Australia’s small business ombudsman is reminding the re-elected Coalition government to “follow through” on the promises it made to support the nation’s small-business sector.
The Australian Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman (ASBFEO), Kate Carnell, has issued a statement reminding the Coalition government that its focus on the small-business sector in the pre-election period played a role in its victory.
She called for the government to “follow through” on the commitments it made to the small-business sector, including the establishment of the Australian Business Growth Fund to facilitate up to $1 billion in capital investment to the SME sector, the introduction of a $2 billion Australian Business Securitisation Fund to improve SME access to funds on competitive terms, and the extension of the instant asset write-off.
“A Sensis report a few weeks ago showed 35 per cent of small to medium enterprises were undecided on who to vote for before the election, but they made their voice heard on the day and will expect the Coalition to act on its pre-election policy commitments,” Ms Carnell said.
She suggested that the government start by responding to the Treasury review of unfair contract term legislation.
“The ASBFEO, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission and others have strongly recommended significant changes to the current unfair contract term legislation, backed by the Treasury report,” the Ombudsman said.
“The major changes are making unfair contract terms illegal and punishable, increasing the contract size threshold to $1 million for contracts up to 12 months and $5 million for contracts greater than 12 months, and increasing the number of small businesses protected – those with a turnover of up to $10 million.
“The government should also require departments to comply with unfair contract term legislation.”
Ms Carnell also mentioned Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s commitment to develop an annual reporting framework that would require large businesses to publish payment information on how they engage with small businesses. Mr Morrison placed pressure on corporates to pay SME invoices within 20 days or risk losing future government contracts.
Commenting on Ms Carnell’s call for follow-through by the government, Simon Keast, managing director of Spotcap Australia and New Zealand, said: “Time and time again, we see late payments being a major driver in cash flow issues and insolvency in Australian businesses. With countless other pressures, business owners simply don’t have time to be chasing receivables.
“We’re definitely happy to see the Coalition government taking active steps to improve this challenge, and look forward to seeing the policy rolled out in the next few months.”
Speaking of the Coalition’s election win, Peter Strong, chief executive of the Council of Small Business of Australia (COSBOA) noted the relief felt by the SME sector in light of the election results.
“The result gives certainty to the small-business community. It is a strong rejection of the far left, but it also asks the new Coalition government to moderate the extremism of the far right within its own ranks,” he said.
In a statement, COSBOA said its members are pleased that “they can get back to work knowing that big unions will not be interfering in their operations, that many ordinary Australians will get a tax break that they will hopefully spend to grow the economy, and that small-business people themselves will also benefit from changes to the tax system”.
In a similar tone to the ASBFEO, the council urged the government to act “quickly” to strengthen unfair contract regulation.
“We shouldn’t forget that as much as it was a surprise, the Coalition only just got across the line. We believe that this sends a further message that the new government must limit the influence of the far right within its own ranks and address the vitally important issue of national energy and climate change policy,” Mr Strong said.
[Related: SME lender eyes growth after raising $8m]