So what are going to be the battleground issues in Election 2013? Leaving aside that the punters may not like either Julia or Tony, there’s little doubt that cost of living issues are going to be central to this year’s election.
There will be the usual debate about border security, the NBN, who’s looking after regional Australia and whether we should be encouraging Australians to move to the top end. But at the heart of all these issues is cost of living. Can we sustain more `unauthorised’ boat arrivals given the pressure these place on housing, jobs and government services? Can Australians afford to pay for broadband services provided through the NBN? And how can people living in regional Australia make ends meet given that the cost of living is an even bigger issue for them?
The point is very simple. The cost of living in Australia is going through the roof. Ordinary Australians whether they are in western Sydney or Western Australia are feeling the growing pressure on household budgets. The price electricity is going up. The price of petrol is going up. The price of water is going up. The cost of health services is going up.
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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.
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With small businesses across Australia increasingly under threat from the games that can be played by shopping centre landlords, franchisors and larger businesses, it’s certainly time for all small businesses to have access to an independent small business commissioner in their particular state or territory.
With Victoria, South Australia, Western Australia, and New South Wales all having a state-based small business commissioner to help their small businesses, businesses in Tasmania, Queensland, the North Territory and the ACT are certainly missing out on the considerable benefits that a state or territory small business commissioner could bring at very little cost.
And no one should get too excited about the so-called new federal Small Business Commissioner. We have had lots of talk of a federal small business commissioner during the year, but it has only just been created. Obviously the Federal Labor Government is a big talker.
Have you noticed a little more rhetoric lately from the Federal Government on small business matters? Well, that’s not surprising given that there’s an election around the corner and the Federal Government needs to show that it’s doing something for this key constituency.
No doubt previous Federal Labor Small Business Ministers like Craig Emerson and Nick Sherry will feel that they did ‘something’ during their time, but unfortunately for them not many people will remember or care that Emerson and Sherry were once Small Business Ministers
For those who actually remember Emerson they will recall he was the guy who stopped small businesses from getting laws to prevent them from being victims of unfair contract terms. He also didn’t like commentators pointing out that he let small businesses down in this very important regard.
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Have you ever been to a lawyer? Have you ever been a party to a Court case? If you have or know someone who has, then you will know how expensive lawyers and going to court can be.
Yes, lawyers have an important role to play in providing legal advice when needed, but the cost of that legal advice keeps going up. It’s a bit like the big banks constantly bothering us with their pleas of how their cost of funding is going up and how they need to keep inflating their interest rates on loans and credit cards.
And, of course, the lawyers will also tell us how tough things are for them and, surprise, surprise, how they need to raise their legal fees to cope with their increasing costs.
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A world map depicting what the Earth would look like upside down leans against the front door of Mapworld’s temporary digs in Henry Deane Plaza in Sydney.
Appropriate, because the world of selling maps has been completely turned on its head in the past decade. The market for map purchases has shrunk dramatically thanks to new technologies like Google Maps and your GPS.
Inside, the store is buzzing. Senior map consultant Izzy Perko barely has the time to stop and chat as he flits amongst shelves packed with maps of Hill End and Hamburg to check on customers. He suggests to one that they’re really looking for a more detailed map than what they’ve chosen. He’ll be with the woman looking for maps of walking trails in the Blue Mountains in a moment. Not too many moments though, because he and three of his colleagues will be unemployed come Saturday.
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Today is a day to reflect on the progress made towards equality for women, but it is also a day to consider the road ahead.
We know that women are innovators who are increasingly making a serious impact in industry and in business.
This is backed up by findings of the first national survey of women business owners and female entrepreneurs released this week.
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Late last year Canberra bookseller Peter Strong received a surprise telephone call from Treasurer Wayne Swan. Soon after he heard from then-Assistant Treasurer Bill Shorten.
Neither was as big a shock as what Penny Wong did. The Finance Minister walked past Mr Strong one day, stopped, and walked back to introduce herself.
Peter Strong, proprietor of the splendid Smiths Alternative Bookshop, was being feted by the nation’s top three elected economic managers.
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With the ALP’s leadership tussle over for now, it’s time for the Federal Government to get back to the much needed policy work on competition, small business and consumer law issues.
These issues are fundamental to the ALP’s re-election hopes as the sky-rocketing cost of living will make struggling Aussie families think twice at election time.
