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Small businesses could determine election result

COSBOA CEO Peter Strong at Parliament House

Small business owners make up a sizeable proportion of voters in Australia’s most marginal seats, including one where more than one in four voters own a business, meaning they could ultimately determine the result of the federal election.

Figures published on Thursday (2 May 2019) by the Council of Small Business Organisations of Australia (COSBOA) looked at the 20 most marginal federal electorates across Australia, and tabulated the percentage of small business owners within these seats.

All are held by a margin of just 2.1 per cent or less.

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According to the figures, in the Victorian seat of MacNamara, small businesses make up more than a quarter (28.33 per cent) of the total voting population.

And in the high-profile seat of Wentworth — now held by independent Dr Kerryn Phelps on a margin of just 1.0 per cent, after it was vacated by former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull last year — that figure sits at 22.19 per cent.

The full list is below.

“With a Sensis survey released last week showing that 35 per cent of small business owners haven’t yet decided who they are voting for, it’s more important than ever for parties and candidates to recognise the voting power of small business owners,” COSBOA’s CEO, Peter Strong (pictured), said.

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According to Mr Strong, the results also spread beyond just the owner of a small business, with COSBOA suggesting that “the relationship between small business employers and their employees is normally very good and, whether we like it or not, employees can be influenced by the opinions of their employer”.

“The best way to get a small business vote is to talk to us as people not just as businesses. We value time with our family, the removal of complexity, the ability to focus on our business and our employees, not on unnecessary compliance, and on fairness in dealings with big businesses and governments,” Mr Strong said.

“We want to run our businesses and stay healthy. Not all of us want to grow to become a large business, but we do want the economy to be stable; and those that do want to grow, want access to finance and support when needed.”

It was a point made earlier this year by Angela Vithoulkas of The Small Business Party, who said on the My Business Podcast that small business leaders could bring about meaningful reform by banding together and achieving strength in numbers.

Scope for all parties to woo business voters

The Sensis Business Index report, referred to by Mr Strong, polled 1,001 SME owners and found that the Liberal and National parties are the clear winners among business owners, with 42 per cent of the respondents stating they will likely support the Coalition on election day.

This support was strongest in WA, where 53 per cent of voters favoured the Coalition. Support for the Coalition parties was, perhaps ironically, weakest in the two territories, where support stood at just 27 per cent in the ACT and 30 per cent in the Northern Territory.

However, that is not translating into increased support for Labor. According to the Sensis survey, only 15 per cent of respondents in the ACT and 19 per cent in the NT support the federal opposition. Instead, both territories recorded higher rates of uncertainty on voting intentions than any of the states.

Nationally, after the Coalition, the next greatest group — 35 per cent — are those undecided about which party or independent is likely to get their vote.

Of the remainder, only 13 per cent said they are likely to vote for Labor, while independents ranked higher than all of the minor parties at 4 per cent.

The Greens recorded support from 3 per cent of respondents, and 2 per cent said they will likely vote for One Nation. United Australia Party and other minor parties collectively attracted support from 1 per cent of respondents.

The full Sensis report is due to be released on Tuesday.

SME confidence remains strong

Meanwhile, a separate survey of 475 Australian SMEs by Prushka Debt Recovery found that confidence remains strong among business owners in the lead-up to the election.

Prushka’s biannual Canary in the Coal Mine report found that around two-thirds (65 per cent) are confident about the current position of their business, and half are actively planning for growth in the year ahead.

The company’s CEO, Roger Mendelson, said that it was a surprisingly strong result given current concerns about Australia’s economy.

“The results were very surprising, but they clearly indicate business confidence amongst SMEs remains high and they continue to plan for growth,” he said.

“However, there is an undercurrent of caution, as these figures have slightly decreased compared [with] six months ago.

“There is a pervading opinion that external macro-economic influences, like the state of the economy and consumer spending, are causing SMEs to act with a degree of caution. These key issues are linked to a degree and are basically SME perception problems that may not necessarily have a direct impact on their business.”

20 most marginal electorates and their proportion of small business voters

  • Herbert (Queensland) – margin: 0.02 per cent, proportion of small businesses: 9.25 per cent
  • Corangamite (Victoria) – margin: 0.03 per cent, proportion of small businesses: 10.02 per cent
  • Forde (Queensland) – margin: 0.6 per cent, proportion of small businesses: 11.46 per cent
  • Capricornia (Queensland) – margin: 0.6 per cent, proportion of small businesses: 11.38 per cent
  • Gilmore (NSW) – margin: 0.7 per cent, proportion of small businesses: 9.13 per cent
  • Cowan (WA) – margin: 0.7 per cent, proportion of small businesses: 13.00 per cent
  • Longman (Queensland) – margin: 0.8 per cent, proportion of small businesses: 8.26 per cent
  • Wentworth (NSW) – margin: 1.0 per cent, proportion of small businesses: 22.19 per cent
  • Flynn (Queensland) – margin: 1.0 per cent, proportion of small businesses: 13.74 per cent
  • Dunkley (Victoria) – margin: 1.0 per cent, proportion of small businesses: 11.27 per cent
  • Lindsay (NSW) – margin: 1.1 per cent, proportion of small businesses: 10.24 per cent
  • Robertson (NSW) – margin: 1.1 per cent, proportion of small businesses: 10.89 per cent
  • MacNamara (Victoria) – margin: 1.2 per cent, proportion of small businesses: 28.33 per cent
  • Cooper (Victoria) – margin: 1.3 per cent, proportion of small businesses: 12.39 per cent
  • Banks (NSW) – margin: 1.4 per cent, proportion of small businesses: 12.66 per cent
  • Griffith (Queensland) – margin: 1.4 per cent, proportion of small businesses: 16.44 per cent
  • Petrie (Queensland) – margin: 1.6 per cent, proportion of small businesses: 8.80 per cent
  • Dickson (Queensland) – margin: 1.7 per cent, proportion of small businesses: 10.56 per cent
  • Braddon (Tasmania) – margin: 1.7 per cent, proportion of small businesses: 9.03 per cent
  • Hasluck (WA) – margin: 2.1 per cent, proportion of small businesses: 11.70 per cent

Source: COSBOA.

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