Small businesses 'doing it tough', warns industry body

Small businesses are doing it tough in a higher interest rate environment and the key body representing them wants decisive government action.

Council of Small Business Organisations Australia chair Matthew Addison says the nation's two and a half million small firms are facing a "critical time".

"They are not earning enough, they are working hard and compliance burden is demoralising," he said at his organisation's national conference in Sydney on Wednesday.

He cited Australian Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman research showing 43 per cent of small businesses had failed to turn a profit and 75 per cent of small business owners were taking home less than the average wage.

Council of Small Business Organisations Aust chair Matthew Addison
Matthew Addison says the nation's two and a half million small businesses are doing it tough.

"These business indicators reflect what we as industry leaders are hearing anecdotally – that small business is doing it tough," he said in his opening address.

With a federal budget in May and an election on the horizon, Mr Addison said small businesses should be "front and centre".

"With major parties locked together closely in the polls, how do we ensure the voice of 2.5 million small businesses and their 5.1 million employees are heard loud and clear?

"But equally how do we set up policy programs to support us well beyond the election cycle?" he asked during his address.

His pitch was followed by Opposition Leader Peter Dutton's, who walked through his plan to kickstart economic activity and drive better conditions for the private sector.

Federal Opposition Leader Peter Dutton
Peter Dutton has promised to wind back "excessive government intervention" in the economy.

"Increased centralised government and union power over our economy is only driving down productivity at a time when we need it to surge," he said.

The opposition leader singled out the government's industrial relations changes, tax reforms and "renewables only" energy policy as examples of economic mismanagement. 

"The coalition’s vision for the country is to make our nation competitive again and to restore economic confidence," he said.

He promised to wind back "excessive government intervention" and "remove regulatory roadblocks", which he said would allow businesses to "flourish". 

A yet-to-be-announced energy policy involving nuclear technology was also flagged as an opportunity to drive economic competitiveness and productivity growth by bringing energy costs down. 

"Australia must be an energy powerhouse if we want to keep manufacturing in this country," he said.

The opposition has already foreshadowed a tilt towards nuclear technology and is working on a policy with possible sites for reactors on old coal station locations to take advantage of existing transmission infrastructure.

He said he wanted to broaden the nation's manufacturing capabilities by growing the resource and defence sectors and developing a domestic green steel industry.

"But these goals cannot be achieved without cheap, consistent and clean power," he said.

"Nuclear is the only proven technology which emits zero emissions, which can firm up renewables, and which provides cheap, consistent and clean power."

Treasurer Jim Chalmers took aim at what he described as an "uncosted nuclear fantasy".

“If (the opposition) really cared about workers and small businesses they wouldn’t have voted 'no' to our electricity rebates which are helping families and small businesses with their energy bills, or threatened to unwind our cost-of-living tax cuts for middle Australia," Dr Chalmers said. 

“Inflation and unemployment were higher under the Liberals, business investment and productivity were weak, real wages were going backwards and there was debt and deficits and waste as far as the eye could see."

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