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Nicholas Way

SmartCompany /

Labor has a small-business ace up its sleeve and just the man to make the play.

The Emerson factor

As Labor settles down this year under Kevin Rudd to make a fight of the upcoming federal election, the small business community would be well-advised to keep a close eye on Craig Emerson, the Queensland economist turned politician who has responsibility for small business, the service economy and independent contractors.

Until Rudd secured the leadership late last year, the talented Emerson was sitting on the back bench, a victim of Labor’s idiotic factional system. (Queensland union boss Bill Ludwig had Emerson banished to the political wilderness for daring to vote for Mark Latham.)

Although Emerson did not have a shadow portfolio under Bomber Beazley’s leadership, he hasn’t been wasting his time since the 2004 election. He has been a prolific contributor to newspapers, has addressed seminars and given myriad speeches and interviews, tossing up ideas on welfare, tax, education, an ageing population — you name a domestic issue and Emerson typically has an intelligent thought on the matter.

This is good news for small business. Unlike some of his Labor colleagues, Emerson is not wedded to the corporatist troika of big business, big unions and big government. He knows 1.2 million small businesses and 1.9 million independent contractors are critical to the economy (and Labor’s chance of winning the next election) and will want to design policies accordingly. Rudd, a fellow Queenslander, would know this is also a welcome sign.

What small business now has to do is get into Emerson’s ear and make sure those policies are aligned with their interests. It will not be easy. On matters such as industrial relations (unfair dismissal laws/individual contracts) they will have to lobby long and hard to get their views heard and accepted.

No doubt on some issues small business will lose the day. That’s politics. But at least they now have an Opposition spokesperson who appreciates their worth to the economy and has the intelligence to devise policies accordingly. It’s not a bad start.

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