No relief in sight for small business
Small businesses are hurting. Photo: Virginia Star
The market power of the major banks is so dominant that they can ignore any reduction in interest rates the Reserve Bank of Australia delivers, making any such move irrelevant to the management of the economy.
It is the elephant in the room but small business has been screaming about the loss of activity on the high street while big business and sections of the commentariat say: ''Ignore them. They are whining. Oligopolistic dominance is good and small business is old fashioned. Every 'one' is passe, all should be in corporate uniforms.''
Now the internet and economic uncertainty has started to show a grey horizon for the larger retailers. People are paying down debt and buying cheap.
There is no confidence in the soap opera called the federal Government. The spare cash is just not there as it once was. For small businesses there is no two-speed economy, there is just one, the stopped one. The macro analysis of the man in the suit on the TV has lost sight of the shop owner around the corner.
I speak to small business owners who talk of shop vacancies, low turnover and frugal spending, whether it is in Oxford Street or Toowoomba. They note that very few of their customers are fitters and turners on mine sites and even they are probably buying online. Small business is our biggest employer and small business is the greatest article of social advancement.
There are about 2.5 million small businesses which employ 5 million other Australians. All up, that is more than two-thirds of our labour force.
Small business is the protector of the individual from the restriction of expression that is an unfortunate but essential element in the regimen of the big business corporate manual. Small business connects the farmer to the shop owner, from Charters Towers in Queensland to Mosman in Sydney.
When Australia hears the esoteric economic philosopher ruminating that the days of the family farm are ending, a shudder reverberates through small business. We don't want the Australian farmer's future limited to swinging off a spanner on a foreign-owned corporate farm.
Small businesses are hurting and frustrated as they are surrounded by deafness to their plight. Electricity prices are exorbitant and sucking spare cash out of the economy with the assistance of petrol prices and economically perverse policies such as the carbon tax. The National Broadband Network is a dog and is just exacerbating our debt problem which, in the past week, was up a further $3 billion for the second consecutive week to take our government gross debt to $256 billion.
Real infrastructure of rail and road to connect our mining provinces to our southern capitals remains unconstructed and so the capacity to benefit from a mining boom is not as apparent as it could be. The inland rail to connect Melbourne to Brisbane and the coal provinces of northern NSW and central Queensland has just never happened.
In the US a variable loan for commercial purposes would be at a rate of 3.25 per cent. In Australia a similar small business would pay an average of 8.65 per cent. Everywhere small businesses turn, they see a government that just does not get it and commentators who reflect little knowledge of the street-level economic life.
Rosella's parent company has gone to the wall and another Australian manufacturer deals with the fact that 80 per cent of the channels to move their product in the retail environment are owned by two organisations, Coles and Woolworths. If they don't give you favourable price and product placement you are economically dead and your staff members are unemployed. Even definitive country-of-origin labelling is a task too hard for this government.
Dairy farmers are also going to the wall on the absurdity of $1-a-litre milk. That's cheaper than water, yet cows have to be milked twice a day, 365 days a year, with returns that are supposed to be able to cover plant, wages and that other old-fashioned concept - a family.
So, Penny Wong and Wayne Swan, do not tell small businesses that you feel their pain; do not offer faux bravado that you will stand up to the banks if you choose not to follow through. Stand up and do something and show you are relevant or sit down and offer up your job as a cost saving.
Barnaby Joyce is the Nationals' Senate leader and the opposition spokesman for regional development, local government and water.