What small business wants

Any party or candidate who wants the small business vote should focus on us as people not as things or ideologues. We want less complexity, more time with our family, a good economy with reward for effort, a safe community and policy driven by facts not fiction or friction.

A recent Sensis survey revealed that while 42% of small business owners indicated an intention to vote for the coalition, a staggering 35% were yet to make up their mind. And so, there are still many small business owners whose vote is up for grabs, with many of these living in marginal seats.

Winning the small business vote isn’t simply about having a strong economy or keeping taxes low –if it was just about these two things then the Sensis survey would have shown that 100% of small business people had decided to vote for the coalition. While these two things are important, they are not the only things that small business people care about which is why COSBOA has always focussed on facts and good policy as opposed to political ideology.

When talking about the votes of small business, it is necessary to also consider other people in the small business community, not just the owners. These include those who work in small business and are concerned about their job security, as well as the charities and sports teams we support and of course our own families. Together, the votes of these people will be shaped, among other things, by how well they believe political parties are accommodating the desires of small business owners.

So, what are our needs beyond having a strong economy and a competitive tax environment? That depends on the personal circumstances of the small business owners. Those with young children will be concerned about education and child care while those with adult children will be concerned about jobs and housing affordability. Small business owners with older parents will likely be concerned about changes to self-funded retiree provisions and health services, and so forth.

COSBOA believes that there are four key desires of self-employed people. Too often policy makers think it is OK to push compliance onto small business owners who don’t have specialist teams needed to complete those tasks. We take valuable time from our businesses and family to wrestle with complex compliance processes that can also impact on our health and on family members.

Policies that seek to minimise legislative complexity and reduce red tape are very attractive to small business people.

The second desire is simpler workplace relations. Our workplace system has been designed for big organisations who can afford to employ the HR teams and IR lawyers needed to navigate an increasingly complex and adversarial system. But small business owners must either devote large periods of time trying to understand complex awards or just push on in the blind hope that they are doing the right thing, which doesn’t bode well for a good night’s sleep.

The current workplace relations system is far too complex and any party that has the courage to champion a simplified award system is likely backing a winner from a small business perspective.

The third desire is for a fair and just business environment. Too often we hear stories of how big business has taken advantage of small business whether it be by way of an unfair franchise arrangement or through bullying tactics used against small business people when negotiating contracts or leases. A small business person with a fair complaint will face an endless maze of regulatory bodies and court procedures, often resulting in them walking away with losses or just walking away from the business altogether.

It is time for business to business relationships to be made fairer and for appropriate protections to continue to be put in place via the extension of unfair contract laws in Australia and better access to justice. We also need laws that ensure real competition and not the ersatz competition often championed by the laissez-faire economists who believe in the survival of the fittest (biggest) without any depth to their thinking.

The fourth and final desire is to secure a real resolution to the climate and energy crisis. Most small business owners aren’t greenies and nor are they climate deniers. Either way, we have had to deal with a rapid rise in energy prices brought about by inaction on national climate and energy policy. They, like most Australians, want the issue resolved once and for all.

These four desires reflect what COSBOA has heard from the small business community and form the basis of COSBOA’s election policy platform as we head towards to the Federal Election. These issues don’t sit neatly under a political ideology – they are real practical issues for real practical people.