
“Unfortunately, that appears to have encouraged the opposition to likewise ignore the future of the Australian tax system.”
While both parties have outlined broad visions, there is not much information about how they’re planning on paying for them, Molesworth added.
“We will wait to see whether there will be any substantive tax policy announcements ahead of the election in May.”