A new political party has its sights set on providing a proper voice for SMEs in government, with its founder criticising career politicians for toying with the livelihoods of business owners.
Angela Vithoulkas, a hospitality business owner and independent councillor at the City of Sydney, unveiled plans to launch a new political party called Small Business Matters.
“I’ve been mainly in hospitality for the past 30 years,” Ms Vithoulkas told My Business.
“You turn up to work, you work your guts out, you do everything right, and then government comes along and pulls the rug out from under your feet – it has nothing to do with how good you are or how fantastic your location is or whether you even know your job.”
She criticised both major parties for treating SMEs as an afterthought, rather than as the major employer and economic powerhouse of the nation that the sector is.
“Ultimately it’s federal policy that also plays a huge part in the lives of small business, but this is the first step in getting our voices heard in NSW.”
Ms Vithoulkas said she feels neither of the major political parties take SMEs seriously, other than “at election time”, with those being made up primarily of career politicians means that neither have a good sense of the needs and ramifications of legislative burden on the nation’s employers.
As such, she is planning to take the Small Business Matters party into contention for seats in the upper house of the NSW parliament in the 2019 election.
“We are a substantial part of the NSW electorate and the federal one, and yet there seems to be very little real policy change or consideration when it comes to small business. We’re not even an afterthought sometimes,” she said.
“This is about highlighting the cause of small business, that we should be considered during policy-making and legislation-making procedure, not something that we put a band-aid on after.”
According to Ms Vithoulkas, the first step is to get the required 1,000 minimum members in order to have the party officially registered with the electoral commission, with campaigning to begin immediately afterwards.
When asked about whether she had concerns moving beyond local politics while still a business owner, Ms Vithoulkas said she had to think long and hard, but ultimately the need for a strong voice for SMEs persuaded her to push ahead.
“Politics is a very divisive world – you don’t gain friends, you lose friends,” she said.
However, Ms Vithoulkas said it was her experience as a local councillor liaising with state government that led her to realise how big the void is of awareness of SME issues within the major political parties.
“Having spent the last two years fighting hard for small businesses along the light rail route [in inner Sydney], and how it affected those hundreds and hundreds of business owners including myself … state government just didn’t consider the impacts of small business when they commit to major infrastructure projects,” she said.
“Small businesses are entrepreneurial – we get progress. We get that you have to crack a few eggs to make an omelette. What we don’t understand is why we have to be the eggs cracked, and nothing is made of it.”
Ms Vithoulkas highlighted the impacts of major infrastructure projects, revenue raising components, ongoing red tape concerns and planning issues as some of the continuing pain points SMEs face at the hands of government.
“All of those things where it could impact on small business trade, it could impact on small business policy, it could impact on their insurance … all of those issues need to be considered by someone who has walked the walk and talked the talk,” she said.
She pointed to the example of the NSW government’s controversial lock-out laws in certain inner-city areas, which has seen a raft of businesses caught in the crossfire.
“Very little consideration was given to any of those small business that were affected, and they weren’t just the pubs and bars – most of those small businesses who were affected, and many of them have closed, were regular businesses like news agencies and chemists and those boutique shops that didn’t even have any alcohol.
“A lot of businesses were affected, and a lot of families were affected... so many casualties of war in the small business community, and we’re just meant to wear it and move one.”
The move comes just days after federal independent Senator Nick Xenophon announced plans to campaign for a seat in the next South Australian state election, saying that local problems need to be fixed on the ground before changes can be made at a national level.
Adam Zuchetti is the editor of My Business, and has steered the publication’s editorial direction since early 2016.