Hockey, Costello, ramp up pitch to SMEs

Senior Coalition figures defended a surprise move to strengthen competition laws and foreshadowed changes to make IR laws more user-friendly yesterday, as the Coalition ramps up its campaign to consolidate support in the SME community.

On Tuesday, Treasurer Peter Costello made a surprise decision to back a Barnaby Joyce amendment that will make it easier to take legal action against predatory pricing, despite the Government rejecting the Senator’s change less than a month earlier.

The move came as a SmartCompany/Roy Morgan poll of 769 small and medium business owners found that only 51% say they will vote Liberal, a surprisingly weak result for a segment of the electorate that has traditionally strongly backed the conservative parties.

Costello’s shift of trade practices reform prompted strident criticism from big business groups such as the Australian National Retailers Association and the Business Council of Australia, which say the law will stifle genuine price discounting if introduced.

But Costello yesterday rejected suggestions that the proposal would have a negative effect on competition.

“I think it’s quite a sensible extension, and I was happy for the Government to endorse it and move it,” Costello told The Australian Financial Review. “If your purpose is to discount and to heighten competition, then you won’t fall foul of that section.”

Costello also ruled out further reforms to IR laws and nominated urban and rural water shortages and climate change as the “greatest problems” looming in Australia’s future.

Workplace Relations Minister Joe Hockey was also out promoting the pro-SME message yesterday, telling an Adelaide radio station that changes could be made to streamline IR laws to make them more user-friendly for SMEs.

“I think we’ve got to try and reduce red tape, and that in turn creates more incentives for small businesses,” Hockey told the 5AA radio station in Adelaide.

Although generally supportive of current IR laws, SMEs owners have consistently criticised the level of red tape they involve.


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