Tasmania votes: Here’s what Liberal and Labor are promising SMEs

Tasmania Peter Gutwein

Tasmania’s Premier Peter Gutwein. Source: AAP/Mick Tsikas

Tasmanians will head to the polls on Saturday to cast their votes in the state election.

Premier Peter Gutwein is vying for a majority Liberal government, against Labor opposition leader and member for Lyons, Rebecca White.

Both major parties have put forward a raft of new policies as part of their small business plans to boost the economy and win the favour of voters.

SmartCompany has broken down what each party is promising businesses in the state, and what the Tasmanian Small Business Council says will help most.

Liberal’s promises

If re-elected, the Gutwein Liberal government says it’s committed to refresh its business growth strategy to grow Tasmania’s 39,000-strong community of SMEs over the next four years.

As part of its small business plan, the Liberal party has pledged $8 million for the hospitality sector, and further investment in the Digital Ready business program.

Startups could benefit from a $2 million small business incubator and accelerator pilot program delivered by the private sector.

The no interest, micro business loan program would continue under a Gutwein majority government, with the Liberal party promising $75,000 per year to the initiative, which is currently run by No Interest Loans Scheme (NILS).

Gutwein has also has pledged $300,000 over three years for regional chambers of commerce, and $50,000 per year to the Tasmanian Small Business Council.

And, to encourage Tasmanians to undertake training, the Liberal Party will inject TasTAFE with a $98.5 million investment over the next four years, and a further $13.8 million investment in the Jobs Tasmania program.

Labor’s promises

If Labor secures a majority government on Saturday, it will spend $18 million to deliver its plan for small business.

The plan is centred around helping business operators upskill, providing access to legal support, assisting with the cost of compliance, and boosting business precincts in regional centres.

Through state-funded TAFE training, small businesses would be able to upskill in accounting, business planning, online marketing, and human resources.

If elected, a Labor government would also fund a free legal advice service for small business owners and sole traders to “support businesses through periods of change, enable innovation and foster job creation”.

To help businesses pay for red tape compliance, Labor will offset 50% of the cost for building upgrades, if they are required under the Building Code or Disability Discrimination Act.

Tourism, hospitality and arts businesses would also receive a boost in funding, with the opposition leader Rebecca White committing $33.4 million to those industries over the next four years. The funding will be spent on the Digital Ready program, as well as on grants, fee waivers and bill relief for tourism and hospitality businesses.

What the Tasmanian Small Business Council wants

The Tasmanian Small Business Council (TSBC) has put forward its own list of priorities for what it wants the next government to deliver.

These policies include changes to payroll tax and TasTAFE, greater transparency in government contracts, the abolition of the energy cross-subsidy, and small business counselling.

Speaking to SmartCompany, Robert Mallett executive officer of TSBC, noted it was a shame that neither party had committed to increasing the payroll tax threshold from $1.25 million to $1.5 million per year.

Mallett says while small businesses are gradually paying more wages, the threshold has not been adjusted to match that trend.

“If you’re a small business, you shouldn’t pay payroll tax,” he says.

Mallett is pleased the Liberal party has promised small businesses a financial counselling service. However, he says it doesn’t go far enough.

“I was hoping we could get a sizable program to triage small businesses in closing down or restructuring, so that those who want to or need to close down can do so with some dignity,” he says.

Finally, Mallett wants the Tasmanian government to abolish the electricity cross-subsidy that small businesses pay.

For some years Mallett has been lobbying the government to remove the 25% premium that SMEs pay on their energy bills for the first 500-kilowatt hours in each quarter, if they use the state-owned electricity supplier.

The government uses that premium to then subsidise the cost of hot water and hydro heat for residential use.

“We make lots of noise about it, all the time, and we’ll continue to do so until it gets taken away,” he says.

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