Those Aussie families are sick and tired of the gimmicks or, even worse, the lack of policy direction from federal Labor. Take, for example, small business concerns about the growing market and contractual power of larger businesses. And what about the concerns increasingly expressed by farmers about their dealings with food processors and the major supermarket chains?
As 2011 fast comes to an end it’s timely to reflect on the significant policy reforms that gave small businesses a helping hand during the year. Central to these reforms has been the move towards Small Business Commissioners around the country.
The year started off with the South Australian Small Business Minister, Tom Koutsantonis, launching a period of wide ranging consultation with small businesses in that State.
With South Australia’s draft small business commissioner reforms unveiled in February and explained during information briefing sessions across Adelaide and regional South Australia, there was considerable excitement amongst small business and farmers that they would finally have an independent person to turn to in the event of a dispute with a larger business.
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Finally, we have a government willing to stand up for small business in the face of hysterical opposition from the big end of town and their legal advisers.
Last week the South Australian Labor Government successfully got its small business commissioner reforms through the Parliament. Those reforms had been subject to a frenzied attack by elements of the big end of town and their legal advisers. Despite such a self-interested and panic-stricken campaign the reforms secured the numbers in the South Australian Upper House.
Like most Upper Houses in Australia, the SA Legislative Council is a place where the Government lacks the numbers and, accordingly, needs to convince the minor parties and independents of the merits of all government initiatives.
We always hear about how important small business is to the economy, but we don’t often hear about governments standing up for small businesses when it comes to effective competition and consumer laws. Why? Quite simply because small businesses are all too often the ignored members of our society.
The small business sector is a big employer and small business people put in some of the longest working hours operating their businesses. They can be super efficient because it’s their money on the line. There are no corporate overheads or bloated performance bonuses because the money they make is generally put back into the business.
Small businesses survive on their excellent customer service and help drive innovation and product choice in their chosen areas of the economy. While they keep the big players honest, they can be victims of abuses of market or contractual power by those big players.
The Federal budget highlights one great need for small business, and that is a rational coherent national strategy.
This budget and indeed the last 20 federal budgets have included a whole range of good and bad measures for small business people. But there has never been a strategy to underpin those measures.
There has never been a real statement of aims and objectives that we want to achieve. There has never been a documented comprehensive vision for the families who earn their living from their own business and who employ almost five million other people, and underpin our economic health.
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With the fate of the proposed flood levy hanging in the balance as we await the outcome of negotiations between Senator Nick Xenophon and the Federal Government, it‘s timely to have a close look at the whole issue of disaster insurance and the insurance industry generally.
A sad reality emerging from this summer’s national disasters is that not only have we been as a nation generally under-insured for natural disasters, but more significantly for consumers the insurance companies are basically a law unto themselves when it comes to paying out on insurance contracts.
As anyone who has tried to take on an insurance company knows all too well, the legal cards are stacked in the company’s favour.
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Have you ever wondered what impact our competition regulator, the ACCC, is really having? Well just ask around small business circles and you will hear the word “useless” more often than not. Perhaps small businesses are a bunch of “whingers” or perhaps they are sick and tired of feeling second rate with the ACCC not understanding how small businesses are being driven out of business as a result of anti-competitive practices by the big end of town.
And, don’t stop at small businesses. Ask motorists what they think of the ACCC and its Petrol Commissioner. Ask them if they know who the Petrol Commissioner is and what he does. Ask borrowers what they think of the ACCC decisions to allow the majors to take over St George and BankWest. Again, the words “toothless tiger” are not uncommon.
Now that’s really sad as the ACCC should command respect, and fear in potential wrongdoers. Clearly, the ACCC should be a world class competitition regulator. It’s staff members are professional and many have been there a long time.
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As we patiently await the formation of the next federal government we should pause to reflect on what a hung Parliament may actually mean for consumers, small businesses and farmers.
While clearly a very important issue, it’s one that hasn’t received the attention it deserves. For starters one would have to say that it wouldn’t take very much for consumers, small businesses and farmers to get a better deal. All too often both major parties have failed to deliver real and meaningful reforms.
There have been obvious exceptions. We had the small business reforms in 1997 from Peter Reith and we had Peter Costello deliver the Birdsville Amendment against predatory pricing. We also have some exciting possible developments in South Australia where Labor State Backbencher, Tony Piccolo, has been pushing franchising law reforms. Western Australia is also fast becoming a battleground for possible small business reforms.
