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Small business, big issues

Opinion

Small business, big issues

Bill Darby says if small business is the engine room of the Sunshine Coast economy, we need to cut small business owners some slack.

We are always talking up the success of our small business community and how well the region ranks as the ‘small business capital of Australia’. Working on the premise that you can’t always believe what you read, it’s worthwhile digging deeper into the foundation of our regional economy.

According to a recent statement made by Mayor Mark Jamieson, small enterprises account for 90 per cent of all businesses on the coast, and employ 120,000 staff. He went on to say that small businesses are the engine room of our economy and from my observations, I reckon he is pretty spot on.

Some media statements are a little harder to swallow. In April, Queensland’s Minister for Innovation, Science and the Digital Economy and Minister for Small Business, the Honourable Leeanne Enoch, espoused the Sunshine Coast region is home to no less than 60,918 small businesses. I wish someone had bothered to do some research. There are barely 35,000 registered business names in the region and if more than a third of them were actual operating businesses, I’d be very surprised.

A growing number of small traders on the Coast are doing it tough. The burden of compliance imposed by the three tiers of government and the generosity of our industrial awards are straws breaking the camel’s back. The pressures bearing down on many small business owners are creating a new class of poor being disguised by overdrafts, re-financing, credit card debt and extended payment arrangements.

Dominating the news over recent weeks has been the response to recent changes in Sunday penalty rates. Unions are using intimidation tactics on employers and they are creating fear around the supposed erosion of entitlements. In reality, Australia has one of the world’s most generous wage structures. Even the Fair Work Commission couldn’t justify such high wage penalties for Sunday small business traders to continue.

Put simply, small business owners don’t work seven days a week for the fun of it, nor do they close their doors on busy public holidays for no reason. Unlike the major retailers who bought the union’s favour years ago with their enterprise bargaining agreements, small businesses owners have been left high and dry to juggle mounting costs and shrinking profits.

There’s something weird about the Australian culture. We don’t champion our successful business people, nor our entrepreneurs. There’s no thanks handed out to the risk-takers who throw themselves into debt to deliver those 120,000 local jobs.

One day, all small business employers will value their employees and each will enjoy a mutually respectful workplace relationship with little need for the protection of unions and awards. I believe these 21st century ethics define modern successful businesses. Let’s hope the trend continues.

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Bill Darby is a businessman and general manager of Caloundra’s Rumba Beach Resort. He has an extensive career in the tourism industry. For more visit billdarby.com.au.

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