Election Ideas

WITH the Federal election fast approaching, small business looms as one of the key battlegrounds. Small business is a key constituent of both major parties. It holds both economic and social importance. Noel Dyson reports on the pitches Liberal, Labor and the Democrats are making to small business.

LABOR small business spokesman Joel Fitzgibbon says that, while the GST has angered a lot of small business owners, he is not relying on that to win the upcoming Federal election.

Mr Fitzgibbon conceded Labor would still have to work hard for the small business vote.

He said Labor would rely on a rejuvenated Council of Australian Government process to help improve the lot of small business.

Mr Fitzgibbon believes the key small business issues are a need for a simpler GST, greater protection against unconscionable conduct and a reduction in the amount of red tape.

He rejects claims that Labor’s GST rollback part one, which proposes a ratio system for businesses turning over less than $2 million, will create two tax systems.

“The ratio option will suit some firms and it will suit others to stay with the old GST method,” Mr Fitzgibbon said.

One of Labor’s key plans in that area is to get the State and Territory governments to draw down Section 51AC of the Trade Practices Act into their legislation.

“That will give the various State and Territory tribunals more power to test the actions of landlords and find out whether they have acted unconscionably,” Mr Fitzgibbon said.

“The Federal unconscionable conduct legislation has been successful, but by the time a small business can engender the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission’s interest in their plight, their business is usually gone.”

He said one of the great tragedies of the GST was that it had taken the focus off other red tape issues.

“The COAG process is another great opportunity to reduce red tape,” Mr Fitzgibbon said.

“We’re going to try and increase the uniformity of the requirements of State governments and the Federal Government. That way we can cut out the paperwork that is duplicated.”

UNFAIR dismissal is the number one issue facing small business, according to the Liberal Party.

The party launched its small business policy, titled Getting On With Business, last week.

Small Business Minister Ian Macfarlane said his party already had made modest inroads into having businesses with fewer than 20 employees exempted from unfair dismissal.

He also wants to restrict unions’ right of entry to small business workplaces and to bolster the Trade Practices Act to allow the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission to take representative actions to protect small businesses from secondary union boycotts.

Mr Macfarlane believes the big four issues

or small business are unfair dismissal, Labor’s proposal to increase the superannuation guarantee to 15 per cent, workers’ compensation and payroll tax.

He said any attempts to roll back the GST would only bring pain to small businesses.

“Small businesses have reached the point where they are getting the hang of the GST. I admit it has been a hard 12 months for them but they’ve gotten through it,” Mr Macfarlane said.

“Labor’s rollback appears to have scared a lot of small business people I’ve spoken to.

“The last thing any small business that’s come to term with the biggest tax change in Australia’s history wants is more tax change and change over a period of time.”

Mr Macfarlane said a Liberal government would expand the regional Small Business Assistance Officer program to metropolitan areas and consolidate the Small Business Enterprise Culture Program and the Small Business Incubator scheme into the Small Business Assistance program.

He said the WA Government was comparing the program with its own Business Enterprise Centres, but the SBAO program was wider ranging. Mr Macfarlane said the Liberals also would roll the ASIC and Australian Tax Office reporting systems into one

GIVING small businesses more protection against unconscionable conduct, reducing red tape and making national competition policy fairer are the Democrats’ key election issues.

Senator Andrew Murray, who is standing for re-election on November 10, believes the GST will be an issue in this election but is unsure whether it will be a defining one.

But he admitted some Democrats and people of other political persuasions would like to see the GST removed from more things.

“That can only happen at the margins but the reporting system needs to be simplified,” Senator Murray said.

“Most of the GST issues are about practical things and are being dealt with by legislators. But legislators can never get practical issues quite right. It needs to be sorted out between regulators and business.”

Senator Murray wants to strengthen the Trade Practices Act to protect small businesses from unconscionable conduct. He also wants the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission to take more representative actions on behalf of small businesses.

“Otherwise it is too expensive for small businesses to pursue unconscionable conduct through the courts, and they don’t have the skills to pursue the actions,” he said.

Senator Murray said the competition policy had to expose small business to hard but fair competition.

“The National Competition Policy has been conducted with the view that small businesses hurt by it are just collateral damage for the greater good,” he said.

“We think liquor, taxis, newsagents and pharmacies should all remain regulated industries.”

Senator Murray said small business had always faced red tape but the amount they had to deal with had increased.

“We need a national paperwork policy to simplify the number of forms small business has to supply to all tiers of government,” he said.

“A great amount of information small businesses need to provide to the different tiers of government are similar. It’s just that the different tiers require the same information to be put into different formats. We want to try and consolidate those formats.”

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