Council of Small Business of Australia

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Budget 2014: Small Business Commissioner scrapped in favour of $8 million Small Business Ombudsman

5:39AM | Tuesday, 13 May

The Australian Small Business Commissioner will be replaced by a Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman, which will act as a “concierge for dispute resolution”.   The federal government has allocated $8 million over four years to establish the ombudsman, with $2 million to be spent each year between 2014 and 2018.   The announcement of funding follows the release of Small Business Ombudsman discussion paper in April, which is currently open to community consultation.   The government said in its budget papers the ombudsman will be a “Commonwealth-wide advocate for smaller enterprises; a single-entry point agency for small business to access Australian Government small business programs and support; a contributor to making Australian Government laws and regulations more small business friendly; and a concierge for dispute resolution”.   Small Business Minister Bruce Billson said “small businesses can find it difficult to navigate the Commonwealth and its numerous departments, which is why we are moving to this single entry-point model”.   “The small business sector hasn’t been forgotten in this budget and by making the right choices today, we create a stronger economy tomorrow with more jobs and a stronger small business sector,” said Billson.   Billson said the ombudsman will also “cut compliance burdens and reduce red-tape, meaning small businesses can get on with the job of attending to their customers”.   Peter Strong, executive director of the Council of Small Business of Australia, previously welcomed the establishment of a Small Business Ombudsman, telling SmartCompany in April he was in favour of an ombudsman with real power to resolve disputes.

Leaked draft for terms of reference of Fair Work Act review: SMEs react

3:39PM | Sunday, 9 March

Penalty rates, flexibility and pay conditions are on the agenda for the upcoming Productivity Commission review of the Fair Work Act, according to Fairfax Media.   A leaked draft terms of reference for the review revealed the broad scope of inquiry this morning, as Council of Small Business of Australia executive director Peter Strong called on the Productivity Commission to be practical, rather than ideological in its approach to workplace issues.   “The penalty rates issue is great, but it often gets tied up in ideology. It’s not about getting rid of penalty rates, the big word is actually practicality,” Strong told SmartCompany.   “I think the Productivity Commission will stay away from ideology and actually look at the impact on productivity.”   The wide-ranging review is also set to look at union militancy, the ability of the labour market to respond to economic conditions and the impact of current laws on unemployment.   Small Business Minister Bruce Billson told SmartCompany the review has been designed to “support the objectives of the nation in terms of the economy and employment opportunities”.   “It’s consistent with our election commitment and it will improve the incomes, livelihoods and employment opportunities for Australians and also the economy more generally.   “We will take the changes to the next election so the electorate can decide if they’re for the good of Australia.”   The review’s scope is pleasing to small business, but Australian Retailers Association executive director Russell Zimmerman told SmartCompany “it’s no surprise”.   “I don’t think it’s really anything different to what the government said prior to the election. There is no great surprise and we’ve always supported the government and the Productivity Commission in its review of the Fair Work Act,” he says.   “We will be looking at penalty rates and we’ll be seeking a reduction, particularly on Sunday.”   The impact of red tape will also be considered as part of the review, which aims to establish “fair and equitable pay and conditions for employees, including the maintenance of a relevant safety net”, according to Fairfax.   The terms of reference are yet to be finalised by Parliament. However, the leaked document revealed it would “maximise outcomes for Australian employers, employees and the economy, bearing in mind the need to ensure workers are protected, the need for business to grow, prosper and employ and the need to reduce unnecessary and excessive regulation”.   While penalty rates are an important issue for small business, neither Strong nor Zimmerman expect them to be completely removed.   “We don’t think at this point in time we need to have penalty rates abolished completely,” Zimmerman says.   However, he does believe lowering weekend rates will help boost employment.   “Some of our large retail chains are closing doors on Sundays and public holidays. While this happens no one is getting employed. Obviously this is a detriment to the Australian economy and we need to look at making things better, fairer and boosting productivity for the whole of Australia.”   Strong says the broad scope of the review is necessary to meet the needs of small business.   “When things get too wound up in one issue, reviews like this tend to lose their way,” he says.   “From a small business point of view, it’s not one thing which affects us, it’s several.”   Strong says flexibility and pay conditions are also important issues for small business.   “With the flexibility legislation, many of us liked the laws which were introduced under the previous government, but they’re too hard to understand. So if the government and the commission is looking at how to better communicate with small business that’s a good thing,” he says.   “Pay conditions are also important. In a small workplace none of us are pay masters… We need a system which is easy for both the employers and employees to understand. There needs to be no ambiguity.”   Employment Minister Eric Abetz confirmed to ABC Radio the review would be broad and thorough, but did not elaborate further.   “We're not in a position to pre-empt what's going to be in the terms of reference other than to say we did promise a comprehensive, broad review of laws,” he says.   However, opposition employment spokesman Brendan O’Connor told ABC Radio the scope of the review was “frightening”.   “This government has Work Choices in its DNA and it wants to return to reducing conditions of employment particularly for low and mid income earners,” he told ABC radio.   “We know now the true intent behind this government in terms of reforming the Fair Work Act.”   But Strong says the Productivity Commission has a strong track history.   “We’ll get the right hearing and the right recommendations will come out of it, so long as the focus is on practicality, not ideology.”   Originally the review was due to be launched on March 7, but earlier this week it was delayed until after the March 15 state elections in Tasmania and South Australia.   This article first appeared on SmartCompany.

