2019 the year that was
A little known fact and something that we celebrated quietly, is that this year, 2019, COSBOA turned 40 years of age. That’s right we were incorporated in 1979. We were formed by clever people who saw that small business was not getting a fair go and needed an organisation that existed only for small business, whose members were organisations that included small business people as their members. They formed COSBOA to argue the case only for small business, to confront policy and process that inhibited small business and made things difficult for the people and the families of the small businesses that keep our economy humming.
It is worth remembering that COSBOA was formed to focus only on small business, as organisations that claim to represent big and small business will always, when pushed, favour big business or miss the point about small business people.
This year was of course an election year. Elections always focus our attention on policies and what people and business communities need. Our advocacy for small business people over the last few decades has proven to be worthwhile when the election activities and outcomes are assessed. Small business maintained a place of importance in the policies, in the concerns and comments expressed in the media and by political parties. COSBOA members can take great credit for our prominence.
As always leading to an election issues of importance seem to change often and debates rage as political parties jockey for power. The key issues for us included: improving fairness in contract negotiations through further enhancing of unfair contract clause legislation; the continuing focus on our health as individuals; the importance of communications; Vocational Education and Training and change management among others.
As well as the above we have very much focused on getting rid of late payments to small businesses; continued focus on the costs and reliability of energy; and on the overdue streamlining of workplace relations.
Our approach to energy and to workplace relations has been a classic business approach. It’s about confronting reality and being practical. It’s about change management and risk management. It’s about being constructive and where that fails - being relentless in our pursuit of fairness and in making ‘doing business’ achievable and less encumbered with red tape and unnecessary ideological impediments. Our approach to late payments has been to work with government on improving process and working with big business to get a change in their behaviour and culture.
We continued to work closely with people who have a great influence on the lives, health, stress and livelihood of small business people. Through small businesses these people also have great influence on the lives of our employees and stakeholders. While our activities involve a lot of meetings with the full range of movers and shakers of the Australian community and economy, it is well worth remembering that small business people are the movers and shakers of small communities.
We worked closely with the Business Council of Australia (BCA). There will always be policies and issues where we are at odds with big business (competition policy and opening hours in the mnain) yet the reality is that for 90% of issues we agree and it is important that we be seen to agree as well as disagree. The BCA is unambiguously about big business and we are only about small business so we know where we stand and can have an honest and open dialogue as a result. The rehabilitation of the banks and some other corporates who have failed the community is something that must be done constructively, we need big business to be successful and also responsible and COSBOA worked hard with key stakeholders on that issue.
The focus on workplace relations during the election was very disappointing. We spent a lot of time confronting and challenging the false information coming out of the ACTU in particular. Their campaigns around the minimum wage and penalty rates were basically false, emotional and in the end thankfully ignored by the voters who count.
The debate on tax certainly focused on small business and the increase in threshold for the tax breaks to $50m was welcomed and has helped to keep the economy on song (just).
We identified those who might stop or manipulate the continuing focus on small business people. This included, among other things, the attempt by the extremists in politics who demand we do everything their way even if their way will lead to poor results. The energy debate for example was hijacked by a few MPs in the coalition and we were vocal in our criticism and will continue to demand transparency and fairness in policy making and decisions that effect the Australian community. So often it is about the ideologues need to be in the limelight and to have their beliefs, not practicality, decide our futures. We in COSBOA were not afraid to take them on and demand that the small business person be treated with respect, honesty and good faith.
We also continued to confront shadow regulators, like APRA AMCOS, and certainly have created greater awareness of the failings of these organisations and even got a decrease in licence fees for retailers of between 30% and 50%.
One very positive outcome has been the focus on our mental health from the Prime Minister Scott Morrison and our Small Business Minister Michaelia Cash which resulted in the recent launch of a package of support for the self-employed. But on the other side of the mental health ledger there was a report on potential changes to work safety laws that were very concerning - there is a disturbing attempt by Safe Work Australia to make employers responsible for the mental health of their employees and at the same time ignore the mental health of the employer. Indeed it was explained to us that we are legally responsible for our ownmental health - how? We confronted that ridiculous and dangerous notion and will continue to do so.
In our corner are many people, in particular Michaelia Cash and Karen Andrews, in the government ranks and on the opposition side we have Brendan O’Connor, Julie Owens and Terri Butler and a number of other people who understand just how important we are to the economy. The Greens have policies we really like (and others we don’t really like) and the cross bench, particularly Rex Patrick and Stirling Griff from Centre Alliance, get our issues and are big supporters.
There are those in parliament who still don’t get it – but they will.
The government has shown great belief in small business and our ability to innovate by backing COSBOA and our partner Paddl Co with over $3m to run a series of National Innovation Games. They have also backed COSBOA’s ability to influence the business world with a grant of over $3.2m to manage, with our key partner 89 Degrees East, the Future Female Entrepreneurs Program; branded as ‘The Academy for Enterprising Girls’.
Both these projects need substantial support from our corporate sector. So, through these projects the government, its agencies and big businesses are showing what can happen when we focus on the whole community and on the future, together.
We of course have the Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman in place federally and fabulous small business commissioners in four states as well as a small business champion in Queensland. These are our great institutional supporters - more power to them and long may they last.
All that being said we still have much to debate and many issues to confront. The journey of COSBOA over the last 40 years has without a doubt been one of ups and downs, of failure and success, of politics and partnerships, of fights, debates and agreements. Now in 2019 as we head into what could be a ‘year of clear vision’ 2020 we find COSBOA well placed to continue the fight with confidence but also some unease as the economy goes through more changes.
I will write on what we want from 2020 early in the new year (hint: respect, energy, environment, workplace relations, red tape and more). We have had to defer the annopuncment of the winner of the Gobbledy Cup due to too many choices. Have a great break, a profitable break for those who will continue to trade and safe festive season.