Small business issues were not high on the agenda at Labor’s national conference over the weekend, in stark contrast to Opposition Leader Bill Shorten’s budget reply speech where the he promised a 5% tax cut for small companies and called for greater funding for STEM skills.
While the 2015 ALP Conference saw delegates vote in favour of reviewing the party’s socialist objective, the economy largely took the back seat while the conference grappled with issues such as marriage equality and asylum seekers.
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Delegates voted in favour of continuing the party’s conscience vote on same-sex marriage until 2016, as well as allowing a Labor government to turn back asylum seeker boats to Indonesia.
Peter Strong, chief executive of the Council of Small Business of Australia, told SmartCompany he was disappointed the national summit did not do more to address the issues facing small business but said Labor had been putting forward some good policies for small business owners.
“I believe we are part of their broader strategy,” Strong says.
“The national small business summit speech and the budget – it’s a bit hard to say they’re backing down from anything. But the Labor party still has a lot of people who still have to confront the issue of small business; a lot of them still don’t get it.”
“There are certainly people in both parties that don’t get it, but with what Bruce Billson is doing the Liberals are too far ahead.”
Strong says he would have liked to have seen a dedicated summit session on small business in order to “bring the rest of the party along” with the positive steps he has seen from Bill Shorten.
These include promising a 5% company tax cut for small business, along with a $500 million investment fund for potential high-growth companies.
Labor also wants digital technologies – such as computer science and coding – to be taught in every primary and secondary school in order to prepare students for the jobs of the future.
While the conference had a dedicated side-event for technology and innovation, Strong says it is important that the needs of startups and small business don’t get mixed up.
However he says Labor should be congratulated for showing a willingness to engage with the small business backbone of Australia’s economy.
“We’ve had more focus from Labor than we have had from Labor ever,” Strong says.
“We had some good stuff under Brendan O’Connor when he was small business minister – we got the [small business] commissioner put in place and some good stuff in the budget. But there are still people in the party that don’t get it. Whether the unions like it or not, the jobs are going to come out of small business, they’re not going to come out of the mining or the big end of town. We all know that.”