On the back of fears that weak political reform will stifle growth and support for small businesses, SMEs have been told their lobbying can make a significant difference to policy direction and debate.
At the IPA’s National Congress last week, a panel hosted by My Business editor Phillip Tarrant discussed the roadblocks to entrepreneurship and SME success – namely, a failure to reform inefficient taxation systems and excessive red tape.
The members of the panel, which included IPA chief executive Andrew Conway, former federal small business minister and current chair of the Franchise Council of Australia Bruce Billson and NAB’s chief economist Alan Oster, unanimously backed the impact that grassroots lobbying by SMEs can have on policy direction.
“It’s probably an unwelcome newsflash: we get the politicians we deserve,” said Mr Billson.
“We want a slightly more mature, less shrill, longer-term discussion … but we need to participate. Because the world is run by people who turn up,” he said.
“If you turn up and have your voice heard and mount your argument, you can bring about an influence and have a capacity for change. And that’s not what you’re seeing at the moment.”
Adding to this point, Mr Conway said SMEs need to be bold in their thinking about reform and in getting their voices heard.
“We all say we want bold reform. But we have to be, not just in our own communities, but collectively, be bold in our thinking … shifting our focus from the here and the now to long-term gain,” Mr Conway said.
“So to Bruce’s point [about the world] being run by people who turn up, I would say the world is changed by people who stand up.”
Similarly, Mr Tarrant encouraged all SMEs to take the opportunity to influence policy and shape political dialogue by lobbying government, with the aid, for example, of representative bodies.
“You do have a role to play in terms of shaping the reform agenda, and there are tools to do it. You can get involved in helping to shape those conversations around boardrooms that are going to move up and down in Parliament,” he said.
However, being open to reform also involves being open to concepts that are often frowned upon by the Australian public.
Mr Oster said that, in particular, the rhetoric that “deficits are bad and surplus is good” holds Australia back on an economic level.
“Trump’s general attitude is, ‘I’m going to spend a lot more money on things like infrastructure and I’m going to do some tax cuts’. The fact that he can’t fund it is slightly worrying, but he won’t rely purely on interest rates, which is starting to run out of steam,” Mr Oster said.
“The cost of running the government should be in surplus; the cost of investing in the future should be in deficit. What people don’t understand is that just on population growth figures, we need to be building a new Canberra every year and a new Melbourne every 10 years. That’s a lot of planning, a lot of infrastructure.
“People always say to me, ‘Are you worried we’re going to do something stupid?’. My answer is no, I’m worried we’re not going to do anything.”