Politics

What does a Coalition government mean for small business?

Matthew Elmas /

Coalition

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison with wife Jenny and daughter Lily (left) after winning the 2019 federal election. Source: AAP Image/Mick Tsikas.

After winning Saturday’s election, Prime Minister Scott Morrison is in the process of finalising his first cabinet for Australia’s 46th parliament.

At the time of writing on Monday morning, the ABC’s election computer is predicting the Coalition will govern with a majority, although vote processing for both houses continues.

But with the prospect of a Labor government out the window, the small-business policy landscape heading into tax time is shaping up.

Business owners fearing the effects of Labor’s plan for the minimum wage and industrial relations more broadly will be spared higher costs, while the Coalition now has the mandate to pursue several of its own small-business election commitments.

Big-ticket items, including an extension of the instant asset write-off, tax cuts and the $2 billion Business Securitisation Fund are already law, but funding for export grants, the national labour hire registration scheme and the sham contracting unit within the Fair Work Ombudsman (FWO) are now on the policy table.

A forthcoming announcement on who will oversee the small-business portfolio is also being closely watched.

Those SmartCompany spoke to on Monday morning praised current Small and Family Business Minister Michaelia Cash for her work on the portfolio so far.

What’s on the agenda?

Australian small business and family enterprise ombudsman (ASBFEO) Kate Carnell says its time to ensure the government comes good on promises.

There’s a whole range of areas the Coalition has made commitments to that we now want to see some real movements on,” she tells SmartCompany.

Immediate priorities include ensuring the government follows through on strengthening of unfair contract terms law, following a regulatory impact process.

Carnell also says reform to Australia’s workplace laws is needed.

“We believe really strongly that the government needs to focus on simplification and clarification in the Fair Work Act.

“There need to be some really clear guidelines on the difference between casualisation and contractors versus employees,” she says.

Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry chief executive James Pearson agrees, arguing for an urgent simplification.

“I would hope that they would be interested in practical ideas to make improvements to our workplace laws that would make it much simpler for small-business people to hire,” Pearson tells SmartCompany.

Pearson says the first item of business will be dealing with a pre-election Labor motion in the Senate to overturn Kelly O’Dwyer’s regulation designed to prevent entitlement double-dipping.

The chamber is calling for specialised workplace health and workers compensation regulations for small businesses, arguing current laws are not fit for purpose.

Council of Small Business Organisations Australia (COSBOA) chief executive Peter Strong said ensuring planned tax cuts for SMEs from 27.5% to 25% get through parliament will be an early priority.

“What small businesses need is certainty so we can plan with more confidence for the future,” Strong tells SmartCompany.

Small business wins stability with Abbott exit

Beyond existing plans, the Coalition is expected to announce a new tranche of small business reforms, at least if it plans to make good on its broader promise to back Australia’s small businesses.

MYOB chief executive Tim Reed says stability was the biggest question on the minds of business owners going into the election.

“Scott Morrison has a personal mandate to be able to really lead the party, it’s probably good that all the former prime minister’s have left parliament,” he tells SmartCompany.

Reed says red tape, e-invoicing and the prospect of additional money for the Business Securitisation Fund will be priorities for the small-business sector.

“We know that red tape is something that slows all business owners down, and I think the real area business will be hopeful the Morrison government will do something about is e-invoicing,” he says.

Back in February, identifying e-invoicing as a $28 billion opportunity, the Morrison government inked a deal with New Zealand to spearhead the rollout of e-invoicing locally.

Small business under the Coalition

The incoming government has pledged to oversee the creation of 250,000 new small and family businesses over the next five years, and while this is an aggregate target, two-thirds of this commitment will need to be met by the next election for Morrison to be able to say he’s on track.

Luckily for the Coalition, based on growth rates for small-business numbers in recent years, the target isn’t actually that ambitious, forecasting a significant slowdown on last year’s 12% increase, according to ABS data.

Attention now turns to the Coalition’s energy and skills policy, two important areas for small business, where there are lingering policy and implementation questions.

Businesses are keen to see power bills go down, so whether the Coalition’s new default market offer and plans to underwrite new supply deliver as intended will be watched closely.

The Coalition has a shortlist of projects it intends to support but contracts were not signed before the election and a final list of development hasn’t been released.

Similarly, more than half-a-billion dollars in planned investment for overhauling Australia’s vocational training and education sector, including doubling business incentives, will be watched closely by SMEs.

Successive federal governments don’t have a stellar track record with jobs programs or the VET sector more broadly and arresting declining apprenticeship rates has been earmarked as a top priority by small-business advocates.

The $100 million Australian Business Growth Fund will also need to be legislated, although not all of the scheme’s intended investors are keen, or even interested, in taking part.

The fund intends to help a small number of high-potential businesses secure affordable equity finance each year, and would mature at about $1 billion, according to the Coalition.

Perrenial calls for the instant asset write-off, which was extended and enhanced again in April, to be made permanent and increased to $50,000 remain, while the communication of the scheme remains an issue for the government to address.

Likewise, the organisation, communication and approval of government grant programs is a sticking pain point for business owners and is expected to be a topic of conversation between stakeholders and the next small business minister.

Moving down the issue list to late payment times, initial government consultation on the best way to set up a register where big businesses would report their practices has finished.

The Department of Jobs and Small Business is currently preparing a cost-benefit assessment of the policy and further consultation is expected.

NOW READ: Fantastic or forlorn? Business owners divided on Coalition win, but wage growth concerns trump all

NOW READ: Taxpayer-subsidised waste: The instant asset write-off isn’t all its cracked up to be

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Matthew Elmas

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

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