“All politics is local”: Eight ways small business owners can make sure they stay on Labor’s agenda

Parliament House small business owners

As the nation waits to see our new Parliament sworn in, many of us relax into thinking by voting we’ve done our civic duty. We sit back, throw our hands in the air (or together in prayer) and hope for the best.

Hoping for the best is not a plan for any business, and the business of policy is no exception. Now is the time for SMEs and startups to plan for policy input.

There has been a perception in the past that conservative governments are more focused on SME and enterprise development; this has traditionally been the Coalition’s base. There was on focus on “hope, reward and opportunity”, which spoke to enterprising Australians. Many Coalition MPs themselves came from a background of business or being sole traders. There have been positive developments and focus on enterprise since 2013, and it’s easy to worry about a change of government — and what that will mean for SMEs.

Those of us listening carefully to new Prime Minister Anthony Albanese would have noticed there were mentions of the mighty trade union movement, but no mention of SMEs or startups in the victory speech.

It is up to each of us to keep SMEs and startups on the new government’s agenda. We each have a responsibility to keep small businesses, enterprises and startups a policy priority.

As a former senior advisor in the small business portfolio and a current business owner, these are the steps I know we should all be taking:

  1. Be strategic. Do not read this and then rush into contacting the offices and staff in the next two weeks; it is a big transition and emails can get lost or put on a long to-do list. However, it is important to be strategic and start to plan now. Make sure you have your contacts updated. Who is your local MP? What is their best contact? And make sure you’re elevator pitch is local and updated.
  2. Reach out to those on the way out.  If you have Coalition government contacts or a local member that is leaving, I would use this week to reach out to them and keep those contacts strong. Find out their new contact details before they’re deleted from the system. Opposition is a dark hell for most, but good advocacy and awareness work can still be done from the shadow cabinet or as an agitating local MP.
  3. Do your research. Richard Marles was shadow minister for small business, but being sworn in as Defence Minister on Monday will probably exclude him from the portfolio. When the new minister is announced, keep an eye out and find out what their experience and interests have been.
  4. Make yourself known. As soon as the office structure is settled, get online and find a contact in the minister’s office and send your details. The office will be looking to make new connections for advisory boards and photo opportunities. It should be important for the new minister to be making strong industry contacts and let’s be honest, they will need a database of businesses they can attend when they need a photoshoot to show they’re getting to work! This can become a good reputational or free PR event for your business if you can provide a great story or photo for a ministerial visit.
  5. All politics is local. If the minister for small business turns out to be your local member, all the better for you and your business. Make contact with their local office in the next month and position yourself as a great local business contact. Explain your business if they do not already know you or your business, and ask for a meeting in the next few months. A good local member should be across their local business, but let’s give them the benefit of the doubt and make contact. Often it’s hard to juggle the responsibilities of a portfolio and the needs of a local electorate, so having local SME contacts is very fortuitous for the minister.
  6. It’s not just ministers that matter. Even if your local member isn’t a minister or junior minister it is important your local member knows you — any backbencher will tell you, they’re just as important! Contact the office, make them aware of you and build a relationship with their electorate officer. All the better if you have a brand new MP as your local — be proactive and get them when they’re fresh and eager! There is a lot to get across as a new MP, and many competing interests, so make an effort with them.
  7. Offer before you ask. Offer any help you can by giving them great local information — be it a connection to your local chamber of commerce if they’re not already connected, or a tour of your factory or co-working space. Make sure the office becomes aware of your concerns, hopes and ambitions for your business. Make sure you’re on their email list, so when new grants and schemes are announced, you know as soon as they are. It does not matter if you did not vote for your local MP or if you oppose their ideology, now is the time to build a relationship for your benefit.
  8. Keep in contact. Even if you’ve done all the right and welcoming things, a new local MP or a new minister can take a while to find the right groove, find reliable trusted contacts and case studies, and learn how to get the right information. They may only be relying on departmental advice — and that does not make for innovative, fit for purpose policy — so keep making contact with their office. Every time you have a great business or local story, every time you have a new local hire, every successful big pitch — let them know. It isn’t annoying, it is good content.

Finally, I want to give a big tip to those of you in the fortunate business stage of needing good policy, government relations or communication staff. There are no better new hires than those who have been in government and are seeking new opportunities in enterprise. They are well versed in working hard, and they have great contacts throughout industry and media. It is often an untruth that they can’t work with governments of other politics, in fact, they may have strong connections forged over the coffee line at Aussies at Parliament House.

Here is to us all playing a role in good policy. The more we are involved, the better it will be.

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