Will 2015 be a time of business harmony where we all cooperate in a benevolent, constructive way or will it be a time of conflict?
We know that nothing happens overnight. We also know it is a fact that we have a minister in parliament who understands the needs of small business are connected to economic health, and is willing to do something about it besides traditional heavy rhetoric followed by light policy.
Bruce Billson, the Minister for Small Business, is that minister. Since coming to power, Billson and the government have focused on key issues for small business. These issues include old policy chestnuts such as competition policy, contract law, the performance of regulators of small business, the removal of unnecessary compliance, the Financial Services Inquiry, issues about starting and closing a small business, a hotline at the Fair Work Ombudsman’s office dedicated to small business people, a national small business ombudsman with real powers, and a one stop shop for small business people, and more.
The issues addressed by many of these activities have been front and centre of COSBOA’s policies for decades. To have so many of them addressed this year is a major achievement.
It is also obvious that Prime Minister Tony Abbott listens to Bruce Billson. This gives us heart that the changes small business and the economy needs will occur.
The Prime Minister is also listening closely to Industry Minister Ian Macfarlane, Trade Minister Andrew Robb, and Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister Josh Frydenberg.
Macfarlane is tackling efficiency in vocational education and training. The VET sector, including the regulator, needs to change and focus on the needs of business. This may give the smaller, more efficient training organisations the chance to innovate with industry, particularly small and medium businesses, and provide the skilled workers we need.
Robb has created opportunities with the various free trade agreements announced during the year. These FTAs don’t guarantee easy access to new markets or that foreign businesses will find it easy to come into the domestic market and compete with us. There is much work to be done on the processes but there is no argument that new opportunities have been created.
Frydenberg has provided leadership in advocating for the better management of red tape. We will see at least two days dedicated to red tape removal every year from now on -- an ongoing focus that can only achieve better productivity.
It is, however, very disappointing that in August the Treasurer forced some negative changes to small business tax and back dated those changes to half way through a previous financial year. He also backdated another negative tax change to prior to the last federal election. Tax is confusing enough as it is. Those changes came as a result of removing the mining tax. Oddly, a break was given to a handful of mining companies but removed for millions of small business people.
Next year will see a lot of the work Billson has undertaken being considered by the government. This will create conflict. The reports from the competition policy review, the financial services review, the development of the powers of the ombudsman, and others will be presented and considered.
As a result. we will see some ‘business class warfare’ as the groups and businesses who see themselves as the ruling class try to make sure that their sovereign rights to do what they wish with small business suppliers are not changed. They will feel threatened by fairness and transparency.
We will report more from the front line of that conflict early in 2015.
Peter Strong is the executive director of the Council of Small Business Australia.