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Business experience required: Coalition plans to make sure ACCC and Fair Work officials understand small business

Patrick Stafford /

A Coalition government would introduce a mandate for officials on the Board of Taxation, the Competition and Consumer Commission and the Fair Work Commission to have business experience, Opposition Leader Tony Abbott announced this morning.

Abbott, who was speaking at the NAB Small Business Summit at which SmartCompany was in attendance, also repeated the Coalition’s commitment to free small business from having to administer paid parental leave payments.

The Opposition Leader also said the Coalition would produce clearer guidelines regarding underpayment through the Fair Work Ombudsman, conduct a review of competition law and extend unfair contract provisions to small business.

In a 20-minute speech, Abbott said the Coalition wants to see more small business experience throughout decision-making processes at higher levels.

“It is not enough that people in government and in our important agencies are simply aware of small business,” he said.

“We don’t want them to think of small business as members of the public may think of something like an exhibit or museum.

“We want them to understand the reality of small business.”

Small business groups have long complained about the lack of business experience among officials in public office – they claim this leads to decisions which place unrealistic pressure on business.

The announcement only mandates that the specific groups have business experience in general, and does not specify that all officials in these groups maintain that experience.

In a statement, Abbott said he believes the addition of small business experience to the oversight of key regulatory bodies “will strengthen the operations” of them all, and “make them more sensitive to smaller enterprises”.

Abbott also underlined other Coalition election policies relating to small business, such as ending their roles as paymasters for paid parental leave, providing the ATO with the responsibility to manage the superannuation guarantee and by not changing laws for independent contractors.

“There will be a plain English guide to employing and remunerating staff under the Fair Work Act, and you will be able to rely on the advice you get from officials if you are subsequently accused…of underpayment.”

“Small businesses will also be able to bill the government interest for late payments – that will be your right under a Coalition government.”

Abbott spent much of his speech talking up the role of small business in the economy, emphasising the difference between those who operate large businesses, and those who are in SMEs.

“If small business owners lose their jobs, they will almost certainly lose his or her home,” he said. “They have skin in the game as no one else does.

“We want to work with you, not against you.”

Abbott also repeated the Coalition’s commitment to not go ahead with the government’s proposed $1.8 billion repeal of fringe benefits tax provisions for salary sacrificing.

Small businesses have already complained to SmartCompany they may have to retrench workers due to the move.

Abbott this morning also called on Prime Minister Kevin Rudd to announce an election date, saying it would be “almost unconscionable” for the uncertainty to drag out any longer – uncertainty which affects businesses both big and small.

“If there is doubt and uncertainty, investment decisions are put on hold, spending is put on hold,” he said.

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Patrick Stafford

Patrick Stafford is a freelance journalist and a former deputy editor of SmartCompany.

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