Australian Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman Bruce Billson interview with Jac Underwood.
26 October 2022
Subject: October 2022 Budget
Now, for those of you who run a small business, I suppose you're wondering how this federal budget is going to assist you to continue to prosper within our community. We welcome to the program Bruce Billson, Australian Small Business and Family Ombudsman. Bruce, good afternoon.
Jac, great to be with you and 2BS listeners.
It's great to have you. Your first take, your first impression from what's been handed down by the federal government?
Well, obviously my lens is about small and family businesses and that's where we've focused our attention in the budget. There’s useful responses to immediate pain points for many small and family businesses, but probably some more work to be done on making sure there's a longer term vision and really energising enterprise with encouraging policy settings for small and family business owners and leaders.
Alright, let's get into it. What are those pain points you've identified?
There’s a couple in there. I mean, obviously the energy costs conversation is a chat that's happening in so many workplaces and so many households. Gas and electricity costs, that's a real pain point but thankfully there is an energy efficiency grants program that's been announced that's about lowering bills through reduced energy use, looking at efficiency opportunities.
So that's good. There's some ongoing support for small business owners’ mental health support program because a number of small and family business owners are really quite overwhelmed, Jac, by the pressures that they've been experiencing through COVID and some of the challenges coming out of COVID.
Some help through a small business debt helpline because there's sadly, a number of businesses that have put to one side or parked loans, they might have deferred payments on equipment, they might have come into some rental arrangements for their tenancy costs and those are looming large and needing to be needing to be dealt with.
And then there's been some changes in workplace laws. The respect@work changes about employers leaning in to make sure there's no sexual harassment and there's money for support services to understand what that means.
So, there's quite a quite a range of things dealing with immediate pain points and they'll be well received.
I do note that there was a large portion of funding to help support those suffering domestic and family violence, in particular leave. And I wonder how small businesses might handle that if you've got a very small staff.
Jac you’re right on the money there. We've actually made submissions to the Senate inquiry about that very issue. There's been an extension to domestic and family violence leave arrangements. Those are pretty tricky areas to navigate, particularly in rural and regional communities where a lot of people know each other. There's a lot of family businesses. How do you navigate that?
What we were calling for was some really clear advice for small business owners to help navigate what's a pretty tricky space. And in the budget, there is some funding available to develop useful tools to help small and family businesses understand how they can be their best selves in supporting people that are really struggling with family and domestic violence.
There's also a carryover of what was announced in March, Jac. This is where if you spent, say, $100 on digitising your business, you could actually claim a deduction for $120. So, there's a 20% uplift on deductibility for expenditure making your business more digitally enabled. And, also, a similar 20% additional deductibility for training and skills development within your workplace.
They're good news along with digital solutions programs and really focusing in on mobile and broadband connectivity, particularly in rural and regional areas.
That's such a big problem for us here in the regions. I was speaking to someone in Oberon earlier today who's in town who can't get good connectivity and has to walk down to another area to pick up wi-fi if they need to do something really important. So how do you run a business if even someone in a residential space can't pick up a connection?
The Oberon example is all too real. And here I am encouraging businesses to be more digitally enabled, you know, storing records in the cloud so that they're more resilient in the event of a natural disaster or something like that. Exploring new ways of contacting customers by using digital channels. And then the key backbone to that, your connectivity, if that’s shabby or vulnerable that undermines that effort.
So, it's pleasing to see the budget’s really turned its mind to that, not just in blackspots, which your listeners would be familiar with, with mobile coverage, but also broadband availability and in some areas moving away from fixed wireless type services or satellite into more fixed wire capability. But there's quite a quite a number of moving parts in that space and where we're keen to understand more about it and how small and family businesses can benefit from it.
Just before I let you go, I would understand the number one thing on small business minds and for everyone is inflation and rising costs. That's going to affect business bottom line. But, also, workforce. Is there anything there that addresses workforce?
Yeah, there's a couple of things. And again, it's an area where we've been very active because, you know, even for businesses that have got through COVID and they've navigated that and they see some opportunities, Jac, often a real thing holding them back if they can't get the team to actually take advantage of those opportunities. And in some areas the lack of housing available means even if you can snag a good team member, this is nowhere affordable for them to leave. So, the whole housing thing has a role to play there.
But in terms of boosting the workforce, there's probably three measures. The ideas to improve help with childcare support. That's great to make that more affordable and that should release more people into the workforce. There is also a relaxation for mature aged people, primarily on pensions, who can go and do some work and not have their pension eligibility impacted adversely.
And then also for student visa holders, there was ordinarily a 20-hour limit on the number of hours a student visa holder can work, that's also been relaxed as we see more and more students coming back into the economy who play a vital contribution in so many areas, being able to work more hours, if that's something they'd like to do.
It's great to talk to you as always. Thank you so much for taking the time to give us your analysis.
Jac, fab to be with you and your listeners