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Federal Small Business Minister, Craig Emerson has taken the Federal Government’s spin and smear approach to policy issues to new depths. With a debate raging about the Federal Government’s failure to respond to the needs of small businesses and consumers, Craig Emerson took time out to reflect on the contribution being made to the small business and competition law debate by this author.
It’s extraordinary that a Federal Minister has the time to reflect on the contribution being made by a particular individual. Surely there are better things the Minister could be doing such as explaining why the Federal Government wasted millions of dollars of taxpayers’ money on a failed GroceryChoice website.
Perhaps the Minister’s time could be better spent explaining why Australia consistently has some of the highest levels of food inflation in the developed world which is pushing up grocery prices for Aussie families.
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Well, well, you know that there is an election coming when politicians get a bit more sensitive. That’s the thing about your average politician.
They all want to be praised for their good work and want us to overlook their failures. The problem is that sometimes there is little or no good work, and plenty of failures.
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I keep hearing how we have dodged a bullet. How the stewardship and steely nerve of our Prime Minister and the gang of four averted a recession (the GFC, so called, if you like acronyms), and how the RSPT (another acronym) is going to fix all our ills and bring the nasty billionaire miners to heel and “make them pay their fair share”.
He’s got cred after all, he wrote an essay on the evils of unbridled markets and the greedy speculators in the monthly, and how the age of the neo-con was over and the social democrats would restore balance to public policy.
The problem is that from where I am situated as the owner of a modestly small electrical contracting firm that is responsible for the livelihoods of 5 people, things aren’t that great.
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While small businesses and franchisees are the engine room of the economy, it’s disappointing that only lip service is currently being paid federally to their concerns regarding anti-competitive and unconscionable conduct by larger businesses.
Sadly, the Federal Government, through its small business Minister Craig Emerson, is failing to fix the growing gaps in our laws dealing with anti-competitive mergers and unconscionable conduct. These gaps and the Federal Government’s ongoing failure to address them are costing small businesses and consumers dearly.
Instead, we are seeing window dressing federally in the lead up to the election. We have been seeing a flurry of proposed “amendments” that merely give the impression of doing “something” without actually fixing the problems.
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While politicians are always quick to say “feel good” things about small businesses being the “engine room” of the economy, few MPs from either side of politics are ready to act to ensure that we have a vibrant small business sector.
Why? Simply because the big end of town is very quick to shoot down any proposal that puts the spotlight on attempts by the big players to drive small businesses out of business in any way they can. Similarly, any MP that dares suggest such proposals is dismissed by the big end of town as some sort of heretic or “maverick.”
Clearly, big business and their hired guns always want their way and they will whinge loudly when they don’t get it. Sadly, they are also very good at making self interested and, even personal, attacks on those proposing stronger competition laws.
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Since the release of the Government’s response to the Henry review on Sunday, Tony Abbott and other reform opponents have repeatedly and falsely claimed that only small businesses that are companies would benefit from the proposals. Mr Abbott said it again yesterday, and it’s an out-and-out lie.
Here’s the truth – every one of Australia’s 2.4 million small businesses will get a tax break under the Rudd Government.
Sole traders, partnerships and incorporated small businesses will all be able to deduct instantly the cost of assets valued at up to $5000. And these 2.4 million small businesses will be able to pool assets costing more than $5000 (other than long-lived assets) and write them off at a single rate of 30 per cent a year.
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My first offering to The Punch for 2010 – and it’s a puff piece! Gena Karpf makes great, sweet puffy marshmallows. Fruity flavoured marshmallows, chocolate flavoured marshmallows, pretty much any sort of marshmallow you could imagine really.
Anyone who sees the swooning effect that Meryl Streep’s goodies have on Steve Martin in this summer’s hit movie It’s Complicated will get my drift.
Gena’s shop SWEETNESS: The Patisserie is two doors down from my new Electorate Office in Epping.
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So how do companies like Coles and Woolworths protect themselves from competition?
Well it’s simple really. All they need to do is keep out new competitors through a variety of practices designed to lock out any potential new rivals.
For starters, Coles and Woolworths have been entering into leases with shopping centre landlords preventing the landlords from allowing other supermarkets into the shopping centre.
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