Politics

The five key issues SMEs will keep in mind on election day

Patrick Stafford /

Malcolm Turnbull and Bill Shorten

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Opposition Leader Bill Shorten react at one of the leaders' debates during the election campaign. Source: AP Photo/Lukas Coch/POOL

It couldn’t have been a more eventful week before the federal election.

Britain deciding to leave the European Union, a terrorist attack in Istanbul and a financial shock that caused stock markets around the world to plummet.

But while voters may keep a range of these issues in mind on Saturday when they head to the polls, business owners are going to be thinking about a lot more than just what’s happened in the past seven days.

Stability, interest rates, competition law, penalty rates, along with policies like the Federal Government’s planned internships program, are all weighing on business owners’ minds.

It’s not exactly a clear-cut choice. But Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman Kate Carnell, says if there’s one thing businesses will be thinking about on Saturday, it will be how the next government can ensure stability.

After all, the country has experienced four prime ministers in as many years. That, along with a shocking financial event just days before the polls open, may keep business owners worried about the future.

“They will be worried about stability, and economic stability in particular,” Carnell told SmartCompany.

“It would be hard for that not to be at the front of mind for many business owners.”

Here’s what the owners of small and medium businesses will be thinking about when the polls open this Saturday, July 2.

Consistency

The Australian economic and political landscape has been anything but consistent. Multiple prime ministers, economic policy changes, and now the Brexit have shaken up just how confident businesses are about the future.

The latest NAB Business Confidence survey in June found that while business conditions are improving, confidence has slipped to levels not seen since August 2015.

Paul Nielsen, director and chair of the Council of Small Business of Australia, told SmartCompany that lack of confidence results from a lack of consistency.

“Where people have to spend money, they are. But everyone is suffering,” he says.

“Business people just want consistency of policy.”

While the Brexit may make the global economic climate uncertain by default, Nielsen says businesses will be looking for a choice that ensures stability. That could be bad news for Labor and its proposed changes to negative gearing – although Nielsen says, “we don’t like to tell small businesses how to vote”.

Additionally, any economic shocks may make business owners more nervous considering the state of the federal coffers, says Nielsen.

“There is more uncertainty, and we certainly don’t have the surplus to play with as we once did,” he says.

Effects test

The proposed changes to Section 46 of the Australian Competition and Consumer Act, which will introduce an effects test to protect against abuse of market power, will be at the forefront of some business owners’ minds, says Carnell.

The proposed amendment will prevent firms with substantial power from engaging in conduct that has a purpose, effect or likely effect of lessening competition. The Liberals are backing the change, but the Labor party is against it.

Carnell says many SMEs will be wanting this change to go ahead.

“Many businesses in areas where they are facing significant market power will have this on their minds,” she says.

Penalty rates

Russell Zimmerman, executive director of the Australian Retailers Association, says the retail industry is looking for the Fair Work Commission to deliver a recommendation to lower Sunday penalty rates – and for whichever party is elected on the weekend to follow through.

“We have been looking for a reduction in penalty rates, and we want to see that longer-term benefit for retailers and smaller businesses,” he says.

“So, we want to see the Commission hand down an agreeable finding, and then for the government to support it”

Tax promises

The problem with the federal budget being announced just before an election is that, once again, there is more uncertainty as to what budget measures will pass, and what will not.

Carnell says businesses in particular will want to see the threshold for small businesses to receive a company tax cut changed from $2 million to $10 million, as the May budget laid out.

“Along with that, the extension of the instant asset write-off is something businesses will want to see,” she says.

Zimmerman also says tax reform needs to be kept at the front of the agenda, considering the government’s promises regarding the reduction in company tax.

“The problem is that we haven’t had any movement, and retailers will be looking for tax reform,” says Zimmerman.

Additionally, he says, the industry will want to see the implementation of the tax on low-value imports.

“We would be looking for commitment around this issue,” he says.

Apprentices and interns

The government’s pledge to allow businesses to hire “interns” as part of a work-for-the-dole program is something SMEs will be considering, says Carnell – as the recommendation came from the small business industry itself.

“We’d like to see that … as it’s good to see the government is committed to get behind businesses and making it easier to employ,” she says.

Such a plan, Carnell says, will be of a benefit for both businesses and younger workers who are finding it hard to get into the workforce.

“This is a good plan to ensure … businesses can give young people a go.”

Carnell says Labor has previously announced as part of the election campaign a mandate for 10% of workers on federal projects to be apprentices, but also said there is still more need for detailed costings.

The final verdict

While no government can ensure total stability, Nielsen says business owners have been sick of volatility for so long, they’ll simply want to see some long-term signs of consistency.

“I think it’s less that small businesses are looking at individual policies…and more that they just want some stability,” he says.

“As a small business owner myself, I know that small business is lacking confidence.”

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Patrick Stafford

Patrick Stafford is a freelance journalist and a former deputy editor of SmartCompany.

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