15 May 2024


Australian Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman Bruce Billson interview with Stephen Cenatiempo.

Radio 2CC Canberra

Subject: Budget 2024-25


Stephen Cenatiempo

One of the groups I always look at with regards to the budget and whether or not they benefit from it is small business, because if small business is going well, then Australia's going well. And sadly, small business at the moment isn't going anywhere near as well as it should. Bruce Billson is the Australian Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman and joins us now. Bruce, good morning.

Bruce Billson

Good morning to you Steve and your listeners. 

Stephen Cenatiempo

Overall, not a bad budget for small businesses, there’s a fair bit of targeted relief there. 

Bruce Billson

There's a little bit in there. I don’t think small businesses will be punching the air with excitement, thinking that it's a real game changer. But the budget does offer some support for some real pain points right now, and there are many.

Your earlier callers and people texting in talking about energy relief. Well, you can imagine if you're running a cafe in Braddon and you've got fridges and cooking technology and all sorts of things going on, your energy bills have gone through the roof. So, there is some relief there. That’s $325, for not all small businesses. About a million of the two and a half million small businesses look like they're eligible for that. Different from last year, though, Stephen, where states and territory governments were matching that Commonwealth contribution. So, this looks like Commonwealth going solo. So, there's a bit of a bit of relief there.

And probably the other big areas are some help to navigate increasing regulatory imposts. A lot of businesses are sort of feeling really bound up in red tape. There's been complexity added to workplace relations. Well, there's some help there to help the Fair Work Ombudsman explain what a small business needs to do. There’s stuff like that. 

What's not there, though, is what's going to shift the dial. Right now, we need people, whether they're in small business or thinking about going into small business, going ‘Yeah, I'm going to turn that idea into investment. I'm going to recruit that extra person. I'm going to invest in some technology.’

Now, the only sort of message that that matters and that's what the nation needs is the instant asset write off. That's been maintained or extended. That’s $20,000. But even in last year's budget there was some tax incentives for people investing in technology to improve productivity and innovation. That's not there.

Small businesses doesn't need only to have less headwinds in their face. They actually need some wind in their sails right now. And that's not really prominent in this budget. 

Stephen Cenatiempo

And that's and that's the key there. And $325, while nobody's going to sneeze at that, it's not a great deal of money and it only applies to a million small businesses where the $300 household rebate everybody gets whether they need or not. 

I do want to touch on one thing, though, particularly in the current environment, the $7.7 million over the next couple of years to extend funding for the New Access for Small Business Owners program by Beyondblue. That is critical. 

Bruce Billson

Yeah, really important. And it sits alongside the Small Business Debt Helpline. Now these are important measures, really good programs, and I'm delighted that the government seen fit to extend them.

That's emotional wellbeing support. That's a coaching program for a business owner who already knows Stephen that it's a big responsibility to run a business but is overwhelmed by many of the pressures that are on them right now. The sense that their own identity is interwoven into their business and there's lots of livelihoods counting on them. That can be overwhelming and the New Access to Small Business Owners program supports that. Supports those people knowing more about themselves and being in the best place they can be to make those important business leadership decisions.

And the Small Business Debt Helpline, sadly, is a sign of the times. For many new customers aren't knocking their doors down. There's not strong profits for the small business end of town even though the budget reports more receipts from big corporate taxes and the like. Managing those debt levels are quite difficult.

And even when small business think about programs like the Future Made in Australia program, big numbers, big numbers for economy changing measures and let's hope that’s not something that businesses are going to expect on the never, never. 

But little steps like the Buy Australian Plan giving businesses a better chance to get a piece of the government procurement action. We've recommended a range of measures there to even emphasise the retained economic benefit of engaging a small business or supplying the Commonwealth. And sadly, there's nothing in there either. So even where that big growth is in the Government itself, the prospects of a small or family business getting a piece of that action as a supplier, we thought that could have been really worthwhile and simple. And frankly, better use of existing resources measures to help that support the business community. But that's not there. 

Stephen Cenatiempo

Yeah, and it's interesting you say that because that kind of stuff is almost zero cost, but the benefit is exponential. Bruce, always good to talk to you. Thanks for your time this morning. 

Bruce Billson

Thanks Steve. Best wishes to you and your listeners.

Stephen Cenatiempo

Bruce Billson, the Australian Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman.