In her National Press Club Speech last week the Prime Minister stated that she wanted the focus to be on policy, so that the electors, when it came time to vote, would have at their fingertips the policies, with Costings, of both parties, so that they could make an informed choice when they cast their vote.
So it is in this spirit that I am going to devote some of my posts this year to comparing the policies on offer from both parties, Labor and Liberal, and National, where it is relevant.
Firstly, I would like to start with Small Business.
The Gillard Government have made a lot of headway with the Small Business sector. They have brought the Small Business Minister into Cabinet, and introduced a raft of positive policies meant to benefit Small Businesses.
As of this past week, the Minister for Small Business in the Federal Labor Government has changed from Brendan O’Connor to now being Chris Bowen. He will be up against Bruce Billson from the Liberal Party.
However, the policies will not change and I have been taking a look at what has been proposed for the Small Business Sector by both parties.
Let me turn my attention to the Liberal Party and Bruce Billson.
On Bruce’s website there is a statement of policy principles:
Small business is the driver of Australia’s economy, underpinning growth and innovation and providing jobs for millions of Australians. Unlike Labor, Bruce Billson and the Liberals stand for real action to keep costs down and protect small businesses from union bullying. We will always back small business to grow our economy and create jobs.
What does this mean? Let’s unpack:
Motherhood statement: Small business is the driver of Australia’s economy, underpinning growth and innovation and providing jobs for millions of Australians.
Can’t argue with that, though I don’t believe that the Liberal Party are unique in believing that.
However, what they uniquely believe is contained in the next sentence of the statement of principles:
Unlike Labor, Bruce Billson and the Liberals stand for real action to keep costs down and protect small businesses from union bullying.
That is, the Liberal Party are four square behind the proprietors of small businesses, so that they may maximise their profits. This is not a bad thing, in and of itself. It is the way that they intend to encourage small businesses to go about it that is worrisome.
What are the ways that they want to achieve this?
The Liberal Party want to deunionise workplaces. This is the method they believe is appropriate to ‘keep costs down’ because it is only ‘Union bullying’, or, to put it another way, Unions fighting for the rights of employees to get decent pay and conditions in their jobs, that ‘puts costs up’. One has to reflect on this that not all costs going up is a bad thing for small business. Sometimes it’s the right and proper thing.
It’s simply not enough for small business to be lauded for ‘providing jobs for millions of Australians’. There also needs to be a debate within the community about the pay and conditions that come with those jobs. Right-thinking Australians have always agreed with that principle up until now.
Finally, what is this ‘real action to keep costs down’ that Bruce Billson alludes to? Please explain, Mr Billson.
I also checked out the Press Releases that Bruce had up on his website:
I note, amongst the ‘Carbon Tax is Bad!!’, material is this:
The Coalition will reduce the compliance burden on small business through several measures.
• The Coalition will adopt the principle of minimum effective regulation for proposals to amend or extend compliance burdens on small business.
• Under the Coalition, every Minister will be required to guard against growth in the regulatory burden and requested, where possible, to reduce existing red-tape. This responsibility will be included in the job description of every Minister, and they will be accountable to the Prime Minister and the Parliament for their performance.
• The Australian Accounting Standards Board will be required to justify additional disclosure and compliance obligations being imposed on non-listed enterprises in excess of adopting International Financial Reporting Standard for small to medium size businesses.
This appears to be why we keep hearing repeated ad nauseum by Coalition MPs that they want to decrease the amount of regulation on the books.
What they don’t expand upon is that which this equates to. Might I just say that it was the removal of regulatory control on business which precipitated the Global Financial Crisis. And that worked out well, didn’t it?
It’s certainly a feel-good statement, ‘We want to reduce the regulatory burden on you and your business. However it’s a dangerous simplification of what it would become manifest as in reality.
I’d also be interested to find out from any of our business owner posters just what the last dot point equates to.
There are also a couple of policies which Tony Abbott has announced.
