Abbott must fix small business in 2014

While Australia’s worsening economic problems mean some election promises will be trimmed, Tony Abbott has no excuse when it comes to delivering his 12-point plan to help SMEs.

In 2014 we are going to find out how many of the promises that were made by Tony Abbott in the election campaign will actually be delivered. 

Almost certainly the deteriorating financial situation of Australia means that there is going to be a trimming of the promises in education, disability care or parental leave. Maybe all three will be affected. Those reductions will probably be achieved via some deferral system. 

At the same time, we will be looking to the basic Abbott 12-point plan, which does not involve vast amounts of money. Abbott and the small business minister Bruce Billson promised a deregulation campaign the likes of which Australia has not seen before.

In the first 100 days of the Abbott administration there were no substantial signs of dramatic progress on this front. It is of course too early to judge. But if the first half of 2014 does not see substantial progress we will know that the Abbott government has been snowed by the public servants.

Similarly, the government proposed extending the fair contracts provisions that currently apply to consumers so that they also apply to contractors in small business. Coles and Woolworths reacted to this plan with a code of practice so that they could influence the outcome.

By contrast, the Shopping Centre Council opposed the Coalition’s fair contracts proposal in the lead-up to the election. It has now withdrawn that opposition but replaced it by advocating that the legislation should not apply to shopping centres.

The architect of the fair contracts plan is of course Bruce Billson and shopping centres were one of his main targets. The Shopping Centre Council would be best advised to follow the Coles and Woolworths example. It says that it already has substantial regulation by the states but, to the extent that regulation covers tenants, perhaps it needs simplification. If Billson backs down we will know he has been nobbled.

In tax, we are all looking for clear signals that the tax department is no longer acting against the law in pursuing independent contractors. It is through independent contracting that many of the problems with industrial relations legislation can be overcome. 

And of course we will monitor the carbon tax abolition and the plan to give teeth to the Building and Construction Commission to end cartel-style agreements between big builders and big unions (Construction sweetheart deals face the wrecking ball, December 20).

The outcome of the Senate election in 2013 showed a remarkable pattern. In each state a non-major party, right-wing candidate won the last seat. Australians, despite their state differences and despite the apparent chaos in voting patterns, voted in remarkable uniformity. The Palmer United Party picked up Tasmania, Queensland and Western Australia; in New South Wales it was the Liberal Democrats, in Victoria it was the Australian Motorists and in South Australia it was Family First.

Now of course what happens in WA will depend on whether the High Court demands a new election. Fascinatingly the recount also produced a right-wing, non-major party member for the sixth Senate seat, albeit not from the Palmer United Party. If either the original election or the second count in WA are upheld, Abbott should not have any difficulty getting through the Senate the legislation he promised (Abbott’s friendly Senate hangs in the balance, December 18).

There will be no excuses.

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