Rule changes boost privacy for home-based business owners

10:49AM | Tuesday, 1 October

Home-based business owners will no longer need to share their home addresses through the National Business Names Register under changes to the register’s rules.   The changes mean the Australian Securities and Investments Commission will give home businesses the option to protect their privacy by allowing them to register a postal address rather than a physical address.   Small Business Minister Bruce Billson told news.com.au the changes, which had been sought by the Coalition, had been motivated by privacy concerns.   "A year on we have finally been able to have the issue corrected and privacy assurance for home-based businesses realised," Billson said.   Home-based business owners have been expressing concerns about providing physical addresses for their businesses since last year.   Peter Strong, chief executive of the Council of Small Business of Australia (COSBOA), told StartupSmart the move was great news and was something that COSBOA had been seeking for some time.   “It’s a very important step for people,” he says.   “A lot of people don’t want their home address so easily found.   “If you’re a woman who wants to keep her address safe because of a domestic situation, you’ll be able to now, so congratulations to the Coalition for bringing this change in,” Strong says, adding that enabling women in this situation to own businesses was the key reason they had campaigned for the change.   Strong says there are between 800,000 to 1.2 million home-based business owners in Australia.   “They do face different challenges, especially with isolation. Some people are working from home because every other option doesn’t work for them, such as if they have a disability or are looking after kids,” Strong says.

Soloists rejoice as ATO, Fair Work told to lay off independent contractors

9:42AM | Tuesday, 24 September

The business community has enthusiastically welcomed the news that Small Business Minister Bruce Billson has issued a warning to the Australian Tax Office to go easy on independent contractors and the self-employed.   The comments fulfil a hope within enterprise that Billson’s appointment will plug a knowledge gap of small business issues in government.   “This is very good progress,” said Peter Strong, chief executive of the Council of Small Business of Australia.   Ken Phillips, chief executive of the Independent Contractors Australia, told SmartCompany he was “absolutely delighted”.   “I’m delighted to have a government moving so quickly on these key issues – it’s really impressive,” he says, adding this announcement is yet more evidence the new government doesn’t simply think of small business as a token industry.   “Bruce Billson has small business as his only title, and they’ve moved his department to Treasury which gives him a real authority.   “This is quite a big shift and clear signal at the earliest stage of government that what they’ve said about small business being front and centre is being taken seriously.”   Billson told The Australian Financial Review the ATO, along with the construction watchdog and the Fair Work Ombudsman, have been told to take it easy on independent contractors.   “The issue is less about the law itself; it’s the way in which it has been administered,” he said.   “There are hundreds of thousands of these courageous, enterprising, self-motivated individuals who are making a contribution to the economy but suddenly found themselves in the Bermuda Triangle as contributors to the economy.”   Billson claimed the previous government had told these authorities to pressure contractors in order to move them towards employment agreements in which unions have more sway.   “We’ve seen independent contractors … in the clothing, textile and footwear area engaged to do contract work now being told they have to be engaged as employees to get minimum hours.”   Billson also mentioned a practice within the Tax Office to either refuse issuing of ABNs or withdraw ABNs from individuals.   “We’ve had examples raised with us that the ATO has denied a business an ABN for reasons that were not clear but there is no avenue to appeal.”   The ATO regularly reviews ABNs to determine if their holders are actually carrying on a business.   The Abbott government has pledged one million new jobs during its term – Ken Phillips says in order to reach that number, it needs to focus on small business.   “It’s good to see the small business is front and centre here,” he says.   Peter Strong says independent contractors need to be protected if the government wants to promote the virtues of being self-employed.   “This works hand-in-hand with fixing up contracting law,” he says. “The people who have been targeted have been victims, so you need to stop haranguing those who are doing the right thing.   “This is about people who are looking to increase their income and aren’t doing it in any way that could be considered dodgy.”   The Fair Work Ombudsman has been consistent in cracking down on the practice known as ‘sham contracting’, in which businesses classify employees as contractors in order to avoid paying them wages and entitlements.

