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Peter Strong on small business in 2017: What we achieved and where to next

published Wednesday 20 December 2017

In the world of Australian small business 2017 was a year of consolidation of past gains and preparation for the changes that confront us in 2018 and beyond.

The board of the Council of Small Business of Australia assessed our situation after the 2017 budget and decided to focus more on the positives of our economy and society, while looking to provide support to those most in need, including small business people. Next year, our focus will be on constructive and proactive cooperation between businesses of all sizes and with government.

Our economy is actually one of the best in the world and our future looks bright as long as the economy is managed well. Some of our biggest threats are attacks from within where some Australian interest groups will talk the economy down, indeed will talk society down, to achieve aims based more around accessing power than around achieving positive outcomes for our citizens. Perhaps there is nothing new in this but in times of constant and often unpredictable change, we need to make sure that reality and practicality is never left behind or hidden from view.

Certainly, one major event of this year was our signing a Memorandum of Understanding with the Business Council of Australia (BCA). This was not taken lightly, by either party, but we know that in times of change we need to focus on the positive constructive processes that currently exist between businesses in Australia. Our boards will meet in March to discuss what can be done to support our strong economy through good business.

A summary of other key outcomes from this year includes:

  • The budget, which could have been called “The Small Business Budget III – the consolidation”, following a continued focus on our needs and issues from the previous two budgets. Some people called this the third COSBOA budget and our board and members are pleased with this outcome;

  • We ran a round table on compliance and workplace relations where we called on all employers to follow the rules. It is sad that a few businesses have done the wrong thing by their employees and made life tough for the great majority of businesses who do the right thing;

  • The effects test, part of changes to competition policy coming out of the Harper Review of 2015, was finally enacted and after a long battle we can now test the market place. We will support the ACCC as we assess the impact on competition of these changes;

  • Our campaign around late payments took some decidedly good turns with our Small Business Ombudsman Kate Carnell, the BCA and the Victorian Government all focusing on getting small business people paid on time. This has been an issue for many years and to have this focus augers well for the future of business-to-business activities;

  • Kate Carnell is the force we have always needed in federal government and her office has confronted many issues. This includes late payments, the interaction between banks and small business, mental health issues and regulation reform;

  • Unfair contract term protections for small business people were passed through parliament and came into force in late 2016, which was another long-term aim of COSBOA achieved. The ACCC is the responsible regulator and this year, through the designated small business commissioner Michael Schaper, the commission tested the system and the legislation and confronted recalcitrant companies. We are seeing positive change take place. There is more to be done here but this is a very good start;

  • We continue to provide leadership in improving/streamlining B2B and B2G2B communications through chairmanship of the Australian Digital Business Council, which is focusing on e-invoicing. Australia is seen as a world leader on this issue;

  • There has been an increased focus on the bane of good business — phoenix firms — where the government will better target these gutter dwelling business crosiers;

  • We have been proactive and indeed at times aggressive in the continuing debate about Sunday penalty rates. We know that the campaign from unions about “protect our penalty rates” has been false, to say the least, given the deals done to negotiate low Sunday rates (indeed the removal of penalty rates in some cases) altogether for the great majority of Sunday workers many years ago. This debate will not go away and will continue into 2018 but we will make sure the facts are available;

  • The President of the Fair Work Commission continues the campaign for using plain language in industrial awards. Well done, as well, to the Pharmacy Guild for promoting this important change; and

  • We continue to promote the interests of the self-employed in the debate on domestic violence leave, as these business owners are given responsibility for others’ crises but are not considered when it comes to potential crises for them. There are better ways to deal with this scourge on our community than normalising it through workplace relations.

It is also a credit to the COSBOA board and our members without whom we could not have campaigned for the changes and fought and won many battles for fairness and respect. An organisation is only as strong as its membership. Our underpinning campaign to have the owners of small business recognised as people has brought results.

2018 and beyond

We will continue to focus on the issues highlighted above and will also spend significant time on two emerging issues:

  • The role of business associations in the economy; and

  • Supporting our regulators, where possible and practical, in their role of enforcement and education.

These two areas are important, and you will hear more from us soon and even more as we travel further into 2018.

Have a great break if you are having one; but either way may future business be kind and rewarding; may red tape be minimal and easy; and may your health be untroubled.

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