Business end of the election

A debate between Bruce Billson and Christine Milne shows it's small business owners and employees who will decide the next election.

Let us take a peep at what the next election campaign is going to look like.

I have just had an advance preview as I chaired a debate between the Shadow Minister for Small Business, Competition Policy and Consumer Affairs, Bruce Billson, and Australian Greens Leader Christine Milne at the National Small Business Summit.

The Greens are not known for wooing small business because so much of the Green heartland is in inner suburbs and many of its members work for the public service or large corporates.

But Milne recognised that 70 per cent of the Australian workforce was either a small business owner or employed by small business. They will decide the election.

According to Billson, small business is really suffering at the moment and a great many are working for little or no money. Billson believes that small business is the main sufferer from the carbon tax, which would help explain the Coalition's big majority in the opinion polls.

Bruce Billson says that assuming the Coalition wins and that the Senate rejects the carbon tax abandonment legislation, it will take a maximum of 14 months from election day to remove the tax.
And he expects enormous savings from getting rid of the large numbers of public servants who are administering the tax.

Christine Milne was adamant that Abbott will not remove the carbon tax and cited signs of back-down in areas like the green energy fund to support her view.

My contribution was to say that if Tony Abbott as prime minister does not remove the tax (and we will give 18 rather than 14 months) then at the next election he will earn exactly the same "liar” tag as Julia Gillard now faces.

Christine Milne challenged Billson on whether small businesses were badly affected and said they were not directly carbon taxed but were only affected if their suppliers increased prices. However, she claimed the Queensland flood and the Murray River problems were all caused by climate change – events that badly affected many small businesses. The carbon tax is therefore a benefit. I stopped the debate at that point but I am not sure the Milne argument would carry much weight in the wider small business community.

Both slung mud at each other over mining, corporate, and other taxes and it became quite a tit-for-tat exercise.

Billson claims that the Rudd and Gillard governments had added an incredible 18 thousand regulations for small business. This is going to be an enormous focus of the Opposition campaign as it seeks to woo 70 per cent of the work force. The 18 thousand regulation figure had better be right. Billson would not nominate how many regulations he would eliminate in the first 100 days of government but he looked forward to quickly gaining $1 billion in public service savings from dismantling much of them.

Christine Milne realised this would be a core issue in the campaign and said she was open to agreeing to non-environmental regulation reductions but wanted to see the detail.

In terms of Fair Work Australia legislation, Billson says that the cost of litigating an unfair dismissal was about $5,500 so it was cheaper to pay, say $2,500 as 'go away money' irrespective of how bad the employee had been.

Billson is right that paying 'go away' money on dismissals for poor work practices really angers small business but it will take some skill to fix it in an election campaign and not invoke a WorkChoices debate which Abbott wants to avoid.