Minding Abbott’s business

Today’s opinion polls had mixed results for the Liberal Party. While they are closing the gap on Rudd’s Labor Government on a two-party-preferred basis, Tony Abbott’s ranking as preferred prime minister isn’t improving.

The polls were released as The Australian newspaper reported that the Coalition is considering softening its previous stance on improving unfair dismissal laws for small business.

According to the report, which cites unnamed “senior Coalition sources”, the Opposition is now looking at limiting the exclusion from unfair dismissal laws to businesses with up to five full-time equivalents, after Tony Abbott had previously said he wanted to exempt businesses with up to 20 staff.

That’s a big comedown and one that won’t exactly please the SMEs who the Coalition considers to be its core constituency. According to the report, the plan is part of a strategy to neutralise any Government attack against the Opposition on IR.

However, this is the latest in a number of little whacks Tony Abbott and his team have delivered the business community in the last few months.

First there was the maternity leave plans, which would see businesses of a certain size slugged with a levy to fund a parental leave scheme that would give employees six months leave on full pay (up to $150,000).

While it will be mainly big business slugged, mediums-sized private companies, particularly fast-growing ones, could also be hit under such a plan. Not exactly a brilliant incentive to grow.

And last week, Shadow Treasurer Joe Hockey took aim at the role business leaders take in setting the national agenda.

“I am concerned about the handout mentality in business. In part, it has made some business leaders far more quiet in the public policy sense than they should be,” Hockey said in response to a question following a speech in Brisbane.

“We don’t, sadly, anymore hear of a lot of business leaders who are prepared to stand up and take a public policy position on industrial relations, or taxation or national savings.”

“They are muted voices, or they hide behind the industry associations. And I think that is a great cost to the nation.”

We’re not sure exactly which business leaders Hockey was talking about, but to accuse any entrepreneur or executive of having effectively been bought off by Government grants or assistance is, quite frankly, more than a little offensive.

It’s hard to see what strategy Abbott is using in trying to connect with business voters. Perhaps the Coalition feels they don’t need to worry too much about courting business, as they will always vote for the Coalition in the end.

But Kevin Rudd’s big win in the 2007 elections suggests business voters are far less rusted onto the Coalition than many think – and Abbott is unlikely to be winning many new business votes right at the moment.

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