Politics

You decide: Uncertainty prevails as small business emerges as defining factor in election

Matthew Elmas /

The federal election is only weeks away, and as politicians scramble to square away votes, small-business owners have again taken on the shape of a football.

So far tax relief, funding, payment times and access to justice have taken centre stage in small-business policy discussion — and with billions of taxpayer dollars committed, major parties could be forgiven for thinking they’ve done enough.

They’d be wrong — at least according to a recent Sensis poll, which found more than a third (35%) of small-business owners haven’t decided how they’ll number their ballots come May 18.

While a much higher proportion of business owners say they’ll vote coalition (43%) than Labor (13%), the number of undecided voters is pretty striking considering how much attention federal politicians have given to small-business welfare over the last eight months.

Small businesses are people too

As Council of Small Businesses of Australia (COSBOA) chief executive Peter Strong noted yesterday, business owners are people too, and to some extent, the fence sitting is a reflection of broader political attitudes.

“The best way to get a small-business vote is to talk to us as people not just as businesses,” Strong said.

“We value time with our family, the removal of complexity, the ability to focus on our business and our employees, not on unnecessary compliance.”

Anecdotal evidence suggests the major parties are missing crucial pain points, namely, the $20 billion administrative burden small business is contending with every year.

A survey of 1,300 small-business leaders released by Reckon this week found the average business owner is sacrificing sleep to keep up with admin and red tape.

With the Fair Work Commission, the ATO, ASIC and the ACCC all on the hunt, avoiding becoming the subject of a press release is almost a full-time job in itself, and its clear many business owners are burning the candle at both ends.

“There’s so much to think about and do and many businesses, especially startups like myself, don’t have the income to pay someone to do these tasks,” Mudputty founder Raeleen Kaesehagen tells SmartCompany.

“You do it at times you can fit it in, which is always personal time — Sunday night before BAS is due, 11pm after the kids are in bed, 4am just because there’s no other time.”

Business owners expect change of the guard

Other business owners say they’re sick of the status quo of Australian politics and want legislators to find a balance between the interests of workers and business.

“It is hard in Australia to run a business with the costs so high,” Waster founder Aodhan MacCathmhaoil tells SmartCompany.

“But then again, high salaries are what makes Australia a good country to live and work in.”

“I just hope the election cycle does not become old-school Labor versus Liberal, with unions arguing for all and sundry and the big end of town lobbying for tax cuts at the top end.”

Mick Owar, the owner of an SEO business, says he’s not going to vote at all.

“The politicians are not in it to help anybody but themselves. This is evident when they tantrum, throw their weight around their little clubhouse, and point fingers at everybody but themselves,” he tells SmartCompany.

“Why people buy into voting for these children is beyond me.”

Scott Beattie, owner of mortgage brokerage Cube Central, intends to vote for the LNP for this first time later this month, after becoming disillusioned with Labor’s policies.

“The ALP’s policies will do the finance and real estate industries no favours, self-funded retirees and accountant’s probably aren’t big fans of the ALP either,” he tells SmartCompany.

The coalition’s suite of small-business policies has been popular, at least according to a recent survey of 1000 owners by MYOB, which found more than 60% are fans of 30-day payment times and the instant-asset write-off.

However, 64% also said they would vote for policies that simplify the GST/BAS reporting process, a common source of stress.

Nathan Schokker, owner of facilities management business Talio, says he’s leaning towards the LNP as they appear to be talking about SMEs more, but he’s not locked in.

“As with most small-business owners, a federal election doesn’t seem to count for much,” he tells SmartCompany.

“Generally, it means a slow down in business as it breeds a bit of uncertainty and decisions being put off for a few weeks by those we work with and work for.”

While support for the coalition appears to be higher among business owners, it hasn’t stopped many from adopting a pessimistic view, with MYOB finding at least 75% of businesses think the government is about to change.

Judy Sahay, managing director of Crowd Media Group, says she’ll be voting for the Liberal Party, citing their policies on tax relief, payment times and access to funding.

“Small businesses are the backbone of this nation and a political party that is backing SMEs is important,” she tells SmartCompany.

“Ideally, I will be voting for a party that will help SMEs with innovation, incubator programs, funding and export.”

SME influence by the numbers

At what COSBOA estimates is 14% of the national vote, small business remains an influential segment of the Australian electorate, particularly in some of Australia’s most marginal seats.

Strong has put the numbers together on how influential the small business vote is going to be in some of this election’s tightest contests, finding small-business owners can represent more than 20% of the vote in some areas.

In Wentworth, where independent Kerryn Phelps deposed the Liberal Party in a shock by-election last year, small business is 22.19% of the vote, COSBOA says.

In the recently renamed Victorian seat of MacNamara, where a three-way contest between Labor, Liberal and the Greens is shaping up, small business represents a whopping 28.33% of the vote.

Across the 20 most marginal seats in the country, small business represents at least 10% of the vote in 15 areas, including suburban, urban and metropolitan electorates.

Source: COSBOA.

What do you think about the upcoming election? Let us know: [email protected]

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Matthew Elmas

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

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