COSBOA National Summit

Prime Minister

I’m very pleased to join you all this morning for the National Small Business Summit.

I’m here because the Government that I lead respects and values every one of Australia’s 2.5 million small businesses – and the more than 5 million Australians employed by them.

We respect how hard everyone in small business works.

We recognise the aspiration at the heart of every small business, the determination to build something for yourself and your family.

We value the contribution you make to the life of our communities – and the strength of our nation.

We know how central you are to the continuing growth and resilience of our economy, from our suburbs to the regions.

And we know how vital you are to Australia’s future prosperity, as job-creators and as innovators.

Because so often small businesses are the first movers, the early adopters.

Embracing new technology and clean energy.

Seeking out new markets in our region.

Reinventing the way you work and trade and promote your products.

And responding to emerging challenges in the economy, in real time.

In some ways, these are strengths born of necessity.

Small businesses change and adapt and modernise, because that’s how you stand out from the pack and stay ahead of it.

Small businesses move fast because you understand there’s not a minute to waste.

And small business understand that investment can’t just be about scale – it has to be about strategy, about building on what you do best.

There are valuable lessons for our nation in all of this.

Because right now there is a global economic race underway.

Every advanced economy in the world is competing for a new generation of jobs, investment, prosperity and productivity.

And every advanced economy is grappling with the challenges of global inflation, the long tail of the pandemic, the uncertainty of conflict and the transformative impact of new technologies.

For Australia to compete and succeed in this environment, we need to show the dynamism and drive of small business.

The resourcefulness to anticipate change – and shape it.

And we need to show the courage and ambition you demonstrate every day.

The courage to invest in new ideas and new industries, the ambition for our people and our products to win in the world.

This what I mean when I talk about a future made in Australia.

Investing in our economic self-reliance and lifting our nation up the international value chain.

Powering new jobs with clean energy, driving new productivity with digital technology.

And building a more resilient, competitive and diversified economy, fully engaged with the opportunities of the Indo-Pacific, the fastest-growing region in the world in human history.

In all this, our Government wants to see Australian small business front and centre.

For example, when we hosted ASEAN last month in Melbourne, we made it clear that one of our key priorities for deepening Australia’s engagement in South East Asia, is helping more of our small and medium exporters access those markets.

Especially those small businesses with diaspora community connections, serving as ambassadors for Australia in these emerging markets.

Our new Australia-Southeast Asia Business Exchange program commences in April, with the first two missions visiting Singapore and Malaysia.

And there will be many more to follow – focusing on clean energy, technology and the service industry.

Investing in people also means investing in the skills of our workforce.

In our first 100 days in Government, we brought together the States and Territories to launch a national training blitz.

For 2023, we set a target of 180,000 fee-free TAFE places in areas of national priority and in fields essential to small business – like information technology and book-keeping.

By the end of 2023, over 355,000 Australians had enrolled in one of those fee-free courses.

Training and re-training themselves for success in a changing economy.

And we want to make sure that small business owners have the chance to learn new skills as well.

Our Digital Solutions program offers free courses in website development and digital technology for business owners.

Training workshops and personalised advice on everything from marketing to streamlining everyday processes.

This is about making sure small businesses are prepared to seize the opportunities of digital technology – and ready to manage the risks.

Particularly in cybersecurity.

For a modern business that trades online, cyber security is as important as having a lock on your door.

It’s essential for protecting your commercially sensitive information, your intellectual property – and your customers’ privacy.

And we should not ask time-poor small business owners to be their own IT department on top of everything else, especially when it comes to dealing with a challenge that is constantly evolving.

That’s where I welcome the leadership COSBOA has shown and the partnership we’ve been able to build with the new Cyber Wardens Program, aiming to train 50,000 cyber wardens in 15,000 businesses over the next three years.

This will work alongside the Government’s Small Business Cyber Resilience service and the Cyber Health Check program, which will help small businesses build their cyber capabilities and bounce back from cyber incidents.

Cyber security requires a comprehensive framework, shaped by the advice and experience of people on the frontline.

And I look forward to this Summit contributing to this ongoing work.

Our Government understands that for small business – as for Australian families – energy bills remain a source of financial pressure.

That’s why the Energy Bill Relief package I negotiated with the States and Territories delivered up to $650 in savings for around 1 million small businesses, along with 5 million families.

And it’s why we created the Small Business Energy Incentive.

