Government chases big productivity goals, but SMEs want the little things

The federal government is turning its attention a “productivity” agenda, but one of Australia’s most prominent retail figures says there’s a lot of work to do to secure the nation’s economic future.

Premier Investments founder Solomon Lew told an audience at an Australia Israel Chamber of Commerce last week that Australia had wasted the proceeds of the mining boom while critical issues like penalty rates still have not been resolved, according to the Herald Sun.

Lew said the Australia’s current industrial relations system has “no apparent link to productivity”.

The words came in the same week that the Productivity Commission released its terms of reference for its productivity review, which will take a broad look at Australia’s economy and make an assessment of “the settings for productive investment in human and physical capital”, over the next five years.

But while innovation and reform are key drivers of the federal government, SMEs are concerned about issues on a smaller scale. Businesses are still waiting to see whether the Fair Work Commission will make a decision to alter Sunday penalty rates and may have to wait until Christmas trading in December this year for an answer.

Meanwhile, many are anxious about cashflow and how to make a final exit from their business, with close to half not planning their retirements before the age of 50. 

Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman Kate Carnell told SmartCompany while a deep dive into Australia’s productivity was necessary in the long term, this inquiry should not be an excuse for other levels of government to simply stop working on measures to help small business.

“We have to make sure that the government doesn’t see this as a reason to do nothing,” Carnell says.

“I don’t think there’s any quick fixes in this space, it does require in-depth work – that doesn’t mean that governments at all levels should say ‘we’re doing that [inquiry], so we’re doing nothing [else].”

Australian businesses are still hanging out for details on taxation reform for those with turnovers under $10 million, while the lack of a decision on penalty rates is frustrating particularly for those in hospitality, Carnell says.

“Front and centre, what makes workplaces productive is workplace relations. Where Australia will be slipping behind include the workplace relations system,” she says.

And while the federal government is enthusiastic about innovation and a drive towards budget reform, the actual day-to-day regulations that SMEs face come from smaller government bodies.

“It really tends to be about state governments and local council regulations,” Carnell says.

The inquiry into Australia’s long term productivity is now taking public submissions and will report in September 2017 and then be conducted in five year reviews. The government will respond to the recommendations after they are tabled in parliament in 2017.

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