Business class warfare is “alive and well in Australia”, according to Peter Strong, executive director of the Council of Small Business of Australia.
Delivering a speech to the National Press Club today, Strong will take aim at the big end of town, from the supermarket “duopoly” and the retail union, to the nation’s largest shopping centre landlords.
Strong will even take a swipe at the Fair Work Commission to present his case that “too often decisions that affect us all are being made or manipulated by just a few institutions, businesses and individuals”.
“It isn’t big business versus small, it isn’t unions versus business, it is those who believe they are born to rule and those who are too big versus the other 96%,” Strong will say.
But there were some members of the small business community that will win praise from Strong, including Small Business Minister Bruce Billson.
“Last year was a good year for small business and for the future of the economy,” Strong will say.
“Bruce Billson … instituted many studies and reports that can create the more flexible, innovative economy that we need. He has focused on competition policy, contract law, regulator behaviour, franchising, financial services and red tape reduction among many other actions as part of the Ministerial Treasury team [that] presented a budget the likes of which had never been seen before”.
“There is much hope to be found with Billson.”
But Strong will tell the audience “there is more we can do”. Here are seven key take-outs from Strong’s speech:
On penalty rates:
Strong will open his speech with an anecdote from his time as a bookshop owner in Canberra. The story is about a young employee he referred to as Nathan, who offered to work for penalty rates of 150% on Sundays, instead of the double time mandated by the Fair Work Commission, if it meant Strong could continue to trade his business on Sundays.
“So I had a problem, an ethical problem,” Strong will say.
“Do I support Nathan and break the rules or follow the rules and let Nathan down? I chose to follow the rules due to my position in COSBOA but it made me think.”
“It seems that there is a group of people in Melbourne who know better than Nathan what Nathan should do and they believe Nathan is better off sitting at home doing nothing than earning time and half in my shop, even though that is what Nathan wants to do. They know best. Do we thank them for saving Nathan from his own stupidity?”
On the supermarket “duopoly” and the Shop Distributive and Allied Employees Association:
Strong will use his speech to take aim at the market dominance of the supermarket giants Coles and Woolworths, but he will also draw attention to the SDA, which is the largest union in Australia and draws 90% of its members from Wesfarmers and Woolworths owned businesses.
“The SDA fought long and hard to get double time on Sundays and then negotiated an agreement with Coles and Woolworths that saw their members receive time and half on Sundays,” Strong will say.
“A decision that mean small businesses didn’t open on Sundays, giving the duopoly greater market share and increasing SDA membership.”
“Simply put, our economic health is decided by these three organisations. If penalty rates stay high or increase with pay rises then many small businesses will close, at least on Sundays and public holidays. As a result, the duopoly will increase their share of the market place through attrition created by the actions of the SDA.”
On the Fair Work Commission:
“The Fair Work Commission … is a very elite institution,” Strong will tell the room.
“The FWC is a very large group of commissioners who lord it over all and sundry. They are akin to the old House of Lords. They do not like to take reality into account.”
On the big landlords:
“The biggest landlords are corporate parasites who manipulate urban planning processes so that their malls are the only place you can shop,” Strong will say
“At their whim they will organise streets to be made one-way, for car parks outside their malls to be moved under or next to their malls, and for bus stops to be moved closer to their entrances.”
“Do they contribute to our society beyond that? No.”
On the large mining companies:
While Strong will say mining companies do not have a direct negative impact on small businesses, he believes these companies and their owners are “very much the ruling class”.
“They basically dig fancy dirt and rock and send it away to be made into goods to be sent back to Australia,” he will say.
“We are led to believe that without them Australia would be a backwards economy. But they are only part of the economy, a part that is notoriously slow in paying their suppliers, on average over 50 days and some at 120 days. That isn’t good corporate behaviour”.
On the ACCC:
Strong will argue the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission was “also part of the ruling class and treated small business people with contempt” for a decade, but he will say this is now changing under the leadership of chairman Rod Sims, who he described as a “modern day William Wilberforce”.
“Rod Sims has brought professionalism, intellectual depth and a backbone to the ACCC, and don’t the ruling classes hate it,” Strong will say.
“Sadly I am sure that Rod Sims’ time will not be extended to two terms as those who believe they rule will want this metaphorical head removed with a metaphorical guillotine.”
On academics and economists:
Even the scholarly in our communities won’t escape Strong’s attention, especially economists, too many of whom he will argue “enjoy the debate as much as they ignore reality”.
“Men and women who believe the world should be run from a textbook and that the real world actually can’t exist because it makes no sense,” he will say.
“These academics believe in tooth fairies, flying pigs, that Elvis lives and that if pharmacy goes into the duopoly that everything will be fine.”