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National Small Business Summit 2024

Competition, energy, inflation, skills and policy in focus at the COSBOA National Small Business Summit 2024

Highlights from two days of crucial conversations


3rd & 4th April 2024


The COSBOA National Small Business Summit 2024, saw key political and industry leaders gather in Sydney to discuss the economic landscape for small businesses in Australia and look for ways to reduce complexities to ensure a continued entrepreneurial ecosystem.


Held over two days, the Summit was the biggest yet with hundreds of Association leaders, government representatives, policy makers and small business influencers in attendance.

In his opening remarks at the Summit, Matthew Addison, Chair of COSBOA, said, “It’s COSBOA’s role to give small business representatives a platform to be informed and empowered. To encourage people to be a loud voice to both represent and to help create an environment to improve the performance of small businesses.”

This statement set the tone for the entire two days – get involved, get active and advocate for your small business community to make substantial and meaningful change.


Here are our top 10 highlights from the COSBOA National Small Business Summit 2024:


1. Grounded in reality

During Matthew Addison’s opening presentation, he shared shocking industry insights from the Australian Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman (ASBFEO); revealing that around 43 per cent of small businesses failed to make a profit in the last full tax year and 75 per cent of small business owners take home less than the average wage.

This was followed by Rebecca Warren, Executive General Manager of Small Business Banking at Commonwealth Bank of Australia, who shared the latest research results and investment into technology and innovations for CommBank to protect their customers against fraud and scams – including NameCheck and CallerCheck (online banking and in-app verifications).

Brad Jones, Assistant Governor (Financial System), Reserve Bank of Australia, told attendees on the Thursday that SMEs often face challenges in securing financing from traditional banks for innovation-based investments. This disparity is evident when

compared to larger firms, who have better access to such funding. Instead, SMEs often rely on sources such as family, friends, and non-bank institutions including venture capital and private equity funds. This financing gap is not unique to Australia and is observed in advanced economies across the globe, contributing to the growth of technology-focused funding avenues. 


2. Engine room of the economy


Australia’s 2.5 million small businesses employ 5 million people and comprise more than 40 per cent of Australia’s private sector workforce. Small businesses are the engine room of the Australian economy, the lifeblood of communities, and the entrepreneurial spirit of the nation.

On the Wednesday, The Hon. Peter Dutton MP, Leader of the Opposition, addressed the Summit saying, “Among the forgotten people (Robert) Menzies wanted to represent were the ‘salary-earners, shopkeepers, skilled artisans, professional men and women, farmers and so on’ – as he said in his famous radio broadcast. He was talking about those Australians which we today refer to as those working in small business.”

“We want to see sustainable wage growth off-the-back of productivity and economic growth.”


Dutton also spoke about productivity and the challenges faced by small businesses, including energy, cost of living and inflation, and the need to reduce complexities of regulations and legislation.


On the Thursday morning, The Hon. Anthony Albanese MP, Prime Minister of Australia, kicked off day two by recognising the driving force of the small businesses in Australia.


“We know how central you are to the continuing growth and resilience of our economy, from our suburbs to the regions. And we know how vital you are to Australia’s future prosperity, as job-creators and as innovators. Because so often small businesses are the first movers, the early adopters.”


He went on to address key issues for small businesses including, cybersecurity, energy pricing, skills shortages and the strategies to revitalise the workforce, and championing good jobs, fair wages and decent conditions for working people.



3. Global trends of small business

Robert Tedesco, Vice President & General Manager A/NZ, Global Merchant Services, American Express and Bjorn Jarvis, Head of Labour Statistics, Australian Bureau of Statistics, shared insights into the spending rates, workforce challenges and impact of small business.

Tedesco said, “Amid tighter household

budgets, you might think that getting more money through a higher-paying job would be the main priority, but that’s not necessarily true. Recent research at American Express shows that when setting their 2024 goals, many Australians are prioritising wellness over ambition. Almost three-quarters of Australians said being healthier is a top priority.”


This was backed by Jarvis, whose insights showed an historically low employment change, working from home is still a common working arrangement, and the number of professionals and service workers continue to increase.


  • Population Growth: With strong migration we've seen a 2.5 per cent increase in population, with 550,000 arrivals from migration. This brings both opportunities and challenges.