Labor pledges to raise asset write-off threshold to $10,000

9:12AM | Monday, 2 September

The business community has won again. Just days before the federal election, Labor has announced it will increase the instant asset write-off threshold to $10,000 if it returns to government, in a last-minute pledge to business.   The announcement caps what has been a lucrative campaign for small businesses, with both sides of politics announcing tax and budget policies which cater to the small end of town.   The pledge also counteracts the Coalition’s announcement it will scrap the increased write-off threshold if it wins government.   Peter Strong, executive director at the Council of Small Business of Australia, told SmartCompany the announcement adds “momentum” to the economy.   “This is another example of what’s happened during the past few weeks with that focus on small business,” he says.   “Given Joe Hockey wants to remove the tax benefits that have been announced over the past couple of years, the policies are coming much closer together with regard to small business.”   At the Labor launch yesterday, Kevin Rudd said the Coalition was in for a fight as it heads to the polls this coming Saturday – maintaining a defiant stance although polls continue to drift in Tony Abbott’s favour.   ''And for those who say the fight is up, I say they haven't seen anything yet,'' he said. ''Because we have something worth fighting for.''   Among other promises announced yesterday were a promise to keep investment projects tied to local suppliers and jobs, while Rudd also said the federal government would make states pledge to raise TAFE funding – or face a takeover by Canberra.   Several other announcements were made regarding skills and apprentices, including lifting the current apprenticeship completion payment to $2000.   The effort may be futile. The latest Australian-Newspoll survey shows support for the government has dropped to 33%. On a two-party preferred basis, the Coalition wins 54% to Labor’s 46%.   But that hasn’t stopped Rudd from trying. This campaign has been mostly focused on small business issues, and the instant asset write-off is a prime example. When the threshold was last increased, small businesses welcomed the move as a boost to confidence.   Tax experts are less convinced this time around.   Deepti Paton, tax counsel at the Tax Institute, told SmartCompany while the figure is welcome, it doesn’t go far enough – the benefit only lasts for less than two years.   The higher threshold will last until July 2015, after which it will return to the $6500 rate.   “It’s a high number and certainly would boost the tax system’s capability to give small businesses an extra bump for additional investments, but you need to bear in mind this only lasts for 22 months.”   “It’s welcome, but we would prefer an affordable long-term change to the tax system with regards to an accelerated deprecation scheme, rather than constant, short-term boosts.”   “We should be building a tax system to last.”   This story first appeared on SmartCompany.

Rapping Peter Strong: Keepin’ it real against red tape

7:18AM | Wednesday, 31 July

Since Old Taskmaster was knee-high to a grasshopper, the clowns in Canberra have been stifling small business owners with red tape and regulation.   While many business regulations are created with multinationals like BHP Billiton and Wesfarmers in mind, the same compliance hoops and taxes are also forced onto sole traders, small businesses and start-ups with far fewer resources.   Unfortunately, despite the fact small businesses are the backbone of the Australian economy, the message just doesn’t seem to be getting through. Until now, that is.   Thanks to Council of Small Business of Australia executive director Peter Strong – with a little help from YouTube – that message is now going viral. In fact, earlier this morning, the clip was doing the rounds here at Taskmaster Towers.   Strong recorded a rap music video on behalf of small business owners and entrepreneurs across the nation, telling Kevin Rudd to start keeping it real on red tape. It’s a battle rap against bureaucracy.   While it probably won’t force the likes of Snoop Dogg, Dr Dre or Kanye West to update their CVs just yet, the clip turned out better than you might imagine.   If it hasn’t shown up in your email or on your Twitter feed yet, here’s the video everyone’s talking about:     Now, you might think it’s a little silly. But it’s novelty value that causes videos to go viral on social media sites, including YouTube.   So Old Taskmaster says it’s time to take a leaf out of Peter Strong’s book. If you use YouTube as one of your social media channels, don’t just upload a boring old ad. Instead, create a video with some novelty value to it and have some fun with it!   Get it done – and bust a funky lyric!

