This is the fourth installment in a four-part series in which Neil Slonim, an independent SME finance advocate from theBankDoctor.org, takes a closer look at which of the major parties is best for small businesses. Click here to read parts one, two and three.
This round of elections has chronicled how the Coalition and Labor have dealt with the small business sector over the past 12 years.
We believe that neither side has demonstrated the actions that would allow them to claim to be the “small business party”. Additionally, small business owners, like so many other voters, are disenchanted with the big parties’ preoccupation with power, petty politics, and lack of transparency and diversity.
This begs the question: are small parties or independents a better alternative?
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The small parties
In previous elections we have seen the rise of right-wing parties like One Nation and the United Australia Party and on the other side of the political fence are the Greens.
The One Nation website lists policies on 23 issues, but small business is not one of them. Although Pauline Hanson came to Parliament in small business, in her two years as an MP and six years as a Senator she failed to deliver meaningful results for small business. One Nation currently holds two Senate seats, held by Pauline Hanson and Malcolm Roberts, both from Queensland, and that position is unlikely to improve.
Clive Palmer is spending around $100 million on the United Australia Party campaign. Craig Kelly is the sole UAP MP, despite being elected in 2010 as a Liberal. In 2021, he left the Liberal Party and briefly became independent before becoming the leader of the UAP. Kelly is a climate change skeptic and anti-vaxxer and is unlikely to retain his seat.
Like other politicians, Palmer and Kelly say small business drives the economy, but in office the UAP has done nothing for the small business sector. The UAP website lists 13 policies without any mention of small businesses. His other policies – like fixing mortgage rates and imposing a super tax on iron ore exporters – are as fanciful as this ad for Craig Kelly.
And Greens and small business is an oxymoron. The Greens are a very taxing and very spendthrift party. The party’s website lists 43 policy areas without a single reference to small businesses.
For One Nation, the UAP and the Greens in particular, small businesses are simply not on the radar.
A smaller party that some small business owners might find more appealing is the Liberal Democrats. They have been around in one form or another for over 20 years and believe in smaller government and free markets. They have no representation in the federal parliament and although they are running candidates in both houses in the next election, they are unlikely to gain representation. The party’s Small Business Manifesto includes some interesting initiatives, such as “One in, two out”, which means that for every new regulation issued, at least two previous regulations must be eliminated.
Disenchantment with larger parties and the inability of smaller parties to have a meaningful impact on government policy has generated strong interest in a range of independent candidates.
There are already three independent MPs, Andrew Wilkie, Helen Haines and Zali Steggall, who each have a strong chance of being re-elected.
Wilkie, a former Greens candidate, has been the independent member of Clark’s Tasmanian seat since 2010. Coming from a military background, he has focused primarily on gambling and health issues. Its website lists 22 policy areas, none of which relate to small businesses.
Both Haines and Steggall were elected in 2019. Haines holds the Victorian seat for North East Indi and as a health professional her main focus has been on regional health issues. Steggall beat Tony Abbott at the Warringah headquarters in Sydney’s northern beaches area, campaigning on a platform about climate change, mental health and honesty in government. The Haines and Steggall websites are also deficient when it comes to small business policies.
Independents say, with good reason, that big parties focus on “power without purpose”. Their message is resonating with voters, some of whom support independents due to a strong alignment of views on climate policy while others do so more as a protest vote against the two main parties and also the Greens.
Climate 200 is a fund created by Simon Holmes à Court that gives money to candidates who want to advance climate policy. Climate 200 is not a political party and says it dictates nothing to the 22 candidates it supports. These candidates do not present themselves with the aim of forming a government, nor do they aspire to become an alternative government or to be part of a coalition government. On the contrary, they mainly seek to influence the climate policy of the party that wins the government.
Of the 22 candidates backed by Climate 200 (along with thousands of people across the country), three are incumbent independent MPs Wilkie, Haines and Steggall and another is Rebekha Sharkie – a former Liberal staffer who holds the seat of ‘Adelaide de Mayo for the Center Alliance Party.
A number of these well-qualified and articulate candidates are aiming to dethrone top moderate liberals in the Blue Ribbon seats, including Josh Frydenberg in Kooyong, Tim Wilson in Goldstein and Dave Sharma in Wentworth. Voters in those safe Liberal seats can afford to vote solely on the basis of climate policy, but small business owners may not be in such a position.
Only three of the Climate 200-backed independents are involved with small business, and despite all the candidates naming a wide range of policies they would pursue, small business is barely mentioned.
It is quite conceivable that many will win Coalition seats, which would give them considerable leverage when engaging with the party that will form the government.
Unfortunately for small businesses, this influence is unlikely to be wielded to improve the lot of small business owners, given that their number one publicly stated priority is climate change, and then follows a wide range of social issues, including climate change. integrity in government, equal care for the elderly, education. and refugees.
There is no doubt that many small business owners are also very committed to climate policy and therefore can vote for the independents, but on the issue of small businesses alone, a vote for the independents does not offer any advantage .
In the case of a parliament without a majority, it will be difficult to obtain the support of independents, especially since it will be necessary to deal with individuals and not with a party.
For example, Monique Ryan, who is challenging Josh Frydenberg, said that to win his support, the ruling party would need to commit to a targeted 60% reduction in carbon emissions by 2030, which compares to the the coalition’s 28% target and that of the Labor Party. 43%.
It is insightful that independents are not drawn to which party they would support if elected. Meanwhile, the Coalition and Labor continue to sidestep the issue of a deal with independents, both saying they seek a majority. Their continued stubbornness in refusing to recognize the legitimacy of independents’ popularity may make it even more difficult for either party to win full government.
The major parties have only themselves to blame for the wave of support for the independents, but sooner or later they will most likely have to sit down and negotiate with them.
Small business owners will consider a range of factors when voting, but on small business issues alone a Labor government is less likely to be helpful than the Coalition.
That said, the Coalition has been in power for three terms now and could and should have done more for small businesses. Disillusioned small business owners may therefore feel inclined to vote Labor even if they are not convinced they will be better off.
On small business issues, none of the major parties deserve a clear mandate, which only increases the influence of elected minorities and independents. It is not an outcome that will put the interests of small business at the top of the next government’s agenda.
Politicians of all persuasions say small businesses are the backbone of the economy, but their actions so often fall short of the rhetoric. Unfortunately, this will continue until the highly fragmented small business sector can defend itself.
Small business owners have little time, resources and understanding to support existing advocacy and advocacy bodies such as Small Business Australia, Council of Small Business Organizations Australia and Small Business Party, which are doing their best but failing to do so. are no match for the big banks, mining companies, telephone companies, real estate companies, and airlines that wield significant political influence through their well-resourced industry associations and high-level executives.
Perhaps the best small business owners can hope for from this election is that in the event that a number of Climate 200-backed independents are elected and are able to advance their climate policy demands , some small business champions will feel emboldened to step forward to galvanize the small business sector as Simon Holmes à Court and Mike Cannon-Brookes have done for climate change advocates.
Neil Slonim is an independent SME finance advocate from theBankDoctor.orgwho is a nonprofit small business advocate and commentator. This article first appeared in its free newsletter, which you can sign up to receive here.