COSBOA’s Peter Strong: What happened to Labor’s relationship with small business?

What has happened to the Labor party?

Our relationship with the Gillard Labor government was a very good one. We were included in the important debates and discussions and we received good responses. This includes the appointment of the first national Small Business Commissioner position, which is now the Australian Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman – a position held by Kate Carnell. They also increased the instant tax write-off threshold for small businesses to $5 million, among other good measures.

Since then we have of course seen Liberal small business ministers Bruce Billson and Kelly O’Dwyer continue with the Coalition’s support – comprehensive support – of the small business person.

The Greens have certainly come to the small business world with their support of the effects test (changes in Section 46 of the Competition and Consumer Act) and the increase of the threshold for definition of a small business to $10 million for accessing small business tax support measures, although they do not support proposed company tax cuts.

The Greens made a profound change to the world of small business when they not only supported changes in contract law to give small businesses fairness in their dealing with big business, they also increased the threshold for that measure from $100,000 to $300,000, which will improve the lives and mental health of hundreds of thousands of small business people.

Independent senator Nick Xenophon, as always, gets and supports small business people.

So what’s with Labor?

They do not support the changes to competition policy that would free up productivity and make the world fairer for small business people. The only other people that support that Labor view are those at Wesfarmers and Woolworths and their union, the Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees’ Association (AKA the Shoppies Union). The SDA has always written Labor’s competition policy and continues to do so; to not support the change is to not support small business and only support the union and a handful of ethically challenged businesses. What angered my members most was the way our opinions were summarily dismissed by as though the small business community was beneath consideration. My members are still concerned at that lack of respect.

The behaviour of big retailers and the SDA continues to undermine businesses and workers. Confirmation of this came last week where is was proven weekend workers (and small businesses who open or want to open on weekends) are being used to subsidise the wages of union members who work during the week. It extends to up to another 100 large businesses. Labor is campaigning against decreased Sunday penalty rates yet the great majority of weekend workers already get lower than award rates. How can they continue to support a campaign that is defeated already by its biggest union?

The other issue is the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal (RSRT) fiasco. In this case the Transport Workers Union and some big businesses decided they would own the transport sector by forcing owner-drivers off the road. Labor supported this. Yesterday at a meeting in Adelaide we saw the TWU’s bullying behaviour cause great distress for owner-drivers who attended that meeting. How do you create safety by stressing innocent people? More on that later.

Are three unions – the SDA, the TWU and the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) – running Labor? The rest of the unions seem to be normal unions doing what unions do.

Labor, you must represent society not cronyism. The Coalition stared down the threats of big businesses and their lobby groups. Labor has to do the same thing, now.

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

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