Business Advice

Peter Strong: What will 2019 bring, and what do small businesses want?

Peter Strong /

small business

COSBOA chief executive Peter Strong says the arrogance and elitism of banks has been exposed. Source: AAP/Joel Carrett.

There will be an election in 2019, and at some stage, we will be conducting a mail out to selected marginal seats highlighting the policies of COSBOA and comparing these to the policies offered by the major parties. We want small business owners (who of course are also voters) and their employees to know what business policies are being presented by the parties and how that compares to what we at COSBOA  as a voice for small businesses in Australia  believe we need.

Big businesses have power, resources and influence  but they don’t vote. Big unions have money and muscle but not many members. While no one should tell small business owners how to vote, COSBOA will do its best to inform those votes. After all, there are some 2.1 million small business owners out there who employ over 4.5 million other people — and they all vote.

This includes a focus on vocational education and training, workplace relations, competition policy, productivity, the efficiency and capacity of our regulators and access to finance. The health of the self-employed must be considered as equal to the health of others. We must have a dedicated small business minister in cabinet.

We will continue to push for a national program of local economic development to empower business communities to break free of the shackles of centrally controlled policy regimes. This includes too much control from the remote boards of big business, identifying and improving (at the local level) poorly designed or superfluous regulations, and ensuring local vocational training meet the needs of the local community. This will increase innovation and productivity in the small economies right across Australia.

COSBOA, with our increased membership and continued close engagement with government, the opposition and the Greens, expects more to be achieved in 2019 for those people who give and add so much to our economy, to culture and to diversity.

Before highlighting the policies we expect to take to the election, let me also highlight the enemies of small business, and indeed of the broader community. Those enemies include the far right and far left of policy development. These extremists live on textbooks and/or old ideology and rarely reflect reality or facts. Another enemy is those who claim to represent small business owners — self-proclaimed champions  when in actual fact they are latecomers to the fight who only want to use small business for their own purposes, normally for political purposes or to make money. The true champions of small business are the Australian Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman Kate Carnell and the state-based small business commissioners.

The policies we want are highlighted in our advocacy framework on our website, but here are the main issues this election will be built around.

Vocational education and training, which has to improve and focus on the skills needs of employees and businesses, not on the needs of the training sector. Government programs must be separated into separate education programs and industry skills training. There is a strong argument to move skills training’ (back) to the Department of Industry. Also, welfare- and community-based training could be funded separately to skills-based training so community welfare and support programs can be used to break the cycle’ of unemployment before transitioning into skills and employment programs. Employers should not be asked to take the place of welfare and social workers.  There should also be greater support for group training of apprentices into small businesses.

The late payment of invoices from big business to small and medium business is a blight that must be confronted. We have a good focus on this key issue and will continue to push hard for all businesses to pay on time.

Workplace relations must be simplified for the benefit of employers and employees. There will be less conflict in the workplace if the system is more transparent and easier to comprehend.

Competition policy must continue to be refined to ensure as technology, communications and consumer needs change, there is fairness in competition and less concentration of power with fewer and fewer firms. We need to continue to apply our domestic policies and laws to all businesses and not be influenced by the (international and global) interests who have money to push’ their business model.

Australian regulators are, in the main, world class and can and must continue to review their performance and consult with stakeholders. The government needs to ensure they are properly resourced and the Senate needs to make sure they are driven by reality. In particular, the regulator of the training sector, the Australian Skills Quality Authority, is one regulator who is remote from the business community and needs to step up a mark or two and re-engage with industry and reduce overly bureaucratic processes.

The government-funded employment services (such as Job Active and Australian Apprenticeship Centres) are a woeful waste of money and do not meet the needs of local employers or employees. We want to see good policies that rectify this waste.

Policy development and legislation must have better consideration of the impact on the small business community. Currently, the people who make these assessments ignore the fact a small business is a person or a couple and normally just apply the ‘no impact’ rubber stamp on policies that have obvious and detrimental impacts.

Access to finance for small businesses that want to grow is a big problem and they must have every opportunity to grow within a reasonably managed environment.  No real solution can be developed until the final report of the royal commission is received, but we want to see the policies of all political parties focused on this important market segment.

Energy prices must be confronted while the environment is also considered. The extreme ideologues, a minority, have controlled this agenda for too long. We need realistic and sensible policies that reflect current and future needs for today’s generations and future generations.

The regulation on unfair contract terms for B2SB contracts must be strengthened so a small business owner’s family does not lose everything, including their health, due to unfair behaviour and abuse of power by large businesses. The current approach of ‘squeezing’ the supply chain in the long term damages the economy’s prosperity and small businesses viability.

All businesses must be professionally regulated. This includes, in particular, the biggest businesses and the biggest unions. For too long the ‘biggest’ believed they were beyond or above the law and could do what they wanted and they must always be held to account.

The current collection process for superannuation is flawed, difficult and full of vested interests. Employers need to be removed from this process which would give certainty to employees, save administration costs for funds and free up employers to concentrate on their business.

Unnecessary red tape or poorly designed compliance processes must be removed or changed with quality and fairness to small business as the centrepiece of any changes not the so-called ‘cost-reduction’ approach. External auditing of the policies and regulation is a must to ensure there are no ‘unintended consequences’ on the businesses and the consumer. Employers, for example, need to be removed from managing paid parental leave (PPL) payments on behalf of the government. The PPL payments should be sent directly to the eligible person not directed unnecessarily through a third party, the employer.

Other issues that will be investigated include continued review of tax incentives for small business, training vouchers for employees and employers for ‘life-long learning’.

The year ahead represents some uncertainty, but regardless of the outcomes, COSBOA will continue to be a strong and influential voice for small business in Australia.

NOW READ: Peter Strong: Why 2018 was a good year for most small business owners

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Peter Strong

Peter Strong is chief executive of the Council of Small Business of Australia.