Digital grants amongst recommendations to help SMEs against overseas, online competitors

digital

A parliamentary committee chaired by ex-Deputy PM Barnaby Joyce has made six recommendations to the Federal Government to help small businesses compete against overseas, internet-based firms marketing to Australian consumers.

In its report into the impact of global, internet-based competition on local businesses, the Innovation, Industry, Science and Resources Committee recommended the creation of a digital grants program, providing small businesses with matched funding to “take advantage of digital economy opportunities such as online retail”.

Although the Committee noted that internet commerce accounts for only a small proportion of the local retail market, Joyce said it will continue to grow rapidly and disrupt trade in traditional bricks and mortar shops. He added, “It is vital that we support Australian businesses to invest in the digital technologies, while demonstrating advantages of the virtual marketplace based in regional areas where infrastructure like the NBN is available and overheads such as rent can be much cheaper, that will enable them to take advantage of internet retail opportunities.”

Acknowledging that technological advancements will inform the skills required by the Australian workforce, Joyce said the Committee also recommended the establishment of a digital retraining fund to support Australian workers to undertake training to improve their competency in digital skills that will assist them to find or maintain employment in the future.

The report also recommended:

  • The Federal Government fund research to increase the capability of the education and business sectors to forecast future digital skills needs.
  • The federal Government consider reforms to competition law in light of the potential impact of digital retail platforms taking into account the way major tech firms collect, use and monetise data in possibly anti-competitive ways.
  • The Department of Industry, Innovation and Science, in partnership with relevant industry associations and educational institutions, develop education materials aimed at encouraging small business to participate in the digital economy.
  • the Department of Industry, Innovation and Science ensure that legislative and regulatory changes to industry policy keep the following principles in mind:
    • Digital platforms should not engage in monopolistic or anti‑competitive practices;
    • Regulatory settings should not create loopholes or exemptions that provide internet-based companies a competitive advantage over Australian local businesses;
    • Australian consumers and businesses should be able to easily access data collected on them by digital platforms