Prime Minister Anthony Albanese was today sworn into office, kicking off the tenure of his Labor government.
After nine years of Coalition leadership, Labor’s ascendancy could offer a new take on small business policy.
Sensing the potential for a shake-up in Canberra, business groups including the Council of Small Business Organisations Australia (COSBOA), the Australian Retailers Association (ARA), and the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (ACCI) have now outlined their policy priorities.
Worker shortages, inclusivity, and equality
The shortage of qualified labour across industry sectors remains a key concern.
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“The first priority must be ending the most acute labour and skill shortages in 48 years,” ACCI chief executive Andrew McKellar said.
“Small businesses cannot afford for the next federal government to drag its heels on growing Australia’s workforce.”
The ARA also circled labour and skills shortages as a top five priority, while COSBOA called for the incoming government to eliminate “barriers” between employers and their potential employees, “such as negative impacts on tax, access to benefits, and pension”.
Workplace and wage equality remain key issues too, with the ARA calling on Labor to “advance social and economic outcomes” alike.
The party pledged a broad reworking of the temporary visa system, opening another pathway for migrants to become permanent residents. It has also backed the Coalition’s 2022-23 federal budget pledge to provide bonus tax rebates to small businesses investing in tech training, a move warmly welcomed by employers.
However, the crux of its skills platform rests on its free-free TAFE plan, which will take years to come up to speed.
Inflation and supply chain certainty
The cost of doing business is surging, led by the price of materials, fuel, and power (plus some labour, as mentioned above).
The ARA has called for further supply chain resilience, to avoid the kind of shocks faced by local retailers battling delays caused by COVID-19 backlogs and natural disasters.
Recent data from Xero shows 23.7% of surveyed businesses considered supply chain constraints a key concern.
Likewise, COSBOA says the incoming government must “address the criticality of supply chain issues and the impact they are having on small business’ input costs”.
The small business sector is waiting for more detail on how Labor’s $15 billion National Reconstruction Fund and $1 billion advanced manufacturing scheme will operate, with an eye to how they could bolster Australia’s self-sufficiency.
The loss of key Liberal Party electorates to ‘teal’ independents — including the all-but-certain defeat of former treasurer Josh Frydenberg in Melbourne’s Kooyong — showed how seriously affluent, inner-city suburbs take the issue of climate change.
Meanwhile, regional centres are still recovering from devastating flooding across Queensland and northern New South Wales, to say nothing of businesses decimated by the 2019 bushfire season.
COSBOA ranked disaster preparedness as a key concern for small businesses, noting Labor’s $200 million per year pledge to boost disaster resilience, and simplify emergency payment schemes for impacted businesses.
As insurance premiums rise, COSBOA says Labor’s policy platform “recognises the role insurance plays in this policy area”.
“We are keen to advance collaboration with the new government around climate action,” ARA chief executive Paul Zahra said in a statement.
“Retailers are already well underway in their plans to address challenges within key areas such as energy use, food and textile waste, supply chain transparency and the circular economy. We need deeper and stronger integration with government plans in all these areas.”
Labor campaigned on a promise to ensure multinational corporations pay their fair share of tax, a move the party said would assist in “leveling the playing field for Australian businesses”.
However, the small business community is keen to find its own tax cuts, on top of the promise to crack down on the big end of town.
Approximately 17% of businesses with a turnover between $1 million and $5 million listed company tax cuts as an election priority, according to data compiled for business financier ScotPac.
Even more important for the sector: another extension of the instant asset write-off scheme. Around 22% of SMEs surveyed called the policy an election priority, before its expiration in mid-2023.
Small businesses are also keen to see simplified BAS reporting and compliance systems, minimising the time business owners spend on administrative duties.
Labor policy documents claim the party will “drive a genuine collaboration with small businesses and government to reduce the time small businesses spend doing taxes, cut paperwork and target support”.
While the Coalition’s ‘stage three’ tax cuts are supported by Labor, COSBOA described its overall tax policy as “very vague” for small businesses.
Competition, procurement, and payments reform
The small business sector wants to improve its dealings with big business and government alike.
COSBOA is crystal clear on its approach to competition regulation: the peak body wants enhanced powers for the ACCC, allowing it to “impose greater conditions on
acquisitions to protect competition in the market”.
Beyond shielding small business from the economic clout of multinationals, COSBOA wants to increase the proportion of government contracts held by SMEs.
Labor has pledged some support in this regard, with its Buy Australian Plan focused on “decoding and simplifying procurement processes” for small and medium enterprises.
Labor has presented its own plan to protect small businesses.
On top of its big business tax compliance agenda, Labor plans to institute a mechanism ensuring payments to SMEs are made within 30 days, improving cashflow to smaller enterprises.
As a bonus, Labor has also committed to least-cost routing, enabling small businesses to chose the cheapest payment processing option available when processing transactions.