It’s telling that Kevin Rudd, the now ex-foreign minister, pointed to business confidence as a key reason for him looking to bring the relentless leadership speculation to a head.
While the rest of the nation is sick to death of the Gillard/Rudd stories, business leaders are worried. Companies don’t like uncertainty at any level, let alone uncertainty about who is actually running the country as prime minister.
Once the dust is settled, start-ups will have to potentially deal with a government headed by someone with different agendas and priorities.
With this in mind, here are the 10 things that start-ups desperately need from our prime minister, whether that is Julia, Kevin or Tony.
1. A shot in the arm for exporters
It’s no secret that many small businesses are suffering from the strong Australian dollar, with firms relying on tourism and export markets the hardest hit.
While it is, of course, inconceivable that a prime minister of any political stripe would haul the Aussie dollar off the market, there is still plenty that a Rudd/Gillard/whoever government could do to help.
A good start would be to review November’s unwelcome change to the Export Market Development Grant program, which helps businesses secure intellectual property and customers abroad.
The minimum expenses threshold was hoisted from $10,000 to $20,000, while the maximum grant has been slashed from $200,000 to $150,000.
How about making life easier for struggling exporters, Julia/Kevin? After all, the rewards are clear – research released by Regus today shows that 62% of Aussie businesses expanding into international markets are expecting a revenue leap this year.
2. Encourage risk taking
Australian investors are widely regarded as overly-conservative. Indeed, many frustrated entrepreneurs complain that plenty of cash is available, only for risk-adverse investors to keep their hands in their pockets.
While it’s unrealistic to expect Australia to turn into some sort of southern hemisphere Silicon Valley overnight, the prime minister could do a few things to encourage investors to back innovative but as-yet unproven start-ups.
A good starting point would be to look at the new Seed Enterprise Investment Scheme in the UK, which will allow investors to plough £100,000 into a start-up in return for an upfront 50% tax break.
Aussie venture capital body AVCAL said they would welcome such a move, as would start-ups. If the cash strapped UK can afford this, why not us?
3. Make workplace laws clearer
The need to amend the Fair Work Act is a drum that has been beaten by business groups and, to varying degrees, the federal opposition, for some time.
While only a brave prime minister would ever think of going back to WorkChoices, it’s clear that there is a lot of employer confusion out there over modern awards and penalty rates.
Indeed, recent data from the Fair Work Ombudsman found that 26% of retailers have been in breach of workplace laws. Providing clarity and consistency in this area would be a welcome move from the prime minister.
4. Lessen the compliance headache
Every week, there seems to be a new crackdown by government bodies on small business’ compliance.
Whether it’s superannuation, the cash economy or sham contracting, there is plenty of scrutiny of business’ activities. While there are undoubted benefits to the wider community of doing this, it does leave time and cash poor small businesses with a red tape headache.
The prime minister, whoever that is, needs to prune the regulatory burden faced by smaller employers.
One area already under the spotlight is the Paid Parental Leave scheme, which requires SMEs to be the government’s “pay clerk”. A review of this otherwise admirable legislation would be warmly received.
5. More investment for local hubs
Last week, we had the odd spectacle of NSW deputy premier Andrew Stoner parading around on the rooftop of Startup House in San Francisco, sprouting the state government’s subsidising of 12 start-ups that are moving to the facility.
While this is great for the ventures that will make the trip across the Pacific, the NSW government is effectively paying for businesses to leave Australia, never to return.
A better use of state and federal money would be to invest in local start-up hubs. While several incubators and co-working spaces have made the running by themselves in Australia, how about some government support to foster innovation and job creation?