Does it Pass the Small Business Test? Part 2

Kate: And of course the other thing that small
businesses bring up with us all the time and I’m sure they bring up with you is
energy costs. Mark: Yes. Kate: So tell me how both parties rate in energy costs. Mark: Well I suppose in terms of energy you can’t really disconnect energy from climate. So when
we actually looked at this we were looking at what’s the longer-term
policy in terms of policy in relation to renewables. So we’re seeing a situation
now that coal generation assets are starting to be retired out because
they’re getting quite old. Businesses, the energy companies, are starting to make
incremental investments. So what’s actually happening is we’ve effectively
got investment in energy stalling which means that supply is tightening and so
from a small business the biggest issue, whether you believe in climate change or
not, the issue here is the fact that we have
got to a situation where no one is moving in this space, means that we’re
just going to see continued increases in energy. Both parties have actually
indicated they’ll do some things short-term to actually reduce costs and
the Coalition is advancing a thing called the standing offer and lowering
that. But we don’t see a longer-term strategy coming through from the
Coalition in that space. On the Labor side we’re certainly seeing a broader target
that’s being articulated in terms of 45% reduction in climate
change. That’s I suppose a positive. They’ve been mixed arguments about
what it would cost us to get there but we don’t see a lot of detail that gives
us the comfort that they’ve necessarily got the answers to lower energy costs as
well. So for us we’re really at a point of on this one we’ve actually just
marked the Coalition below a pass and we’ve effectively given almost like a
conceded pass to Labor to say look you’ve got 50% you’ve got the framework there but
we haven’t really seen the detail behind this. Kate: So the pressure for us has got to
be making both major parties focus on energy costs as well as long term plans
for how we address climate change and co2 in our environment. And look
the other thing that small businesses always raise is being able to get the
staff that they need with the right training. So what’s both parties
doing with regard to skills and vocational training. Mark: Well in terms of
vocational education and training we’ve got on the Coalition
side of the equation that they’ve actually recently completed a review
called the Joyce review to actually have a look at the way VET is actually
delivered. So they’re doing some some new things in that space in terms of
innovation hubs and other things being presented. They’ve also got a major focus
on growing apprenticeships and I suppose if I flip on then to the ALP side, at
one level these VET policies seem to have gotten into a bidding war of… Kate: How
many apprentices you can put on the table. Mark: That’s right. Well it’s a reality when you talk to most
small business they’re really struggling to get apprentices full stop so if we park that issue at the moment it’s really on the basis of saying both
parties have got a policy that is advancing a focus on apprenticeships and
they’re both talking about an increased focus on VET in the longer term. What
you’ve effectively got is the ALP announcing that they’ll have a landmark
review more than what we’ve actually seen from the Coalition in recent times.
We’re talking about a very big review that we haven’t seen the likes of for
about 40 years and then look at the relationship between that and academic
training. And on the Coalition side it’s really a case of saying well we’ve got an existing
system but we’re going to supplement that system. And so the key difference
really is they both got different big numbers in terms of apprentices but on
the whole they’re pretty well similar in terms of the focus on vocational
education and training. Kate: So we’re rating them about even in that in that space. I
must admit that some of the things I liked about both policies was a real
focus on rural and regional areas. Mark: Absolutely, yes. Kate: Because as we know it’s those
areas that really struggle for skills and for accessible training so
it’s good to see both parties have realised this is a big gap. One thing
COSBOA and Peter Strong particularly has put real pressure on is not just
mental health of people in the workforce but those small business owners. Tell me
about what’s happened in that space. Mark: Yeah so the conversation very much has been I
think for the first time in a long time Kate we’ve actually seen a bit of a
focus on mental health and youth suicide. And certainly PM Scott Morrison has been
pretty hard on this sort of issue and it’s been good to see that the ALP and
Bill Shorten have come in behind that. But I think the key thing
here that we’ve been concerned about is that most of the focuses are employees
in a business and their mental health. If you’ve got a business of five people and
the owner is struggling with mental health, those four are impacted as well as
the owner and a key thing that Peter has been on about and certainly
convinced me and the Board is that what we’re missing there’s almost a policy
gap in terms of what support are we providing to the business owner. Kate: Because
they can’t have time off. Mark: No exactly right. And in fact if they’re struggling the
whole enterprise is suffering and the livelihood of the people employed to
that business is put at risk. And so what you’ve seen from the Coalition is for
the first time quite a good suite of policies. On the ALP side
unfortunately they’re very silent in that area. Kate: They have really focused on
employees haven’t they, rather than on employers. Mark: Yeah so I think that context we’re
saying there’s a bit of a gap here. Kate: Oh well we’ll both keep the
pressure on whoever is in power after next Saturday. Now in
the COSBOA document there is a whole range of other areas that are covered
like access to finance, competition policy, NBN infrastructure, a whole range of
areas that you can have a look at and see how the major parties compare. It’s
really important from a small business perspective that you really have a look
at what parties are actually offering and make a considered
decision in the best interests of you, your family, your business and of course
your employees. So let’s all focus on hopefully whatever happens next
Saturday there is a real focus on small businesses, the engine room of the
economy and the place where new jobs will be created.

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