Labor’s “fair go” plan: The policies Bill Shorten hopes will woo voters and how they affect small business

Bill Shorten

Leader of the Opposition Bill Shorten delivers the 2017-18 Federal Budget reply speech on Thursday, May 11, 2017. Source: AAP/Mick Tsikas.

The Australian Labor Party has unveiled a policy manifesto ahead of the federal election next year, promising to make sweeping changes to industrial relations laws.

The five-point Fair Go Action Plan has been billed as the foundation of Labor’s policy platform and is a signal both major parties are gearing up for what’s expected to be a close election.

The policies themselves bring together many of Labor’s commitments, providing a focus to the legislative agenda Opposition Leader Bill Shorten will pursue if elected as Australia’s next prime minister.

As always, there’s a lot at stake for Australia’s small businesses, so let’s break down what the ALP is promising.

Industrial relations reform

Amid mounting pressure from the union movement over industrial relations laws, Labor will head into the next election promising a variety of changes to the current system.

This includes reversing the Fair Work Commission’s 2017 cuts to Sunday penalty rates, which a Labor government would legislate in its first 100 days in power, and “cracking down” on what it calls “dodgy” labour hire firms to ensure they’re receiving the same deal as directly employed workers.

Labor also wants to step in to address the “permanent casuals” phenomena, which has become topical as late after a Federal Court decision ruled a casual truck driver working regular hours was entitled to annual leave benefits.

It wants to stop companies “avoiding their obligations” by getting staff to register as contractors.

This will also put the “bargain back into bargaining”, according to Shorten, effectively making it easier for employees to negotiate without the possible termination of their existing agreements hanging over their heads.

Labor has yet to finalise its industrial relations policy heading into the next election, and could make additions to its promises in the coming months.

Bill Shorten said on Monday he was “open” to calls from the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) for a return to industry-wide bargaining.

“It’s time to examine how we can improve the level playing field for millions of Australian working people,” Shorten said at a press conference.

Industry-wide bargaining would effectively result in sectors, rather than individual businesses, engaging in employment agreements.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison was unsurprisingly critical of the idea, saying small businesses will be hurt by the changes.

“Bill Shorten will increase their taxes, increase their regulation and tie them up in union knots,” Morrison said on Monday.

Industry protections

While looking to boost the position of workers with industrial relations reforms, Labor also wants to deliver some broader industry changes.

It has promised to take action against the “illegal dumping” of foreign products in the Australian market to protect local manufacturers by tripling penalties and giving the Anti-Dumping Commission more resources.

Labor also included a pledge to crack down on “the abuse” of 457 visas in its policy push, renewing his prior criticism of the government’s visa system.

Shorten is primarily concerned many companies can fill positions without advertising them to local workers first.

But Council of Small Businesses of Australia (COSBOA) chief executive Peter Strong is concerned businesses can’t find the right local talent could be penalised by the changes.

“It doesn’t solve skill shortage problem,” he tells SmartCompany.

Capping power prices, supporting renewables

Of interest to small business owners is Labor’s power policy, which it believes will offer business protection from “price gouging” by large electrical retailers.

A recent Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) inquiry recommended capped electricity pricing, a policy that’s been adopted by Labor.

Under Labor’s plan, it would also be made easier for businesses to compare different packages.

Strong welcomes the policy, saying it delivers certainty to businesses, although he doesn’t believe it will address the underlying issues in the power sector.

“It delivers certainty to business, and that’s what we thrive on,” he says.

Labor also wants to help workers, communities and businesses transition to renewable energy as part of its plan to help the broader economy move to 50% renewables by 2030.

Although there were no specifics in its plan as to exactly how it would go about helping small businesses make the switch.

Coalition response: ‘tax, tax, tax’

Morrison argued Shorten’s election pledges would deliver higher taxes.

“I’ll tell you what Bill Shorten’s five-point plan is: more tax, more tax, more tax, more tax, more tax,” Morrison said on Sunday.

But Strong says his members are actually expressing optimism at Labor’s tax package.

“Their tax stuff at the moment is looking okay, my members are saying they like the look of what they’re doing in the tax areas,” he says.

Labor wants to close tax loopholes it says are being exploited by multinational corporations, while also cracking down on the use of family trusts to avoid tax.

It also plans to wind back dividend imputations if elected, which would prevent shareholders from receiving cash refunds on dividends.

Labor also supports tax cuts for low- and middle-income earners, which were the centrepiece of the Coalition’s 2018 budget.

What do you think about Labor’s policy platform? Let us know: [email protected]

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