Small business calls for action at the Prime Minister’s Economic Forum, while tourism shuns invite

Small business representatives will be among the 130 leaders of Australian business, unions and the community at the Prime Minister’s Economic Forum taking place in Brisbane today and tomorrow, amid concern the forum will just be a talkfest.

The Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, is kicking the forum off with a keynote address to a dinner tonight. The forum continues tomorrow with five sessions, including Australia’s Patchwork Economy and the High Dollar, to be opened by Reserve Bank of Australia governor Glenn Stevens and federal Treasurer Wayne Swan.

The other sessions are Economic Transformation: Innovation and Collaboration, Investment in Productive Infrastructure, Building the Workforce: Skills and Education and Competition and Deregulation Reform Agenda.

The Prime Minister’s office said a key point of discussion at the forum would be that while Australia’s economy is among the world’s strongest, the sustained high level of the dollar and the “patchwork nature” of the economy meant that not all Australians were feeling the economic benefits.

Two members of the Council of Small Business Australia have been invited to attend the forum and executive director Peter Strong is a panel member for the Deregulation Reform Agenda.

“I will be talking about getting rid of red tape and a new focus for us is the need for local government to understand small business, especially when it comes to development applications,” says Strong.

Other items Strong will raise include assistance for small business with pathways into Asia, with a focus on destinations other than China.

“We are also talking about a web portal which will bring businesses together,” says Strong.

“The other thing coming up more and more is record keeping, as you need to keep records for an awfully long time and we need to streamline that.”

Strong told SmartCompany he hopes the economic forum will not just be all talk and no action.

“If I am turning up, I need to think positively. The fact we are talking is good and making things happen is the next step,” he says.

Strong says it is good that small business is represented at the forum, with the invitation list causing some controversy.

While the trade unions will be well-represented at the forum, with 15 unions expected to be sending delegates, Fairfax reports this is about three times the number of representatives from the minerals sector, whose most senior representative will be Rio Tinto managing director David Peever.

Besides the government ministers attending, among the few well-known identities will be the governor of the Reserve Bank, Glenn Stevens, and Westpac’s chief executive, Gail Kelly.

John Lee, chief executive of the Tourism and Transport Forum, has declined his invitation, saying the tourism industry has been treated unfairly in relation to other industries.

“It’s hard to reconcile the attacks on tourism contained within this year’s federal budget against the largesse provided to other industries, especially considering the numerous public acknowledgments by the Prime Minister and the Treasurer about the two-speed economy and the impact of the high dollar on tourism,” Lee says.

“I turned down an invitation from the Prime Minister to attend [the] Economic Forum because there were strings attached.

“Those strings were that I should keep quiet on these issues, which is not something I could do.

“As a result, tourism, the largest service export industry in Australia, will not be present at the table.”

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