Small business is a big deal in the Western “battlegrounds”
Whatever strange detours this coming eight-month election campaign will take we can be confident that all political roads trudged by the two major parties will pass through western Sydney. And get used to hearing “battleground” associated with any bit of Sydney dirt from Parramatta outwards.
“What you can expect,” said Tasmanian-based Liberal Senate leader Eric Abetz yesterday, neatly wrapping up the two certainties, “is Tony Abbott moving amongst people in areas such as western Sydney which is the key battleground for this election.”
Julia Gillard and crew won’t be strangers in that area, either.
Mr Abbott, the Opposition Leader, had his faux campaign launch on Sunday in the Labor-held Sydney electorate of Reid. Expect the Liberal election launch proper to be somewhere in that general vicinity.
Likewise the launch of a Gillard “Labor values” campaign might be hosted by the western suburbs.
Obviously the Liberals believe they can take a swag of seats from Labor. But why is the area so vulnerable for the Government?
While the candidates in western Sydney might be shouting loudest about asylum seekers, Budgets and carbon pricing, the core issue in the fight for these seats will be the mood of small business.
A senior Labor figure believes the unheralded issue hurting his party is the struggle to survive in small business. Western Sydney workers have taken to Mark Latham’s “ladder of opportunity” and invested in their ambitions, only to hit obstacles.
The Labor figure believes the frustration and economic pain felt by small business operators is making the city’s west ready for revolt.
This is the empire of the tradie who expands by taking on a few staff and greater risk.
The electorates depend significantly on small businesses for jobs and incomes - from owner-operator micro outfits to companies employing up to 20 staff.
And NSW has had a tough time with its smallest entrepreneurs.
An analysis by the Department of Innovation released last month outlines the small business slaughter between June 2007 and June 2011, which included the global financial crisis.
The survivability rate in NSW was the second lowest of any of the states at 59.8 per cent, just behind Victoria on 60.7 per cent. Small business survivability in Queensland was 57.8 per cent for the period but that was because of the devastating floods of two years ago.
Farmers are small business operators, too. And so are many western Sydney residents. The seat of Greenway, the electorate which might have made Tony Abbott Prime Minister in 2010 had state Liberals selected a candidate a lot earlier, has 11,400 small businesses, according to latest figures from the Australian Electoral Commission.
Lindsay, the seat the Liberals want back after losing it in 2007, has 10,400. Reid, which was where Mr Abbott had his function on Sunday, has 19,200 small businesses.
In Chifley, which includes such suburbs as Mt Druitt and Rooty Hill, there are 7,300. And in Werriwa there are 9,800 while Parramatta has 16,200. Banks has 13,400 small businesses.
Small business isn’t rife only in western Sydney. In Joe Hockey’s seat of North Sydney there are 26,800, which probably means a lot of lawyers, architects and other professionals. And other cities have suburbs matching economic conditions in Sydney’s west.
But in Sydney the plight of small business is starker, and the disappointment with Labor is keener. And this is combining with other factors Mr Abbott is keen to list.
“But obviously the current Labor Government in Canberra and the Labor Party more generally have badly let down the people of western Sydney,” he said yesterday.
“The people of western Sydney have been taken for granted by the Labor Party for far too long and as we now are seeing in ICAC and elsewhere the Labor Party in NSW just became a stinking patronage machine in government and that’s why the Labor brand is so toxic - right around Australia but particularly in the western suburbs of Sydney.”
The Federal Government is not ignoring small business and has recently introduced policies, such as appointment of a Small Business Commissioner, to answer demands from the sector.
The Coalition has also proposed a package of changes for the sector - arguably the most positive of its policy fronts.
The competition for the hearts and vote of small business in Sydney suburbs will become more strident.
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