SME pollies face a policy pickle

The disgraceful, shameful, reprehensible comments made by broadcaster Alan Jones about the late father of Prime Minister Julia Gillard have provided a stark reminder of the terrible state of public debate in this country.

Nobody – in public life, in private life, in the workplace or in the pub – should have to cop something so hurtful. Of course, that those comments could be directed at the Prime Minister of this country simply beggars belief.

The Jones’ disgrace also makes you wonder where the political debate is going to head as we get closer to next year’s election.

But I’m very pleased to say that in our neck of the woods – the small business space – I think we can expect the debate to be dominated by policy and not crap.

Over the last month or so, both the Federal Minister for Small Business Brendan O’Connor and his Liberal opposite number Bruce Billson have been in the SmartCompany offices for a chat and a catch-up.

The good news is that regardless of what you think of their party’s policies, we should have two very impressive advocates for the SME community putting their case at the 2013 poll.

O’Connor and Billson are passionate about small business and have a thorough grasp of both the challenges small businesses face and the realities of government’s ability to meet those challenges.

While both are also very adept at toeing the party line and staying on message, they’ve both had a hand in pushing for some important reforms, including getting the small business minister in Cabinet and the introduction of a federal small business commissioner. (Yes, there are some differences between their precise policies in these areas, but the themes are the same).

But I reckon both men are facing a big – and identical – challenge coming into the next election: Can they come up with some bold new small business policies given the extraordinarily tight budget position both sides will need to deal with?

Not surprisingly, both men were keeping the policy powder dry until the election gets closer, but themes such as regulation, access to finance and the inevitable cutting of red tape will be high on the agenda.

Some changes in these areas will be low cost, but others will be more expensive, particularly if the regulatory change is large.

Both Labor and the Coalition are likely to face close scrutiny over the costing of election promises and you do wonder if this will lead them to spend more in what they see as big vote-grabbing areas like education and health.

If that’s the case, there might not be much left in the theoretical election promises kitty for Billson and O’Connor.

I hope I’m wrong, because I think they both have some good ideas bubbling away. But it looks certain they’ll need to find creative ways to get them over the line, both internally and for SME voters.


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