Speaking at the Vodafone National Small Business Summit, Shadow Treasurer Chris Bowen outlined the Labor government’s commitment to restoring traditional and stable cabinet processes to policy making. He called for a well-functioning and accountable NBN network and the appointment of a second Taxation Commissioner to consider appeals from individuals and small business owners.
In his speech to the Council of Small Business Owners of Australia members, Bowen was also critical of the government’s energy policies; saying a Labor government believes in more renewable energy as it will reduce prices and carbon emissions. He blamed the Coalition’s backbench for the failure of previous energy schemes suggesting none of the previous policies such as the Clean Energy Target or the National Energy Guarantee had “survived contact with the enemy” that is the backbench climate change naysayers.
Bowen also took the opportunity to outline a Labor government’s plans for the issues that affect small business, such as a plan to revitalise and refresh the vocational educational and training sector. An “Access to Justice” policy which will make it easier for small businesses to get access to a fair hearing in competition disputes with big business. A phoenixing policy, which cracks down on the dodgy fly by night businesses which give the sector a bad name and operate a competitive advantage over businesses doing the right thing. A policy on sham contracting and wage theft, which advantages businesses doing the right thing over those who think it is OK to get the jump over their competitors by the avoidance of the payment of wages.
Bowen honed in on two further areas of Labor’s policy – their plans to make NBNCo more accountable and proposed revisions to introduce more “fairness” into the tax system for small business.
Bowen suggested in today’s world the NBN is a critical productivity enhancer for all businesses, saying 95 per cent of all businesses have internet access, with internet income estimated to be worth $394 billion annually.
However, as it stands, Australia’s internet speeds rank 55th internationally behind countries like Kazakhstan. He suggested this was putting Australia’s small businesses at a disadvantage.
“When it comes to our national broadband network, consumers and small businesses are complaining more and paying more,” he said.
“This is why Bill Shorten and our Shadow Minister for Communications, Michelle Rowland have announced that Labor will establish an NBN Service Guarantee,” Bowen added.
Bowen said an NBN Service Guarantee will set transparent timeframes and wholesale service standards for: fault rectification timeframes, installations and missed appointments
“The [proposed] NBN Service Guarantee will be enforced through financial remedies that will apply if service standards are not met. Stronger remedies will apply to problems impacting on small businesses.
“If NBNCo doesn’t meet these standards they’ll be liable and the impacted consumer will be fairly compensated. The goal here is not to punish telecommunications providers, but rather to incentivise better performance and safeguard against excessive NBN downtime.
“Less downtime and greater accountability- that’s what we want to achieve.
Speaking to Labor’s proposed tax reforms, Bowen made it clear a Labor government would maintain any existing cuts but suggested it would also provide a “better offering”.
He announced the Labor government’s intention to introduce an Investment Guarantee.
“Our Investment Guarantee will deliver an upfront 20 per cent tax deduction, accelerating the depreciation on all investments in new assets, with the remaining depreciation to be undertaken in line with normal schedules.
“This will inject serious cash flow into all businesses around Australia.
The Australian Industry Group is on the record as saying
“The Federal Opposition’s plan for an Investment Guarantee announced today would provide a significant cash-flow benefit for many businesses” and that “the Investment Guarantee would increase the stock of invested capital, boost the quantity of capital per worker, raise productivity and underwrite an acceleration of real wage growth”.
Bowen said most importantly, unlike previous tax incentives, it’s permanent.
“Not reviewed at each budget cycle giving SME businesses the certainty they need to plan.”
Bowen said a Labor government would also continue to support the Instant asset write off for small businesses.
Bowen suggested under a Shorten-led Labor Government, 99 per cent of businesses will receive a tax cut, no business will have their tax rate increased, and all businesses will be able to plan and invest with confidence and certainty.
According to Bowen, the Labor party’s planned policy also extends to ‘a fair go’ for all. The shadow treasurer suggested if elected the party would introduce as second Tax Commissioner whose purpose is to handle disputes.
“Let’s not pretend that everything is always perfect or that the power relationship between the ATO and small businesses is anything approaching equal
“The Fairfax/ABC investigation of April this year raised serious concerns about how small business is treated in tax disputes. While the Government agreed with Labor that an investigation was necessary, we have seen very little by the Government.
“But we know, or should know what is necessary, both to improve the fairness and the perception of fairness of the system.”
Bowen suggested legislating to appoint a second commissioner to separate the appeals service from the original decision makers was bets-practice the world over.
“It’s a pretty fundamental principle: those considering appeals should not be the same people or from the same business unit as those who have made the original decision,” he said.