Firstly, in his drive for savings to fund his embarrassingly generous Paid Parental Leave Scheme, Mr Abbott has decided to rip Small Businesses off to pay for it, by repealing the Small Business ‘Loss Carry Back Tax Offset’, and the Small Business ‘Instant Asset Write Off’. Hardly the friend of Small Business he claimed to be in his National Press Club Address.
However, he has decided to throw Small Business a bone, but it’s a funny shaped one in response to the more frequent Natural Disasters which will occur as a result of his potential government’s lack of action to minimise the effects of Global Warming. He has decided to go beyond the government’s ‘Existing Commonwealth disaster relief assistance currently which includes concessional loans for businesses to repair or replace buildings and equipment and to replace up to one month of stock’, and decided to give away taxpayers’ money, by way of a 4% Interest Loan to those businesses not even directly affected by a Natural Disaster:
Under our plan, a small business that has not experienced physical damage as a result of a natural disaster, but still suffers a loss of income as a consequence, will be eligible for a loan of up to $100,000.
Eligible businesses will be able to pay back these low interest loans over a period of up to 7 years at an interest rate of 4 per cent, consistent with existing commonly used guidelines.
I can only imagine how much this will add to Government Debt and Deficit in an Abbott Government. Still, it makes for a great carrot to tempt Small Business away from the Labor government. Now, every business in town can expect largesse from Abbott.
Also, Abbott is proposing to Provide a GST and PAYG Holiday of 3 months to small businesses after a Natural Disaster. Note he is not waiving the payment, so it will be due when the next payment would also be due, and will have to be paid then. So how that helps a struggling small business get back on their feet after a natural disaster is open to question. However, it sounds nice to be able to say that you are being given a holiday.
Next is a proposal that I actually think is a worthy proposition from the Coalition:
Extend ‘Unfair Contract’ provisions
In dealing with big business, smaller enterprises may be subject to standard form contracts on a ‘take it or leave it’ basis, with little opportunity to vary the terms.
This can create a significant imbalance in the rights and responsibilities of each of the parties.
The Coalition will provide a ‘fair go’ for small business by extending the unfair contracts protections currently available to consumers to cover the small business sector.
Finally, another proposal that sounds better than it is when you get down into the fine print and read between the lines:
A Coalition Government will waive for a period of six months any penalty interest for disaster-affected small businesses failing to estimate their PAYG obligation accurately.
It would be prudent for small businesspeople to note that Mr Abbott is not promising to waive the Penalty Interest for inaccurate estimation of their PAYG obligation, following a natural disaster. Get it wrong and you will still be fined under an Abbott government, you’ll just get 6 months more to pay for it. Good, as far as it goes, I guess.
Now, for the Labor Party.
As far as I can see the Labor Party hasn’t announced any new policies with respect to the Small Business Sector. I imagine this will change with the movement out of the portfolio of Brendan O’Connor, to be replaced by Chris Bowen.
By the time of the Budget this situation will probably change.
Therefore all that remains is to assess what the Labor government have done as regards Small Business policy since they have been in power.
Firstly let me make it clear which Labor initiatives Tony Abbott will scrap should he become Prime Minister:
Mr Abbott has pledged to scrap the instant asset tax write-off, which allows small businesses to claim a deduction for the full value of each new asset costing up to $6,500 after one year.
“Mr Abbott also confirmed that the Liberals would abolish the loss carry-back initiative, which allows companies which make a profit one year and a loss the next to claim a refund on tax paid.
“This initiative not only gives companies assistance if they make a loss, it encourages them to take careful risks and innovate and invest in their businesses.
Both measures are funded under the Minerals Resource Rent Tax and the Carbon Price, both of which Mr Abbott has pledged to repeal.
Now, let me just list a number of the policies that the Labor government has implemented since they came to power in 2007:
The review would consider issues including:
* Questions of good faith in franchising,
* The rights of franchisees at the end of their franchise agreements including recognition for any contribution they have made to building the franchise, and
* The operation of the Competition and the Consumer Act 2010 with respect to enforcing the code.
