The “no” position

Small and medium enterprises will face many challenges over the next couple of years as federal and state governments recognise that the Australian public will be cleaved into two very different, tribal frames of mind.

These national uncertainties can be summarised in two cultural responses: those that want to “stop the boats” and those that want to “stop the job losses”.

Both play on fears that Australian business and consumer confidence cannot cope with global challenges.

We are also heading for a clash of household cultures. There will be those that belong to the tribe of past success and then those that belong to the tribe of political historic associations. International relations theorist Samuel Huntington argues this will be along xenophobic lines — those who are afraid of migrants and those who want to strengthen our borders against foreign workers.

He argues that the fault-line “conflicts” are on a local level and occur between adjacent states belonging to different civilizations or within states that are home to populations from different civilizations. Under this perspective, those that see the future negatively will support bringing home our troops from Afghanistan and placing them along our coast facing Indonesia.

Under this scenario the next 18 months will see the leaders of “no position” schools play upon insecurities and appeals to restoring the integrity of our national heritage and the White Australia mentality of a previous century.

Not that this will be so openly racist, but rather presented as a clarion call to “protect our traditions”. We can expect AMWU National Secretary David Oliver to take over the top job at the ACTU with a promise to more aggressively push for protection of Australian jobs.

The first “no position” call comes from those from the “curb the future” school of fiscal discipline and indecision that fails to appreciate small business as not only the source of two-thirds of new jobs but also the transition path to new technologies, innovation, creativity and entrepreneurship.

Faced with a battle to be seen as the better managers of yesterday’s manufacturing economy and industrial unionism, “no position” advocates will foster protectionist, means-tested, subsidies for big-end-of-town commitments that focus on stopping job losses rather than creating conditions that generate new ones.

The alternative “no position” comes from those from the “leave it to us” school of infrastructure, quarry, farm and beaches lobbies that will seek to transfer our wealth into the hands of futures fund managers, superannuation industry heavies and treasury boffins. They want to keep interest rates high and have a pool of about two million under and unemployed workers to curb inflation and promote high levels of foreign investment.

Neither of these tribal responses to change will see the RBA view investment in smart companies as the “yes position” required to address the challenge of change.

Glenn Stevens and his deputies believe in a national economy that has to accept the Phillips Curve mentality that relies on keeping a pool of under-employed workers as a threat to the union aspirations.

Only with a revitalised position that commits to removing fear of “them” politics and a real appreciation of Julia’s enigmatic call for “we are us”, can we have a national debate that puts independent contractors, small business and full employment at the top of our national agenda.

We need to adopt a ‘yes position’ that promotes social inclusion, cut out payroll tax and other barriers to full employment and foster ICE (innovation, creativity and entrepreneurship) breaking.


This column represents a hello and a goodbye as it heads to SmartCompany’s new sister site, LeadingCompany, next month upon my return from a visit to Shanghai. I will continue to address the positive challenges of change and futures for smart companies in this blog at LeadingCompany.


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