A new tax deduction to help any business with a turnover of under $50 million invest in energy efficiency and storage, such as upgrading to more efficient appliances or installing batteries and heat pumps.

Helping Australian families and small family businesses with their energy bills was a key priority in last year’s Budget.

It helped people under pressure – and it helped fight inflation.

And as we put together next month’s Budget, small businesses and families will again be front and centre in our thinking.

We also know that small business have consistently led the nation in embracing solar power to take control of their bills.

Today, nearly 1 in 3 small businesses have rooftop solar.

And nearly 1 in 5 have a battery storage system.

That speaks to a sense of environmental responsibility – but also a practical, commercial reality.

Solar power is a smart investment that delivers an important return to businesses on tight margins.

You heard from the Opposition Leader yesterday about his plan to have a plan to build nuclear reactors somewhere up and down the east coast, sometime before 2050 at a cost somewhere in the hundreds of billions of dollars.

Our Government – like you – is focused on what works and focused on what will make a difference here and now, as well as deliver for the long term.

Solar power is reliable, fast and affordable – and all the more so when combined with storage.

1 in 3 small businesses with solar is a great start – and I’m confident that with the right investments and support and the continuing advances in technology, that number will continue to rise.

We’re working to make sure small businesses get a better deal when it comes to Commonwealth procurement, with a new target of 20 per cent.

And we’re working to make sure small businesses get paid on time.

We know how important cash flow is – and we know how hard it can be for a small business or sole trader to convey that urgency to big companies.

That’s why we’ve adopted all the recommendations of Dr Craig Emerson’s independent review of the Payment Times Reporting Act.

Including naming and shaming big businesses who fail to pay on time.

And we’ve made unfair contract terms illegal – safeguarding small business in future negotiations with large partners.

We want to bring this same accountability and integrity to franchising as well, which is why we commissioned Dr Michael Schaper to review the Franchising Code of Conduct.

Our Government is pro-business and pro-worker.

We will always champion good jobs, fair wages and decent conditions for working people.

Equally, we understand that there are no good jobs, fair wages or decent conditions for employees, without employers.

That’s the constructive and balanced approach we’ve sought to bring to our industrial relations reforms.

Simplifying the Better-Off-Overall-Test.

Giving small business the option of bargaining, through the Single Interest Bargaining Stream.

And if they choose to do so, making it easier for business to get advice and support from the Fair Work Commission during negotiations.

Legislating a clear definition of a casual employee – and providing an extended service period of 12 months for employees of small businesses to elect to change from casual to permanent.

And creating a fairer test for small businesses to determine if a person is an independent contractor or an employee.

All this matters, because if companies are able to exploit loopholes, cut corners and undermine wages, then it’s never just workers who lose out, good employers who do the right thing and play by the rules get hurt too.

That’s why our Government has made a point of working with big firms, small businesses and unions on these changes.

Because we understand that reforms which create a better system and a level playing field serve everyone’s interests.

I did see when my opponent came here yesterday he warned you about being ‘supine’ and ‘silent’.

Demanding that you criticise the Government more loudly and more often.

Trying to drag you into his politics of negativity and conflict.

I think more of you of than that – and our Government has more respect for small business than that.

That’s why we want to keep working with COSBOA and with all of you – on industrial relations, on energy, right across the economic agenda.

Because unlike our opponents, we don’t think co-operation is a sign of weakness and we’re not interested in talking you down or talking the economy down.

We respect your right – and your capacity – to constructively represent your members and to build better outcomes, based on consensus.

This National Summit underscores the vital and central role of small business, in every part of our economy and every part of our country.

I’m pleased that so many of our Government’s key reform priorities, align with the agenda you’re discussing.

More affordable energy.

New skills for the workforce.

Strengthening cyber security and embracing digital.

Delivering a better and fairer industrial relations system.

And engaging with the transformative opportunities of our region.

Our Government will keep working with you and keep listening to you.

Because we want to make it easier for you to do what you do best: create jobs, drive growth, build new markets in our region and bring new ideas and products to the world.

Every small business represents optimism and resilience, innovation and investment, aspiration and determination.

These are the strengths that will shape our nation’s future.

We are all living in a time of significant economic challenges – and profound economic change.

And no country is better placed to meet those challenges – and make those changes work for our people than Australia.

In all this, small business has a huge role to play and a big contribution to make.

I look forward to working with you, to ensure our nation seizes this moment.

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