Federal election 2016: Greens win business from Labor


An influential small business group has delivered a devastating blow to Labor, declaring that the party has “regressed” under Bill Shorten and is now less supportive of small enterprise than the Greens.

To drive home its message, the Council of Small Business Organisations of Australia has decided to target the Melbourne seat of Batman, along with up to eight marginal seats, in a mail-out before the election that will highlight Labor’s anti-business stance to thousands of small businesses.

The move from COSBOA comes as the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry pledges to mobilise its nationwide membership base of 300,000 ­enterprises and four million workers to promote the economic benefits of corporate tax cuts, and as the Business Council of Australia launches a national advertising campaign in favour of the Coalition’s election platform.

Amid the growing backlash from corporate Australia, Parliamentary Library figures obtained by The Australian show the number of small businesses in marginal seats, most of which are owner-operated, could be a key factor in deciding whether Labor can form government, with their number far greater than the number of votes required to swing for the electorates to change hands.

COSBOA chief executive Peter Strong told The Australian that the Labor Party’s approach to business had “regressed” and was now far more hostile than under the Rudd and Gillard governments, which had a “respectful” approach to the sector. He said that while business still disagreed with the Greens’ position on penalty rates and its support for the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal, the minor party supported changes to competition policy and agreed that businesses with a turnover of up to $10 milses both these government measures.

“There is a difference between the Greens and Labor at the moment and the Greens are more small business-friendly,” Mr Strong said. “We just don’t know what has happened. Labor has regressed, and it appears a lot of their policies are being driven by the unions.”

He said his sector was concerned the Labor Party was advocating policies acceptable to big business, including the supermarket duopoly of Coles and Woolworths, who furnished the Shop Distributive and Allied Employees Association with most of its union members.

As an example, he referred to Labor’s recent apprenticeship announcement, which was confined to the largest commercial infrastructure projects and neglected small operators in hospitality and hairdressing.

“Labor’s union members are only in big business, they are not in small business — is that the reason they have lost focus on small business? And is it deliberate? I think that is a really fair question for us to ask,” Mr Strong said.

The Coalition’s most marginal seat of Petrie was won by Luke Howarth in 2013 by 871 votes, meaning 436 people who voted for Mr Howarth would need to switch to Labor for it to change hands.

According to the figures prepared by the Parliamentary ­Library using Australian Bureau of Statistics data, in the northeast Brisbane electorate of 105,000 people there are more than 8000 businesses employing between one and 20 people, making the ALP’s task more difficult if the ­Coalition can galvanise the support of small business.

In Capricornia, the central Queensland seat centred on Rockhampton, the small business community numbers more than 11,000, representing at least 11 per cent of the electorate and far more numerous than the 653 people whose vote determined the outcome in 2013.

The Opposition Leader has described Labor’s quest to win 21 seats as a “steep climb”, with the party also facing pressure from the Greens in a clutch of inner-city seats in Melbourne and Sydney.

In Batman, where the Greens are hoping to defeat Labor’s David Feeney, there are more than 12,000 small businesses with fewer than 20 employees. The number of voters needed to swing the seat to the Greens is 18,900.

In the electorate yesterday, small business owner Kim Amici said she was considering voting against the Labor Party, adding she preferred the tax policies of the Liberal Party and the Greens.

Ms Amici owns an arts and crafts shop at Northcote in the city’s inner north, and while her shop, The Friendship Tree, has turnover of less than $2m, she hopes one day to expand and she supports tax relief to businesses with turnover under $10m.

“I think that’s a good idea; it’s going to be good for jobs,” Ms Amici said.

Another small business owner in Northcote, Joshua Hunt, who owns graphic design firm Synergy Creative, said Mr Shorten’s anti- business rhetoric was a put-off and he would back the Coalition.

“Anything that will incentivise small business is great,” he said.

The data for the Parliamentary Budget Office also reveals for the first time the number of businesses in each electorate with a turnover or more than $2m, excluded from Labor’s corporate tax cut proposal.

These numbers could prove critical in the Labor-held Victorian seats of Bruce and Chisholm, which the Coalition is targeting. In Bruce, there are 1387 businesses with turnover of more than $2m, and in Chisholm close to 1000.

These seats also have high numbers of businesses with fewer than 20 employees.

James Pearson, chief executive of the ACCI, said there was widespread concern that Labor was “demonising” business.