  • Retail Spending: Across the pandemic and beyond, retail spending has been dynamic. However, we're now seeing a slowdown, particularly in sectors such as food retail, household goods, cafes, restaurants, and takeaway food.

  • Labour Market: The labour market remains tight, presenting ongoing challenges and opportunities for businesses.

4. Embracing the entrepreneurial spirit

Alex Cannizzaro, Platform Zero; Gary Strachan, Deadly Hair Dude; and Susan Galvin, Galvin Watch Company, took to the stage with facilitator Sandy Chong, CEO of The Australian Hairdressing Council, to share their passion, challenges, insights and what they, as small business owners, would like to see change on a larger scale.


These three entrepreneurs are each facing unique challenges, from food waste and dealing with big supermarkets, to remote communities and education red tape, to crowd funding and the home-work juggle. These three small business owners passionately depicted what they would do if they were PM for a day, and the actions at the top of their list.

5. NSW spotlights small business

The Hon. Chris Lamont MP, NSW Small Business Commissioner and The Hon. Stephen Kamper MP, Minister for Small Business, both made addresses about the steps they’ve taken to reduce red tape and the complexities surrounding small business regulation, including reviewing processes, protocols and the creation of a small business reference group.


Lamont highlighted efforts in NSW, stating, “We're reviewing protocols to ensure new regulations meet our small businesses' needs.” He noted that NSW's adherence to better regulation principles is a solid foundation for success; advocating actions that benefit small businesses, prioritise consultation, and maintain proportionality.

Kamper spoke about the Service NSW Business Bureau, which offers personalised support to small businesses. From navigating regulations to accessing growth opportunities, the Bureau is cutting through red tape and empowering small businesses to thrive. Plus, with the Small Business Charter, the NSW Government is committed to boosting engagement, responsiveness, and procurement from small businesses.


On the Thursday, The Hon. Chris Minns MP, Premier of NSW, addressed the challenges faced by businesses due to 13 consecutive interest rate rises, which he acknowledged as burdensome.

He highlighted the resulting decrease in disposable income for families, potentially discouraging young people and mortgage holders from pursuing personal business ventures. He also commented on the impact of macro decisions on these issues and outlined state government support measures:


  • Proposed changes to procurement rules in NSW to benefit smaller companies, reducing red tape and creating a fairer playing field for small businesses.

  • NSW is the only state where an emergency services levy is paid as a tax on insurance.

  • Energy Rebate Program in NSW, aiming to provide cost relief for 300,000 eligible small businesses to alleviate energy costs.


6. Regional revival and representation

Senator The Hon. Bridget McKenzie, Shadow Minister for Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Development; Mick Keogh, Deputy Chair, ACCC; Elizabeth Skirving, CEO, Rural Business Tasmania; and Diana Hallam, CEO, Australian Forest Products Association; all spoke passionately about the need for small businesses to have connectedness and courage to revive regional Australia.

Key takeaways from this session:


  • Balance is crucial: Regulatory measures must be implemented carefully to address competition imbalances without suffocating small businesses with red tape.

  • Rural communities thrive on interdependence: Supporting local businesses is essential for sustainability.

  • Infrastructure investment is key: Government support, like telecommunications rollout, opens doors for rural entrepreneurs to compete on a larger scale.

  • Challenges persist: Connectivity issues, literacy, numeracy, and childcare access need to be addressed for rural small businesses to flourish.

Regional revival was followed by a panel looking at ‘The role of independent MPs in shaping policy in Canberra’ featuring Dai Le MP, Member for Fowler; Zali Steggall MP, Member for Warringah; Allegra Spender MP, Member for Wentworth; Kylea Tink MP, Member for North Sydney; and facilitator, Luke Achterstraat, CEO of COSBOA.

Speaking candidly with the room, the panel expressed the need to move beyond politics for effective policymaking. They passionately presented the importance of robust debate and conversation in policy development and encouraged small business leaders to engage with their local members, to write to ministers regarding relevant legislation, and to actively participate in the political process.

