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Coalition’s small business strategy puts Shorten on the back foot

13 June 2015 140 views One Comment

The reality is that, in recent years, no political party in Australia has won a federal election without the backing of small business. It is also true that a disunited government is extremely unlikely to be returned to office.

Led by the Small Business Minister Bruce Billson, the Abbott Government’s comprehensive small business package is proving to be an important vote winner which is now giving the Coalition the best possible shot at winning the next federal election.

It also shows the power of positive teamwork. As Billson, Abbott, Joe Hockey and the energetic Assistant Treasurer Josh Frydenberg continue to work cooperatively in promoting the interconnected small business package, they are demonstrating that they can win public approval while at the same time promote effective public policy.

When Billson responded to a question by Labor in federal Parliament in early June — his first in 559 days — Labor didn’t know what hit them. Billson explained exactly how the Government’s small business package would assist Australia’s 2 million businesses — while at the same time making it clear that Bill Shorten had few ideas when it came to this crucial area.

Labor has been on the small business back foot ever since. Indeed, Billson has proved to be one of the MasterChefs of the Coalition’s recent good fortune as he continues assiduously to promote his highly effective small business package.

The strong support of Liberal backbenchers who have owned small businesses is only surpassed by that of the Nationals. This is not surprising as a great many National Party MPs have run their farms as a small business. Moreover, their core constituency is the thousands of small businesses operating across regional Australia.

And how do we know that Billson’s package got it right? Well, ever since its announcement in this years’ Budget, virtually all Coalition MPs are receiving high praise when they travel around their electorates.

Small business has a special place in our psyche. Almost all Australians are involved in a small business — either as an entrepreneur or an employee — or knows someone who is.

The local coffee shop, the local newsagent, your local doctor’s surgery — chances are they all fit in with the Abbott Government’s definition of small business as having less than $2 million in turnover.

Almost on its own, the interconnected small business package has made the federal Government relevant. It means there are millions of people throughout the nation willing to say that “now you are on the right track, that “now you deserve a chance of re-election. This is because almost all small businesses in Australia and their families and communities are directly benefiting from the package.

And for those Australians not owning a small business, many wish they did. Indeed a quintessentially Australian dream is not just about home ownership but is about running a small business. Although the phrase may not always be used, the notion of ‘being your own boss’ can resonate strongly with ordinary people.

In many ways, it is the toughness of the small businesses industry that makes it so appealing. Australians don’t mind working hard, but we want to know that governments are fighting with us, not against us.

And that is why the messaging around the Government’s small business package is so important. People need to know how the small business package is relevant to them. This is because while small businesses drive jobs growth, economic development and innovation — many people wrongly assume that it is big business calling the shots.

As the Reserve Bank has recently found, nine out of 10 businesses engaged in innovation are small businesses.

And as the Australian Bureau of Statistics has discovered, over 18,000 small businesses already export their goods to the world. The lower Aussie dollar, facilitated by three historic free trade agreements last year, means that future opportunities for these — and many thousands more small businesses — are almost limitless.

Why is small business in the driver’s seat to take advantage of these exporting opportunities? It is because small businesses have the capacity to quickly react to changing markets and changing consumer demands.

It is little wonder that while it was Apple that developed the iPhone, it was small businesses that developed the iPhone applications that we know and use so widely. Many of these small businesses are now big business employing hundreds of people.

Billson’s success in securing the biggest small business package in Australia’s history — strongly backed by Abbott, Hockey and Frydenberg — is causing huge issues for Labor.

The currently embattled Bill Shorten still isn’t sure how to react to the Government’s plan for small business. Instinctively, Labor’s backbench thought it was a sensible idea. After all, they had been out on the hustings for the past 12 months hearing that small business wanted not just tax cuts, but also immediate asset write-offs.

Labor MPs across the country were told by small businesses that a $10,000 immediate asset write-off would allow them to buy a new coffee machine, a new refrigerator, or a new computer system.

However on Budget night the federal Government effectively trumped the ALP, as the Treasurer announced an immediate asset write-off of $20,000.

In response, Labor backbenchers privately called on their leader to be positive about Billson’s package.

But with the partial exception of issues of national security, supporting the Government is not in Shorten’s blood. Like a legendary Doctor No, he simply cannot resist the temptation to be negative. Hence in his Budget reply, Shorten said that the package was “A giveaway to start a fire sale at a second hand car yard and Harvey Norman — that’s good as far as it goes but it doesn’t go very far..

And for these and other negative comments, Shorten is paying dearly. He’s been struggling ever since to convince small business that he is fighting for them, rather than against them.

The reality is that small business has switched off Shorten — who, because of Kevin Rudd’s changes to electing federal Labor leaders, is now almost impossible to replace before the next election.

It is also causing internal problems for Shorten. In particular Labor’s backbench must explain to their electorates why Shorten was and is so negative about what is actually highly effective and responsible public policy.

All in all, the extremely popular small business package clearly shows that, in this electorally crucial respect, the Abbott Government is well and truly onto a winner.

Emeritus Professor of History and Politics at Griffith University, Ross Fitzgerald’s memoir ‘My Name is Ross: An Alcoholic’s Journey’ is available as an e-Book and a Talking Book from Vision Australia.

The Weekend Australian, June 13-14, 2015, Inquirer, p 24.

One Comment »

  • Sophia Yates said:

    Political football

    Ross Fitzgerald (“Coalition’s small business strategy puts Shorten on the back foot’’, 13-14/6) highlights that the Coalition sees the primary purpose of government as putting the opposition on to the defensive. There are, of course, many Australians who would like government to be more than a contest between footy teams.

    Sophia Yates, Melbourne, Vic

    The Australian, June 15, 2015, Letter to the editor, Commentary p 11.

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