The Commissioner highlights the importance of small business owners being able to access information, assistance and referral to services including business advisory and dispute resolution services.
“I see the role as being an advocate for small business. And not just advocating to governments, but to business about what they can do to improve the business environment. No small business should fail through lack of information,” Mr Brennan said.
“It is important that we let small businesses know that there are effective and low-cost dispute resolution services available should they need them.
“If we see small businesses and big business working together, you’ll find the incidence of things like disputes will decrease.
Note how the Labor government’s approach to resolution of conflict between big business and small business is via Mediation, not Litigation. As the Liberal Party policy above advocates.
Since the SBSL(Small Business Support Line) started taking calls on 3 September, 2009, each working day almost 80 small business owners and people looking to start their own business have dialled the 1800 777 275 number.
Remember how the Coalition are constantly berating the Labor government for increasing Red Tape for business?
Legislation has today(13 Sep 2012), passed the Parliament that will see about 12,000 regulations removed for business.
A second set of amendments also passed today provides for a more efficient repeal or ‘sunsetting’ of regulations after 10 years, and facilitates reviews of those regulations, for example, by looking at regulations across a particular industry sector as a whole.
And what’s this I see? Not more ‘Red Tape’ cutting from the Gillard government?
For the first time businesses can find all the information they need about government-related licences, registrations and permits for all levels of government online in the one place.
The Australian Business Licence and Information Service (ABLIS) is now live, and will provide customised information for any new or existing business.
Previously, businesses had to register their name separately – with different fees, forms and processes – in each state or territory in which they traded. Registering a business name for three years in every state and territory, cost over $1,000.
Under the new service, one online registration process and a low fee – $30 for one year or $70 for three years, registers a business name nationally.
Also reducing Costs for Small Business!
So, facts not matching the rhetoric of the Opposition.
Let’s have a look at another initiative for Small Businesspeople that the government have developed and implemented:
The Business Finances topic provides information on a range of common finance issues, including setting up a bookkeeping system, preparing financial reports and applying for finance.
Now a couple of acts of largesse from the federal Labor government:
Enterprising small businesses in the textile, clothing and footwear (TCF) sector can start applying for Australian Government grants of up to $50,000 to help transform their business so it is more competitive and productive.
You can also feel a small sense of relief if you were worried about all those Queensland Public Servants that Campbell Newman unceremoniously sacked:
The Gillard Government will help Queensland public servants who have lost their jobs following Campbell Newman’s extensive job cuts who are looking to start their own business or open a franchise.
Minister for Small Business Brendan O’Connor today announced that $200,000 would be invested in Start-Up QLD, a new initiative funded under the Gillard Government’s Small Business Advisory Services program to provide advice and assistance to retrenched Queensland public servants. This is in addition to other government support available for workers who have been made redundant.
Finally, if you thought that the Labor government was only interested in allowing ‘Union bullying’, as the Coalition assert, and intimidation of Small Businesses, then you may be interested to know this:
“The Australian Government is committed to working with small businesses to get the balance of workplace relations right for employees and employers,” Mr O’Connor said.
“Small businesses are the foundation of our economic prosperity and the Government is committed to helping them prosper.
“This was an opportunity for all concerned parties to get together and to hear some frank and direct views from small business representatives about the Review recommendations and workplace relations generally,” Mr Shorten said.
“The Government is considering recommendations to enhance Fair Work Australia’s ability to deal with unfair dismissal claims, and to provide disincentives for frivolous or vexatious unfair dismissal claims.”
So, as best as I can, I have now gathered in one place the competing Small Business policies and programs, such as they are up to this point in time, of the two sides of politics. All that I thus ask is for any Small Business people out there who may be reading this, have cause to reflect upon what they have been offered by both sides of politics before they cast their vote in the upcoming election. Consider what you have got and compare it to what amounts to
‘A Free Gift with Purchase’ that you may be offered by the other side, and how Arkwright’s customers never seemed to end up with theirs, despite all his promises.