With our new PM settling in, we have promises that we now have a government that is listening to us, and will make life better. All will be good in the land, and with recent rain it appears that our PM can really deliver on the promises.
The problem is, we have heard it all before. Despite the rhetoric over the years, I haven’t seen much that has made life easier for small businesses.
But to be fair, it is actually quite difficult to work out what things would actually have a big impact. We all talk about what is wrong, but coming up with a clear list of changes is actually really hard. Part of the problem is that there is always someone who wins, and someone who loses, and the media like to swoop in on the negative.
So with that in mind, this is my top 10 changes I would do to help small businesses in Australia if I were PM.
1. Australia Post and Imports
Australian businesses can not compete against China when it is possible to buy something on eBay and have it delivered for less than the price of postage in Australia. Additionally, if we were to ship to China, the cost is ten fold.
Change 1 is to have the true cost of delivery passed onto the sender or receiver and Australian businesses will be on equal footing with Chinese businesses.
2. Import Fees
If you import under $1,000, the shipment makes it in with no additional paperwork. If, however, you are importing over $1,000 then GST is payable and with it, some fees. Those fees (combined with courier admin fees) are nearly $200. That’s $200 of expenses. As a small business, these fees are a huge burden.
Change 2 is to eliminate the fees (not the GST) that are charged by customs and couriers when collecting the GST.
The rollout of the NBN was backwards. You were more likely to have the NBN in your area if you were unemployed and wanting faster video downloads then a business wanting fast internet access to do business. The government was buying votes with fast internet, rather then improving Australia’s productivity.
Change 3 is to ensure that every business district in Australia has access to fast internet. Change 3a would be to ensure that every school and library has fast internet access.
4. Education reform
Oh, where do I start with this one? High school – let’s be happy with kids leaving in year 10 to find a trade (because we also fixed TAFE). Spend money on public and private schools equally. Pay teachers more so we can attract and keep better quality teachers.Cut down on the paperwork for teachers.
Put money back into TAFE and universities instead of bleeding it dry. Get it back to its roots of providing training. Let’s stop expecting them to play by the rules of a business, and instead use it as a tool to keep Australia productive.
5. R+D Tax Incentive
In theory, the R+D Tax Incentive is there to help businesses take risks with research and development.
The problem, however, is that it is a “refundable tax offset for certain eligible entities whose aggregated turnover is less than $20 million” and a “a non-refundable tax offset for all other eligible entities”.
In laymen’s terms, that means that if you are a small business, you have to eventually pay it back, but if you are a big company, you get to keep it. So just as a small business is starting to succeed, they are slugged with paying the government back. Meanwhile the big boys keep the money and send it off-shore. Hardly seems fair.
Change 5 is to make the R+D Tax Incentive non-refundable for small businesses.
6. Proven business support
There are so many schemes out there to assist startups. What I have discovered, however, is that there is virtually nothing for an existing company that is growing. In fact things like the R+D Tax Incentive penalise a small business just as it starts to succeed.
Change 6 is to put as much effort into growing small businesses as we do into start ups. Let’s encourage success.
7. Environmental backflipping
Is there global warming? Who knows (but I think yes). But what we do know is that dumping pollution into the water and air is bad, and we are destroying the environment. There are some things that, once lost, are lost forever. If paying a couple of dollars extra for energy means clean waterways then let’s stop complaining. Yes, businesses are going to pay a small amount more – but we are small businesses and our power bills are not our biggest expense. But the consequences of screwing up the environment and our future will be our biggest expense if we don’t watch it.
Change 7 is to make long term decisions instead of backing down for short term votes.
8. No income tests for payments
For some strange reason we think that it is wrong for people who are paying a huge amount of tax to be paid family benefits. We would rather have a complex system of calculating benefits, supporting a small army of accountants, and the ATO that is out chasing mums and dads, then actually just having a simple welfare system.
My other reason for saying that we should keep it simple is because we are penalising people who are trying to earn more by working harder or smarter. When starting a business, most business owners fit into this category. They are also often employing people who fit into this category and they won’t work extra hours because of the loss of benefits.
Change 8 is to simplify our tax and welfare system and remove barriers to working.
9. Company Tax Rate
Let’s be absolutely clear – most small businesses don’t care what the company tax rate is. Stop pretending that changing it helps small businesses. It doesn’t. It only applies to “retained earnings” and most small businesses are lucky to be surviving, let alone retaining earnings. And to top it off, when you pay a fully franked dividend it all comes out in the wash anyway.
Change 9: Stop talking about company tax rates like it is going to help small businesses.
Finally I will drop in a very controversial idea – a flat 10% GST on everything. Let’s simplify the tax system and just have the one tax rate on everything.
And to compensate the poor who are now paying GST for essentials, let’s give everyone an annual handout. Once again, no income testing and added complexity – just a single handout. It will encourage people to get their tax return in, or be registered, or whatever is required to get the payment.
Change 10 is to continue to simplify our tax system.
The biggest loser
So what would the backlash be?
China won’t be happy and will complain about some Free Trade Agreement.
A couple of marginal seats won’t be bought off with the NBN so we could have a flip in government – again.
And the flat 10% GST is probably political suicide.
So in the end the biggest loser would probably be my prime ministerial position.
It’s a pity Malcolm didn’t have more of a spine when he saw the end approaching, and make the decisions that hurt. It’s not like he had much left to lose.