Toothless tigers: Greens lose bid to give the federal small business commissioner greater powers

4:27AM | Friday, 19 April

Above: A toothless tiger and Federal Small Business Commissioner Mark Brennan.   The Greens have lashed out at the federal government and the Coalition for blocking a bill that would give statutory “teeth” to the federal small business commissioner’s abilities to tackle issues, including tax reform and red tape.   Government and opposition members of a committee looking into the role of the federal small business commissioner will advise the Senate not to pass the proposed amendment, all but consigning it to defeat.   The Greens, along with independent senator Nick Xenophon, had tabled an amendment that would give the commissioner legislative powers to intervene on behalf of small businesses.   The bill would’ve given the commissioner the power to receive and investigate SME complaints against government officials, monitor and investigate market practices that “may adversely impact small businesses” and demand to see relevant information.   The Greens are also keen for the commissioner to lead research efforts to better understand Australian small business trends.   Mark Brennan was appointed as Australia’s first federal Small Business Commissioner in October last year, adding to counterparts in each of the states.   The Council of Small Business of Australia has previously called for Brennan to be given legislative powers, with then-chairman Ken Phillips saying last year: "If a small business commissioner is really going to work, it needs to have teeth, and it needs to have that dispute resolution power for small business people against large government."   Senator Peter Whish-Wilson, the Greens’ small business spokesman, says that the lack of support for statutory powers is “disappointing.”   “The blocking of this bill certainly looks cynical and appears to be politically driven,” he says.   “The important contribution of small businesses is exactly why we believe it is important for these businesses to have a statutory office holder and agency to represent and advocate for them.   “As outlined in the committee report, statutory small business commissioners currently operate in Victoria, Western Australia and South Australia. New South Wales is currently considering legislation to back up their small business commissioner.   “Merely appointing a federal commissioner is not sufficient for the appropriate representation of small business, and it is easy to see why many view this role as purely political or symbolic.   “Additional credibility would be brought to an office that has the ability to bring people to the table to discuss and resolve issues.   “Statutory powers are essential to ensure the commissioner can represent and advocate appropriately.”

Government backflips on plans to regulate SME access to credit

3:04AM | Monday, 18 March

The federal government has backed down on draft legislation which proposed regulating small business credit after criticism it would make it harder for small business to get funding.

An industry wishlist for Small Business Commissioner Mark Brennan – and his take on things

3:13AM | Thursday, 14 March

It’s only been a few weeks since Mark Brennan stepped into his role as the inaugural Australian small business commissioner, following the announcement of his appointment in October.

Fair Work changes coming, business hesitant over flexible working rights

3:54AM | Friday, 15 March

Small business has expressed its hesitation over the federal government's planned expansion of flexible workplace laws, saying they could threaten the viability of businesses in certain industries and place undue pressure on struggling SMEs.

COSBOA tells govt to “get out of the way” ahead of HomeBiz Connect

3:04AM | Monday, 18 March

A small business group wants fewer regulations but more support for home-based businesses, which are being touted as “the way to Asia”, ahead of the HomeBiz Connect program.

Coalition unveils small business disaster loan plan

2:57AM | Monday, 4 February

The Coalition has revealed a policy for small business emergency assistance, including concessional loans of up to $100,000, with a business group now hopeful the party will unveil costed policies in other areas.

Labor appoints fourth small business minister in two years

2:34AM | Wednesday, 6 February

The small business sector has been handed its fourth minister in two years, with former immigration minister Chris Bowen assuming the role as part of an unexpected cabinet reshuffle.

Election announcement welcomed by business as focus turns to policy

3:02AM | Friday, 15 March

Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s surprise announcement about this year’s federal election has been welcomed by the business community for giving “certainty” to small firms.

Four changes that would help home-based businesses

3:33AM | Thursday, 14 March

They are a vital, but often invisible part of the Australian economy – soloists who work from home, often in a spare room, contributing innovation and wealth well away from the top end of town.

Primary schools to teach business under new govt plan

3:13AM | Monday, 11 March

Primary school students will be taught the fundamentals of business and economics under a new move by the Gillard government, but a small business group says a more specialised program should be implemented.

Businesses unfazed by surplus pledge backflip

3:18AM | Monday, 11 March

Business groups have downplayed the Federal Government’s concession the budget is unlikely to return to surplus in 2012-13, with one group describing the move as “neither here nor there”.

Government attacked over business name register privacy fears

3:58AM | Monday, 11 March

The Opposition has accused the Federal Government of breaking “yet another promise” by failing to remedy the issue of home-based business owners’ personal addresses appearing on the National Business Names Register.

NSW Government (finally) moves to formalise small business commissioner role

3:33AM | Monday, 11 March

The NSW Government has introduced legislation to establish the state’s first small business commissioner as a statutory officer, more than a year after the role was created and filled.

COSBOA drama as chairman resigns, accounts still not signed off

3:09AM | Monday, 11 March

The Council of Small Business of Australia is in turmoil after its annual general meeting last week, with Ken Phillips resigning as chair after the council's accounts were unable to be signed off.

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