Peter Strong: What happens to small business after the election?

inflation wages election economy worker shortage small business workplace relations

Source: SmartCompany.

History shows us that one of the first responses to any election result comes from financial markets. Traditionally if Labor wins, the Australian stock market will drop, then it normally recovers when it sees that Labor isn’t going to destroy the economy. When the Coalition wins, the stock market traditionally goes up, and then drops again when it sees that nothing much has changed — although the market is quite volatile at the moment, so it is likely to drop no matter who wins.

But the real issues for the election are indeed about the unknowns, and how those affect the way small business people think and plan (and vote).

As Saturday’s poll quickly approaches, the three big issues for small business are:

  1. The cost of doing business is rising. Think petrol, electricity, cost of goods, loan repayments, rent and wages;
  2. The worker shortage is a huge problem for businesses. Not only can business not find workers, but neither party has an answer. They could, for example, be activating the ‘grey workforce’ and opening doors to immigrants fully; and
  3. Supply chain issues. It is not just construction. Many sectors are affected by the lack of basic products and the threat of future shortages (such as Adblue in the transport sector) plays on business owners minds.

To confront all these issues there is an underpinning process that will create an increase in productivity or not. The industrial relations system is broken and that has been talked about ad nauseum — we need to do something.

Another key factor that affects those three big issues is the damaging effect of the spate of natural disasters over the last three years: the Queensland floods, NSW mid-north coast fires, Christmas 2019 fires in five states, Canberra ice storm in Feb 2020, COVID-19, floods in 2021 and 2022 (NSW and Queensland).

So resilience and business survival against this backdrop has taken its toll. Small business owners are seriously fatigued — and this election has added to that.

What the election result will mean for small business

The future behaviour of the small business community — particularly those that employ others — will depend on who wins on the weekend.

If it is Labor, many business plans will be put on the backburner as business waits to see if employment becomes even more difficult and if the economy (including inflation rates) is managed well.

There is not a lot of reason for hope, as the Fair Work Commission’s recent decision on domestic violence leave shows. It was disappointing as the cost of leave should be met by government, through an agency like Centrelink, and not by a small business individual who now becomes collateral damage of another person’s appalling behaviour.

It becomes another reason not to employ someone. Why did the unions and others not seek a government-funded solution that involves expert people from community groups?

Anthony Albanese has promised to focus on what is good for small business in the industrial relations arena. That must mean simplicity.

Simplicity is about fewer different types of leave, not more, and fewer rules rather than the current set of ambiguous awards that leave employers and employees in confusion and fear — and too often in conflict or in a situation of poor trust due to confusing rules, not poor behaviour.

On the other hand, if the Coalition wins, it will quickly start cutting government spending.

The government has already said it will slash spending on the federal public service.

Any small business in communities that have high numbers of federal public servants will be concerned about what that means.

It is not just Canberra that relies on the federal public service; there are significant numbers in places such as Penrith, Perth, Gippsland and more. 

The good business people, if they have time, will be prepared for any election result, but not everyone can predict exactly what the winning political party will do.

I will report back after the election, until then vote well. And for those that like elections, enjoy the night.

Also, best of luck to all the good candidates — you know who you are. Craig Kelly, in case you are confused, you are not one of the good candidates.

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