Election 2022: Small business issues draw debate spotlight, but no new promises from Morrison or Albanese

debate small business

Anthony Albanese and Scott Morrison shake hands. Source: AAP/Jason Edwards.

A small business owner put Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese on the spot during the first election campaign debate, asking what both parties would do to help SMEs and sole traders after the May poll.

But neither leader outlined new policy positions or measures to assist business owners shut out of prior pandemic supports, instead falling back on existing measures and earlier campaign commitments.

Speaking at the Brisbane event on Wednesday night, cafe owner Daniel said his job servicing the airline industry withered as the pandemic grounded flights. Then, as a sole trader, he found himself ineligble for the JobKeeper wage subsidy.

“We were told that we should dip into our super, our future that we will no longer be able to attain if we draw down on it now,” Daniel told both leaders. “So, moving forward into the endemic phase of COVID-19, what is your plan to help small business, sole traders, and microbusinesses moving forward?”

Morrison was first off the blocks, pointing to existing tax cuts and the instant asset write-off.

“Well, first of all, we’ve cut taxes for small business, down to 25%,” he said, referring to a reduction to the company tax rate legislated well before the election kicked off.

“Second of all we’ve provided the instant asset write off, and that means if you go and spend on a new piece of equipment, a coffee machine, a fridge, a new machine in your toolkit. Then you can write that off, 100%. And so we’ve lowered taxes for small businesses, because it is tough.”

In its 2022-2023 federal budget, the Coalition government elected not to extend the instant asset write-off, meaning the policy will end in June 2023.

The Prime Minister did flaunt a newer proposal: the pledge to provide 20% bonus tax deductions for business expenditure on tech upgrades and digital training for staff.

However, the Australian Taxation Office notes such bonus tax deductions on training only apply to employees, meaning sole traders like Daniel would likely be ineligible to claim courses they undertook themselves.

Morrison obliquely referred to a proposal to lower the Pay-As-You-Go (PAYG) ‘uplift’ rate from 10% to 2%, meaning businesses will be able to reduce their quarterly PAYG installments.

“Because for small businesses, it’s all about cashflow. Keeping more of what they earn, so they can invest it back in their business.”

Albanese said his party supported the company tax cuts and the instant asset-write off, but did not commit to extending the measure.

Instead of outlining new policies to bolster small businesses, Albanese rested on the foundation of the party’s economic framework: a promise to lift wages by boosting the number of workers with TAFE and university qualifications.

“We think that in terms of taking pressure off your small business, what we need to is to have a plan as well to lift wages throughout the economy,” he said.

“One of the things that is happening, if people don’t have enough money to spend, they can’t afford to go to the local cafe, they cut back, and that’s one of the things we’re seeing that’s holding back our economy.”

Both leaders butted heads over Morrison’s recent declaration his government, if re-elected, would pursue a suite of industrial relations reforms it was forced to dump in 2021.

Among those abandoned measures was a planned suspension of the Better Off Overall Test (BOOT), a measure the Fair Work Commission uses to determine if an enterprise bargaining agreement would leave workers in a worse spot than an underlying industry award.

Early last year, the Coalition suggested suspending the test could assist businesses whose profitability was damaged by the COVID-19 pandemic, but a harsh response from Labor and the crossbench saw the measure slashed from the final bill.

“If you’re getting rid of the better off overall test, it means you don’t want people to be better off overall,” Albanese said. “It’s pretty common sense, really.”

But Morrison said his re-commitment to industrial relations reform didn’t extend to certain “emergency measures” included in its doomed ‘omnibus’ bill.

“There were some emergency measures that were only for that time,” Morrison said, referring to the BOOT tweaks. “They’re no longer applying, and they’re not part of our forward agenda.”

40% of undecided voters present at the debate said Albanese won the contest, with 35% giving points to Morrison.

Small business owner Daniel, who sparked the commentary over company support measures, appeared unimpressed with the responses from both leaders.

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