Freshly minted Small and Family Business Minister Michaelia Cash has pushed the importance of vocational education and training (VET) for Australian SMEs and turned the government’s policy spotlight to digitisation and cyber security, but she says big business tax cuts are still “good policy”.
Speaking to SmartCompany exclusively at the COSBOA National Small Business Summit in Sydney today, Cash reinforced the importance of small business and VET being brought together under one portfolio, as she believes the two areas are symbiotic.
“Job creators in our country, one of the issues they face is access to employees who have real job skills. VET gives you the practical on the job training you need,” she says.
“When you talk about addressing skill shortages, having the practical skills from vocational education gets you into the job on day one — and that’s the sort of experience a small businessperson is looking for.”
Cash also spoke to increasing the profile and reputation of VET and claimed Australians no longer give VET “the respect it should get”.
“When I was in Year 10 you could leave and do an apprenticeship, but now everyone’s been told you have to leave school in year 12 and go to university. It actually needs to be the student’s choice,” she says.
Bringing small business back into cabinet has been viewed by industry figures and commentators as a decision by the federal government to refocus back on the SME sector — a sector now of increasing importance to the government after it lost its battle to bring in corporate tax cuts for companies with more than $50 million in annual turnover.
But Cash disputes this, saying small business “always has been, always should be, and always will be” in the DNA of a Coalition government. She says a focus on the sector is something the government has been upfront about from “day one”, especially around the area of job creation.
“Small businesses in Australia create millions of jobs, they’re the engine room of the economy. When you look at big business, they often have to let go of employees, where small businesses are growing their employees,” Cash says.
“So this is a deliberate focus on the engine room of the Australian economy, and we’re backing small business every step of the way.”
However, cutting taxes is also part of the Coalition’s ‘DNA’, says Cash, reinforcing it’s something the government will always believe in. Just because the government couldn’t pass the legislation to bring down the company tax rate for larger businesses “doesn’t mean it’s not good policy”, says Cash.
Cutting tax for small business is especially important she believes, as it’s “economics 101” that businesses will invest tax cuts back into their business.
Digitisation and cyber security a focus
In an earlier speech to the summit, Cash reinforced the government’s commitment to cutting red tape, maintaining low taxes, and ensuring businesses are paid on time to help Australian SMEs “kick goals”.
However, Cash said she’s also keen to draw on her previous experience as the government’s Innovation Minister to put a focus on the digitisation of small business, along with helping businesses beef up their cyber security forces.
“The focus does really need to be on digitisation and cyber security. A number of businesses are online but there’s still a lot that aren’t online, and those who go online aren’t actually sure if they’ve done the right thing when it comes to cyber security,” she says.
“So a great policy focus of mine is how we bring it all together for small business, and even though there’s a lot of programs out there, many businesses aren’t sure what to focus on.
“Look at the benefits to business of utilising technology — they are there. Enabling small and family business to access the knowledge economy, for me, has to be a major focus for the government.”
This focus will draw on much of Cash’s experience in the innovation portfolio — a portfolio that was lost in the most recent reshuffle and relegated to being under the umbrella of Industry, Science and Technology. Cash disagrees that innovation has taken a backseat, saying it is “absolutely still a focus” for the government.
$20,000 instant asset write-off
In her speech to the summit, Cash said one of the government’s most recent policy wins for small business was extending the $20,000 instant asset write-off another 12 months. However, as of today, the legislation has still not been passed through the Senate.
Cash acknowledges this and says it’s something she’s “absolutely committed” to, saying the write-off is good policy that allows for reinvestment in small business across the country.
However, the Minister refused to say if the government would implement the popular policy permanently, something business leaders have been asking for for years. Instead, she said she would bring it up with the Prime Minister and Treasurer.
“My vision for small business is that every small business needs to have the opportunity to be a medium sized business, and every medium sized business needs to have the opportunity to become a big business, if they want to,” she says.
“The government needs to put in place the enabling environment to let that happen.”