Small business has emerged as a relative winner from Joe Hockey’s tough first budget containing long-term structural reforms including painful savings in the areas of health, welfare and education.
But the small business sector, a traditional constituency for Coalition governments, will be the beneficiary of a number of new assistance programs announced in the 2014 budget.
The measures will facilitate greater access to government tenders for smaller operators and extend consumer protection laws to shield small business owners from “unfair” contract terms imposed by bigger players. Funding has also been provided for the government’s proposed small business ombudsman to better streamline interaction between small business owners with the commonwealth.
Small Business Minister Bruce Billson said $2.8 million would be allocated over four years to a new unit in the Department of Finance to provide contract advice to small business looking to win government tenders.
“Small businesses have said contracting documents and accompanying obligations, including requirements to have very expensive insurance, can be overly complex and impose barriers to in tendering for contracts,” he said.
While consumers are currently protected from unfair terms in standard form contracts, Mr Billson announced the allocation of $1.4 million to extend these protections to small business owners.
“This will help to provide a level playing field for small businesses and enhance the welfare of Australians by increasing small business certainty, confidence and productivity,” he said.
A further $8 million has been allocated towards the establishment of a Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman to better service the needs of the sector in its dealings with government and contribute to the development of business friendly laws and regulations. The government released a discussion paper on the scope of the ombudsman’s powers in April.
Council of Small Business of Australia executive director Peter Strong told Dynamic Business the overall impact of the budget on the sector was encouraging.
“The impact on small business if you wanted to sum it up – the impact is positive. Not over the top positive. But it’s positive,” he said. “In the context of the budget where they’re cutting and killing, you can’t complain too much from our point of view. There appears to be a strategy around small business.”
The proposed 1.5 per cent reduction in the company tax rate will also benefit the roughly 300,000 small businesses that use a company structure for tax purposes from July next year. These businesses will not be hit with the 1.5 per cent levy used to fund Tony Abbott’s paid parental leave scheme, meaning they will receive some small but much needed tax relief.
“When you measure it 300,000 is a bloody awful lot and most of them would be employers,” Mr Strong said.
While the government’s proposed “deficit levy” will increase tax by two percentage points for some small business owners earning more than $180,000, Mr Strong said that not many operators would fall into this category. He cited 2006 figures showing that only 5 per cent of small businesses were earning $200,000 or more.
He said the reintroduction of twice yearly indexation to fuel excise would hurt some businesses that were heavily reliant on petrol and warned the increase to the super guarantee would also pose additional complexities on business.
“It increases costs and it increases complexity,” he said. “You’ve got to go into your software and change the superannuation rates for all your employees. Often it’s not that simple and that gets complicated.”
Also included in the budget papers was the establishment of a $484.2 million Entrepreneurs’ Infrastructure Program to be managed by the Department of Industry. It is intended to help support the commercialisation of new and innovative ideas, create jobs and bolster the small business sector.
However, the move was accompanied by the abolishment of a range of other programs that were geared at supporting Australia’s struggling start-up sector to reap in savings of $846 million.
Included in the cut are Commercialisation Australia, the Enterprise Solutions program, Innovation Investment Fund, Enterprise Connect program and Industry Innovation Precincts scheme.
Not for profit group StartupAUS, condemned the move and said the government had failed to support Australian tech entrepreneurs or correct market failures holding back the development of a vibrant start-up ecosystem.
River City Labs founder and StartupAus director Steven Baxter said there was “nothing in this budget that indicates the government wants to support tech startups in Australia”. He called for more support for the sector, including movement on changing the tax treatment of employee share schemes.
Mr Strong said the unknown factor in the budget would be the impact it would have on consumer confidence.