WA Premier-elect Mark McGowan promises to go back to his small business roots with SME growth package

SmartCompany, March 13 2017; Source: AAP/Richard Wainwright

After a convincing win in Saturday’s state election, Western Australian premier-elect Mark McGowan says he will hit the ground running to improve the state, including by rolling out a comprehensive package for small businesses and startups in the region.

The Labor Party needed 30 seats to wrestle power from Colin Barnett’s Liberal government, and less than two hours after the start of the vote count on Saturday evening, it looked certain that the McGowan-led party would be taking power. With 67% of the votes counted this morning, the Labor Party has 36 seats, with the ABC reporting this could climb to 40.

The premier-elect grew up around small businesses, including the squash centre his father bought when he was still a kid. Throughout the campaign he spoke extensively about what the Labor Party will promise to do for small operators in the region, and his policy platform focuses on building up new industries in Western Australia and supporting startups and SMEs in regional areas in the state.

The work starts now. pic.twitter.com/cNU3UZc65L

On Sunday morning the Premier-elect tweeted “The work starts now”. Here are four areas he has said he’ll be focusing on:

Investment for new tech companies in the region 

McGowan spoke extensively during the campaign about the importance of a strong and diverse economy in Western Australia and promised Labor would look towards new sectors and ideas for that growth.

Part of Labor’s election platform is the $14.5 million “New Industries Fund”, with $4.5 million set aside to to help startups in regional WA, and to set up incubator hubs to develop startup and gaming companies coming out of the region.

The Liberal Party also put forward a digital investment policy, although this was not as focused on startups as Labor’s. Colin Barnett’s party pledged to deliver $4 million in grants to SMEs that were implementing digital technologies to improve their businesses, and also pledged to continue to support Western Australia’s $20 million state innovation strategy.

Fixing the TAFE sector 

McGowan has pledged to go back to the TAFE sector’s original branding, saying Labor will cap fees to resolve course price increases in the region.

“TAFE is the lifeblood of our industry. More so than universities. I’m a university graduate, but TAFE provides the workforce and the tradespeople for so many of the industries that we need to flourish,” McGowan said in March 2016, reports Perth Now.

Part of the Premier-elect’s platform is to revert all training organisations back to the “TAFE” name, rather than using words like “polytechnic” to describe the institutions.

McGowan also wants more interaction between TAFEs, universities and industries to solve the state’s energy concerns, with Labor outlining in its innovation agenda that it will “work with technology companies, universities, TAFE and electricity utilities in a precinct to provide opportunities for emerging battery technologies”.

Protecting subcontractors

Security of payments for subcontractors has been front of mind in Australia over the past year as building providers fall on hard times, and the Western Australian Labor Party went into the state election with a platform it says will improve the likelihood that subcontractors will receive payments for their work, including a possible “demerit” system for contractors that fail to pay.

The policy suite includes a “project trust account” for government contractors, in which a portion of the contract payment that is to go to the head contractor would be held in trust for government projects, so that subcontractors have some of their payments protected in the event that the head contractor faces insolvency.

Labor has also pledged a demerit system in which businesses that have been found not to pay subcontractors on three occasions would be disqualified from vying for government contracts.

Helping SMEs find opportunities and customers 

“I want us to embrace the small business sector, the tradies sector, and make sure we widen our appeal to a broader range of people,” McGowan said in March 2016, Perth Now reports.

This mission to appeal to the broadest range of stakeholders includes a suite of policies pitched at helping manufacturers and SMEs get access to more opportunities for growth, particularly in terms of government contracts and export opportunities.

Labor has promised to introduce “Western Australian Industry Participation Plans” to give SMEs greater scope to compete for government contracts right across the state, promising this will “deliver more local jobs on all large government infrastructure projects and through procurement”.

McGowan has also pledged to strengthen “Buy Local” guidelines in the state to put a focus on West Australians buying produce locally. Labor have also outlined plans to bring more customers to SMEs through a promise to invest $45 million each year over the next five years to promote Western Australia as a prime location for both tourism and exporting and importing partnerships across the Asian region.

“As part of Labor’s Plan for Jobs funding certainty over the next five years will provide SMEs the security to invest in the tourism industry,” the Labor Party explained in its policy platform.