Chris Bowen speaks out but SMEs want action, not words

Two weeks after his appointment, Chris Bowen has finally spoken up as the country’s newest small business minister, but his criticism of the Coalition’s small business policies hasn’t been wholly accepted by the community he has been chosen to represent.


Small Business Minister Bowen has said the Coalition needs to get its act together when it comes to small business but industry leaders and lobbyists say they’re looking for reform on both sides of Parliament – and the two major parties share the blame.


In an article published by The Australian, Bowen says the Liberal Party has fallen away from its once-strong position of advocacy for small business, and argues the Coalition “takes small business for granted”.


Bowen even quotes the Council of Small Businesses of Australia, which said last year it remains concerned the Coalition will become complacent due to automatically earning the vote of small business.


But as it turns out, business leaders aren’t very happy with either party. While it is true SMEs in general favour the Coalition – a SmartCompany poll this month reveals just that – industry leaders say there is still work to be done before the election.


“We have to remember that 53% of self-employed people voted Labor in 2007,” says COSBOA chief executive Peter Strong. “We just want to make sure they all deliver good policies.”


“We don’t favour parties, but once bitten, twice shy. There are small business owners who feel they were taken for granted during the Howard years.”


Opposition small business spokesman Bruce Billson told SmartCompany this morning the article was an attempt to cover the fact Labor has no new policies ahead of the election, saying “there’s nothing in there”.


“The minister can make all the claims that he likes – they have little idea and very little interest in small business.”


Small business advocates have told SmartCompany they don’t want to see any more fighting between the parties – they want action. So we spoke to some this morning to get an idea of what changes they’d like to see before the election.


No matter what side of politics you support, whether it’s Chris Bowen or Bruce Billson for small business minister, these are the biggest policy reforms SMEs want to see before we head to the polls in September:


Contract law


There has been a lot of talk about contract law and provisions, but Peter Strong says he actually wants to see some decent reform.


“We want to see some work on this,” he says.


Red tape reduction


Although the Victorian government has already appointed a red tape commissioner, Australian Retailers Association executive director Russel Zimmerman says the federal government should go further.


“Tony Abbott has talked about a reduction in red tape before, and I’d say that’s an admirable thing to be looking for.”


Workplace relations


Of course, the big one – Fair Work. Most businesses are upset about the changes, but Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry chief executive Peter Anderson is particularly livid about last week’s changes to workplace flexibility laws.


“The government has reached a new low in this area, after last week without any consultation proposed four consecutive days of industrial relations changes designed to increase the rights of staff over work and family matters…but made no mention of the work and family pressures of a small business owner.”


Zimmerman agrees, saying “I’d have to be stark raving mad if I didn’t talk about Fair Work Australia”.




A number of organisations have been hounding both parties for details on tax proposals, but Zimmerman says whichever party wins power in September needs to start an urgent review of the GST system.


“That needs to be on the agenda. There needs to be an open review of the GST, and you have to look at a lot of things like payroll tax, and do a complete review of everything.”


As an aside, Zimmerman also said there needs to be some sort of action taken on the low-value import threshold.


Regulatory obligations


Plenty of small businesses complain about having to collect super and GST. Peter Anderson says both parties need to look at ways that can be relieved.


“Small businesses are burdened with compliance and regulatory obligations, some of which come from state and local governments.”


“A mechanism to deal with those in a serious way is essential and should be part of any small business platform.”


Read SmartCompany’s report card feature today on the Labor government’s parade of small business ministers.


This story first appeared on SmartCompany.


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