Politics

Will the Coalition’s record win it the small-business vote?

Matthew Elmas /

small business

Prime Minister Scott Morrison. Source: APP/Dan Himbrechts.

Days out from polling day, voters have some important choices to make about the future of Australia, or at least the next three years.

A timeless political football, small and family businesses have been invoked by political animals of all stripes on the hustings in recent weeks, as dealing with pain points facing the sector has emerged as a top priority for the big parties.

The Coalition went on a small-business offensive late last year and has committed to spending billions in taxpayer money supporting Australia’s smallest companies.

Labor, meanwhile, made a myriad of announcements in the new year and has supported several big-ticket Coalition initiatives, helping pass them into law in recent months.

The instant asset write-off was again extended, the $2 billion Business Securitisation Fund is now law, and SME tax cuts were announced and brought forward with Labor backing.

All this begs an important question for small-business voters though. Will the Coalition’s record help them win the lion’s share of the small-business vote, or are voters more interested in what they’re being promised?

It’s an important consideration. The Coalition policy stable looks very different in the latter case, missing some of their bigger talking points.

The instant asset write-off extension is a good example. While Coalition policy, it passed with bipartisan support earlier this year, meaning if Labor wins the election, small businesses can still expect to benefit.

However, under Labor, businesses will also have access to the Australian Investment Guarantee, which allows firms to deduct 20% off any new eligible asset worth over $20,000 and is permanent.

In this specific policy area, small businesses are better off under Labor, despite the Coalition spearheading several increases to the instant asset write-off during its time in government.

It’s worth noting, however, while small-business advocates such as COSBOA have called for the instant asset write-off to be made permanent and for the threshold to be increased to $50,000, neither major party has committed to do so yet.

In the case of small-business tax disputes, it’s a similar situation. The Coalition has established a small business division within the Administrative Appeals Tribunal, administered by the small business ombudsman.

Labor won’t overturn this, and will additionally establish a new commissioner within the ATO for appeals.

Both parties have plans to fund free tax clinics to help businesses get advice about their ATO disputes, although each has a different model for the plan, and Labor has committed ongoing funding.

Then there’s unfair contract terms law, which the Coalition introduced in 2015, and will likely be strengthened regardless of who wins on Saturday.

However, while the Coalition says it will consider whether to outlaw unfair contract terms, as the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) has called for, it has not committed to making them outright illegal.

Labor has promised to make unfair contract terms illegal, alongside a commitment to increase the threshold for contracts shorter than a year to $1 million and $5 million for contracts longer than a year.

Meanwhile, the Coalition is considering whether to extend the definition of small business in the law to those with fewer than 100 workers and less than $10 million in turnover at the time a contract was signed.

On this specific measure, Labor’s commitments are more concrete, despite the Coalition being the party who introduced the policy during its time in government.

There are plenty of small-business owners prepared to give the Coalition credit for its record, though, and of course, there are a wide variety of other policies, business-related and otherwise, to consider — not to mention the cost to taxpayers.

Then there’s industrial relations policy, which for Labor remains their biggest sticking point with small-business voters.

But by incorporating many of the Coalition’s flagship measures into its own platform, Labor has muted potential criticism and, in some cases, given itself an edge.

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Matthew Elmas

Matthew is the news editor at SmartCompany. You can contact him at [email protected].

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