Bipartisanship lifts the bar

Opposition small business spokesman Bruce Billson isn’t happy – he thinks the Federal Government is knocking off all his good ideas.

“The Gillard government punishes small business with its own policies by introducing the world’s largest carbon tax but then tries to make out it’s the friend of small business by photocopying the Coalition’s policies,” Bruce thundered yesterday in a media statement.

Billson claims that in the last five months, the Labor government has copied four of the small business policies that the Coalition took to the last election, specifically:

  • The promise to put the Small Business Minister in Cabinet
  • The promise to create a national small business commissioner
  • Reduce red tape
  • Improve government payment terms for SMEs

The last policy initiative was announced yesterday, when Small Business Minister Brendan O’Connor and Finance Minister Penny Wong revealed changes to payment processes will mean that government agencies that fail to pay within 60 days will automatically pay interest to the SME, instead of the current process whereby SMEs have to bill the agency for interest payments. Not surprisingly, many don’t.

What a breakthrough, eh? The big bad government will do the right thing and pay interest automatically where they’ve kept a small business waiting TWO MONTHS for payment.

No, it’s not exactly earth-shattering reform, but let’s not be ungrateful – if it helps SMEs that’s a good thing. And as Wong and O’Connor did say in their statement, 97.7% of agencies do pay on time, we shouldn’t be too critical.

But let’s get back to Bruce Billson. Does he have a point? Has the Labor government cherry-picked some good ideas?

While the Federal Government hasn’t given poor old Bruce any credit, it certainly does appear that it has picked up some key parts of the Opposition’s SME policy platform and run with them.

The red tape and the payment process reform are the real low hanging fruit here, so Billson probably doesn’t have too much to whinge about.

But there is no question that the Coalition was the first to flag the idea of the small business commissioner and it certainly was promising to put the Minister in Cabinet well before the last election. O’Connor only made it to the front bench a few months ago.

Still, all’s fair in love and politics, isn’t it? You might have thought that Billson was happy to see what are really positive ideas finally implemented – although you can understand why he would like a bit of credit.

The bipartisan policy swapping does leave the Coalition and Labor with a bit of challenge though – they are both going to need to come up with new policies before next year’s federal election.

Bruce Billson might not exactly be happy about it, but the bar has been lifted and SMEs now expect some more serious reform.

So to O’Connor and Billson, well done on your joint efforts – I think all SMEs are pleased to see the new commissioner and an SME voice in Cabinet.

But it’s time to head back to the policy drawing board. We suggest starting with a federal-led attack on state payroll tax and going from there.

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