7. VET skills and workplace shortages

David Turvey, Acting Commissioner, Jobs and Skills Australia; Ann Davey, CEO, Massage & Myotherapy Australia; Brendan Foley, Managing Director, Smartec Group; Annie Gibbins, CEO, Australian Traditional-Medicine Society; and Natalie Turmine, CEO, Service and Creative Skills Australia (SaCSA), Jobs and Skills Council; presented the challenges of skills and training workforces for small businesses.


Turvey, said Jobs and Skills Australia were looking at the reasons for skill gaps, saying "Shortages are not all about the supply. Retention is a key problem."


Discussions emphasised:


  • Aligning skills training with industry needs.

  • Challenges including skill shortages, toxic workplace cultures, and retaining talent.

  • Importance of leadership skills and relevant, accessible training.

  • Upskilling in emerging technologies for a competitive edge.

8. Working for the success of small business

In the ever-popular regulators session featuring Rob Heferen, Commissioner of Taxation, Australian Taxation Office; Kate O'Rourke, Commissioner, ASIC; Gina Cass-Gottlieb, Chair, ACCC; Anna Booth, Fair Work Ombudsman, Office of the Fair Work Ombudsman; and Tim Beresford, Chief Executive, Australian Financial Security Authority, each shared valuable insights and updates on current focuses, and expressed the need for safeguarding small businesses and recognising their invaluable contributions to the economy.

On Thursday, Denita Wawn, CEO, Master Builders Association; Brooke Lord, Head of Policy and Advocacy, RCSA; Bran Black, CEO, Business Council of Australia; Scott Harris, Director Workplace Relations and Business, Pharmacy Guild; Jos de Bruin, COSBOA Director and former CEO, Master Grocers Association; and Facilitator Luke Achterstraat, CEO of COSBOA; discussed the impact of IR changes on small businesses.


They highlighted current challenges of businesses, like being able to find and retain employees, and understanding the red tape that comes with the employing staff. The panel noted that a significant portion of the workforce is employed on a casual basis to accommodate fluctuating demand.


Jos de Bruin argued that government interventions in employment regulations have been unnecessary, advocating for employers and employees to collaborate more effectively to improve productivity. He also mentioned that many casual employees prefer the flexibility of their current arrangement and may not want to switch to full-time employment.


9. Digitisation for small business

Simon Foster, Director of COSBOA, kicked off the panel on Digitisation for Small Business at the Summit asking the audience to think about: digitisation versus digitalisation!

"Digitisation isn't just about putting old processes online; it's about reimagining them with new tools and tech. What does this mean for small businesses? It's not just about digital marketing; it's about rethinking everything from accounting software to customer interactions."

The panel which consisted of Amanda Hutton, Group Executive, Telstra Business; Ryan Black, Acting CEO, Tech Council of Australia; John Shepherd, First Assistant Secretary - Digital ID and Data Policy Division, Department of Finance; Rita Arrigo, Strategic Engagement Manager, CSIRO National AI Centre; Matthew Prouse, President, Digital Service Providers Australia New Zealand (DSPANZ) included key insight discussions across:


  • Cost pressures: Small businesses face challenges affording new software and lack time for cybersecurity.

  • Education and awareness: Vital for businesses to understand and adapt to digital solutions.

  • Cybersecurity: Increasingly critical; traditional measures aren't sufficient. Small business leaders need to share the Cyber Wardens Program with their communities to upskill the sector on cyber security.

  • AI innovations: Telstra's AI model, and AI options offer cost-effective solutions.

  • Augmented workforce: AI enhances efficiency without replacing jobs.


Together, industry partnerships and accessible tech pave the way for small businesses to thrive in the digital era.


10. Media and politics

In a session with Ashleigh Raper, Ten Network; James Morrow, The Daily Telegraph; Patrick Durkin, The Australian Financial Review and Jennifer Duke, Capital Brief; the imminent budget, emphasising the current focus on cost-of-living issues were highlighted. They noted that these concerns are driving political agendas and pushing topics like energy costs to the forefront of public consciousness.


With the election approaching, there is a demand for transparency and clarity from politicians. The speakers also touched on global political realignments and the shift towards policies benefiting small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs), which are seen as crucial for boosting productivity and economic growth.


Stay tuned for announcements on the COSBOA Summit 2025: 



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