Election 2022: Why Peter Strong says this election will be won and lost on the economy

inflation wages election economy worker shortage small business workplace relations

Source: SmartCompany.

Here we are at week one of the 2022 election. What does the election mean for the self-employed and their businesses? What impact will they have on the outcome? What policies are going to count? 

The major parties announced their small business policies at the COSBOA National Small Business Summit last week. It is unusual to announce policies so early in a campaign, so it appears our votes are worth pursuing from day one. Nice. We can expect more announcements as we get closer to the date.

Both parties have good policies and have certainly used the right language in their announcements. They know we in small business land are people and we vote, and while the policies are not perfect and there are some things missing — including details — that is normal so early in an election.

It should be noted that, in my opinion, the self-employed actually make up a large number of swinging voters in the country.

At the 2007 election when Kevin Rudd became prime minister, we saw over 50% of the self-employed vote for Labor or the Greens. At the last election, the figures quoted to me are somewhere around 75% of the self-employed voted for the Coalition, while only 25% voted for the so-called ‘left’. That is a big difference.

I’m not surprised. In 2007 there was a general desire for change. Furthermore, many small business owners had heard the rhetoric from the previous Coalition government about the value of SMEs but had seen instead the growth and domination of big businesses like Coles and Woolworths. They had seen late payments burgeoning, and local planning laws and decisions favouring big developers. They had not seen any decrease in red tape or compliance — instead there had been increases —  and the Work Choices campaign was seen as a bigger issue for large businesses.

To confirm that view we need only look at the fact that long-term prime minister John Howard lost his seat of Bennelong. Some 18% of voters in that electorate were self-employed, and many, if not most, obviously did not vote for the incumbent prime minister.

When the Coalition eventually won in 2013 they appointed Bruce Billson as minister for small business and things changed for the better. The small business vote turned around for the Coalition.

Then in 2019, in a tight election expected to go to Labor, we saw a huge vote of confidence in the Coalition, or perhaps a lack of confidence in Labor. One key reason was because many small business people could not visualise a Labor government that understood their needs, and the needs of the economy. 

As always it is more complicated than that but the truth is small business people rely on a good economy. 

The economy comes first

This election will be about the economy and, in my opinion, elections always are. There are many who believe the personalities of the political leaders come into play in elections, and to a degree they do, but that expression often used around elections — ‘It’s the economy stupid’ — sums up the reality of the situation.

When both major parties are seen as relatively equal in their capacity to manage the economy then people, small business people as well, will vote on other issues.

Their vote will depend upon many things: their personal beliefs and ideology; their family situation; their age, their ethnicity; the type of business they own; the industry or industries they operate in; and so forth.

In my experience — based upon well over a decade of advocacy for small business people and being out in the streets and suburbs of Australia through connection with key industry associations — I believe many small business people will make their minds up much closer to the election than we are now.

And there is no doubt small business people will be a factor in deciding who runs the country after May 21, 2022.

So, what’s the election buzz?

The presentation of policies by the Minister for Small Business Stuart Robert and by the Shadow Minister Richard Marles were well received at the COSBOA event. Marles showed an understanding of what small business needs and presented the policies in our language. Robert revisited the small business measures announced in the budget a week before the summit, measures that were well received.

Yet there must be more. We have almost five weeks left and can expect further information and policies. Those at the COSBOA Summit mentioned a lack of focus on the debilitating shortage of workers that is having an impact right across businesses, industry and the economy.

Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese, who may be our next prime minister, hasn’t started well. His stumbling over the unemployment rate and the interest rate figures this week was unexpected and disappointing. It was pounced on by the government and Albanese received a lot of negative press. 

Scott Morrison had his own issues to do with integrity and his performance as Prime Minister. It’s interesting to note the issue for Labor is about economics, while the issue for the Coalition is about reliability and integrity.

Will it be an election where the economic credentials of Albanese and Labor are pitted against the honesty and integrity of the Coalition and Morrison? Two different issues. Both important. Let’s see what happens in the next week.

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