Politics

Peter Strong: Small business was key to winning the election, so ignore us at your own peril

Peter Strong /

small business election

COSBOA chief executive Peter Strong. Source: Supplied.

Scott Morrison must be congratulated on achieving an outcome for the election that very few predicted. The win gives confidence to the small-business community.

It is a relief that small-business people can focus on their business plans knowing that unions will not be interfering in their operations. Small-business people will have tax breaks, as will their customers, which should increase economic activity.

This surprise result reflects several important things.

  1. The influence of GetUp and the ACTU was actually damaging for Labor and most people ignored their destructive rhetoric.
  2. The far-right of the Coalition had a negative impact on the Liberal Party votes.
  3. Small-business people are a key part of the voting community.

Those people who are welded onto ideology were very vocal in their support of the extreme arguments of one side or the other, but the silent majority, referred to by Scott Morrison, decided the election.

Yet for COSBOA, the continuing message is the vote of the small-business person counts big time. We saw in a Sensis survey a few weeks before the election that 42% of self-employed respondees said they would vote for the Coalition, and though a large number (35%) were undecided, we can now assume they voted for the Coalition too.

There are some 2.3 million self-employed people in Australia, so when you count their votes and the likely votes of another few million family members, we can see they are a big voting block.

There is no doubt small-business workplaces are also places of great influence, and whether employees agree with the politics of an employer, they will also likely take notice of their employers’ views, particularly about business success and job security.

The failure of vested interests

There are, of course, many opinions about what happened in this election.

Here’s mine.

Let’s start with the shouty, highly funded interest groups.

Why did GetUp and the ACTU fail so badly? These organisations put millions of dollars into campaigns that peddled dubious information and basically lectured people about how bad their lives were. Nobody likes to be lectured by powerful elite groups and some of what was said was so extreme as to not be credible.

The arguments they presented about a ‘jobs crisis’, the cutting of penalty rates and so-called underemployment were false arguments. For all the hype and advertising, these arguments became grating and questionable, and as time went on, most people saw through the nonsense and concentrated on other issues.

The employees of businesses — small, medium and large — are not silly or uneducated. They know their job depends upon their employer’s business functioning profitably. They likely want more pay but they also know their wages are not low by comparison with other developed economies (and far higher than those in developing economies). Most workers realise they have good conditions — for example, four weeks annual leave, good personal leave and we are one of only two countries with long-service leave. They are likely to be aware that penalty rates on Sundays have hardly dropped for small business, if at all, yet did drop significantly for those in big business, which was a drop negotiated by the union.

The arguments that underemployment was a huge issue were also ignored by the majority of voters because it isn’t true. Even the biased research commissioned by the ACTU showed the majority of people in casual and part-time work were happy and had probably chosen to work that way. The others who want either permanent or full-time work many would likely understand that a good economy would be the best way to achieve that result.

The union movement and GetUp, as if in a time machine, believed wages can go up and jobs appear from nowhere by just flicking a switch. The Labor Party’s backing of this view was a large part of their demise.

These spurious arguments, coupled with other policies such as the Labor Party’s proposed tax treatment of family trusts and the support for the ACTU’s trumped up ‘living wage’ concept created anxiety and anger among small-business owners — anger that manifested itself in the way small-business owners voted on polling day.

Coalition’s far-right just as dangerous

The issue for the Coalition, and perhaps the reason why they didn’t get a bigger majority (this was still a very close election), is their far-right members. This group comprises the climate deniers in the main but also those who live by the old ideology of laissez-faire economics. These MPs and senators (they know who they are) must publicly state they will not blackmail their own government ever again. This far-right faction is as damaging to the Coalition as GetUp and the ACTU is to Labor.

Perhaps if either party had been able to tame their extreme radicals and ideologues, they would have easily won the election?

We in small business want to work on positive change — not just work on maintaining a good economy, but improving the economy and preparing it for the changes that will undoubtedly take place. We like to talk about reality and practicality.

The big issues the government must address immediately include: the cost of energy (an issue which cannot be divorced from environmental management), the streamlining of workplace relations to make it easier for employers and employees to quickly comprehend their responsibilities and conditions, reducing business tax, strengthening unfair contract terms legislation for small business, supporting business as technology changes, and investing in workforce skills.

One of the big messages in this campaign is the national small-business vote counts. Political parties that ignore this, or advance policies that threaten the economic wellbeing of small-business owners, do so at their own peril.

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Peter Strong

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

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