Small business needs big impact on poll pitches

WANT to win votes this election? Show your support for small business.

 

That seems to be the message that all parties have embraced this election campaign, celebrating the important role small businesses have in growing our economy and creating jobs.

It is noteworthy that even though the major parties disagree on the company tax cut for bigger businesses, they are united in their support for a cut for businesses with a turnover of up to $2 million. Even the Greens have made a pitch for small business voters.

At the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry we represent more than 300,000 businesses employing more than four million people. For our members this election is a chance for Australia to make itself more internationally competitive.

In the past decade Australia has slipped from 10th to 21st on the Global Competitiveness Index. Other nations are racing ahead of us in building infrastructure, cutting red tape and growing their skills base. If we don’t take urgent action to reverse the decline then our living standards will be at risk.

That’s why we asked candidates at this election to embrace our “Top 10 in 10” plan, which includes 10 policy measures that will take Australia towards the top 10 within 10 years. It includes practical ideas in areas including apprenticeships, workplace relations, government spending and company tax.

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On apprenticeships, we asked the parties to make it easier for employers to take on apprentices and trainees.

The Coalition is offering trade support loans of up to $20,000 to help apprentices with the costs of living, tools and training, of which 40,000 have already been taken up.

Labor promises to create 10,000 new “apprentice ready” places for young people and 5000 accelerated apprenticeships for retrenched workers.

These plans are steps in the right direction but we need to do more.

On workplace relations, we asked the parties to make it easier for businesses to create jobs by allowing employers and employees to negotiate workplace arrangements that best meet their needs, without necessarily involving unions.

The Coalition is promising to put in place many of the recommendations of the trade union royal commission, including cracking down on illicit union behaviour and bringing back the Australian Building and Construction Commission. Labor is seeking to restrict labour hire companies, more tightly define casual work and improve union and employer organisation governance.

We would like both major parties to make it easier for small businesses to hire staff. We would like the Coalition to be more ambitious. Labor’s policies should be treated with great caution because they could make it more difficult for individual businesses and their staff to find mutually agreeable arrangements.

On regulation, we asked the parties to let entrepreneurs get on with growing their businesses by reducing red tape each year.

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The Coalition has pledged to simplify business activity statements, simplify the process for establishing an employee share scheme and remove almost 450,000 small businesses from the PAYG system. Labor has promised to work with Australia’s trading partners to achieve readily understood and consistent rules of origin for determining whether Australian goods qualify for preferential access.

Both of these measures are welcome.

On visas, we asked the parties to help Australia’s tourism businesses by making visas cheaper and easier to obtain.

The Coalition has been slow to release its tourism policy, but so far it has said it will enhance visitor visas to make it easier for sponsored parents to visit their family in Australia. Labor has proposed new entrepreneur visa categories to help businesspeople come to Australia, as well a review of our visa arrangements to make sure they are internationally competitive.

We are pleased to see Labor recognise the importance of tourism to our future economy and we look forward to the Coalition offering more ideas on visa reform soon.

Whoever wins the election this weekend, businesses are hoping for certainty and stability. That means a clear majority. In an uncertain world, whoever leads the nation for the next three years will have no choice but to help businesses to make our economy more competitive and strong.

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