Small business plays an important role in the Australian economy, making up around 99 per cent of all businesses and accounting for around half of private sector employment. The Government is committed to ensuring the right conditions exist to allow small business to grow and thrive.
Helping small business go digital
In 2018–19, a major priority for the department was helping small businesses improve their digital capabilities. Research from Deloitte shows that businesses that are digitally engaged are more likely to grow their revenue and up to eight times more likely to create new jobs. The Government is providing funding for two initiatives to improve the digital capabilities of small businesses for websites, selling online, social media, digital marketing, using small business software, and online security and data privacy.
Australian Small Business Advisory Services (ASBAS) and the Small Business Digital Champions Project are two Australian Government initiatives that are helping small businesses go digital.
Australian Small Business Advisory Services
ASBAS is an ongoing grants program providing support for small businesses. Established in 2008 to provide general business advice, it changed focus in 2018 to provide digital Solutions. Through ASBAS, the Government is funding business services providers to deliver low-cost, high-quality digital advisory services to small businesses in metropolitan and regional areas to build digital capabilities. Its services include assessing the needs of a business and tailoring a digital engagement plan. The Department of Industry, Innovation and Science Business Grants Hub administers the program on behalf of the department.
The three ASBAS providers were announced on 31 May 2018 and began delivering services on 2 July 2018. They are:
NSW/ACT — Penrith City and District Business Advisory Centre Limited
Qld/NT/WA — Business Station Incorporated
SA/Vic/Tas — Darebin Enterprise Centre Limited.
Small Business Digital Champions Project
The Small Business Digital Champions Project is designed to help small businesses improve their business sustainability and management practices by making it easier for them to engage with digital technology.
The Small Business Digital Champions Project was announced in December 2018 and officially commenced in April 2019.
As part of the project, 100 small businesses from across Australia have been selected to receive a digital transformation with assistance from a digital transformation provider. All 100 participating small businesses are receiving up to $18,500 worth of digital goods and services, plus additional support from our corporate partners.
Fifteen of the participating small businesses have been announced as ‘Digital Champions’ and partnered with a high-profile ‘Digital Mentor’. The project involves Digital Champions having their journey showcased through online media and social channels to inspire and inform small businesses across Australia.
To help small businesses engage with digital technology more broadly, the department has selected 15 industry associations to receive $100,000 over two years to provide sector-specific trusted digital advice to small businesses.
Small Business Fairs
In February and March 2019, the department delivered 23 Small Business Fairs across Australia, which were attended by 2,700 small business owners.
The purpose of the fairs was to showcase the Australian Government’s support for small business. A wide variety of agencies were represented at each fair. Small business owners could meet and talk with agency representatives about their individual issues and concerns and find out about the services and support they offered. They could also take up the opportunity of a 15-minute one-on-one consultation with a small business coach.
Evaluation of the initiative found that most attendees (77 per cent) thought the fairs were a good use of their time and a large majority of visitors (86 per cent) considered the information provided to be useful. A majority of visitors (82 per cent) said they would attend another Small Business Fair if they were invited. Perhaps most importantly, 39 per cent of respondents had already taken action to improve their business as a result of attending a Small Business Fair in the month following their visit.
Improving small business cashflow
As part of its commitment to improve small business cashflow, the Government is developing a reporting framework that will require large firms with over $100 million turnover to publish information on how they pay small businesses. Large businesses that tender for government contracts will also be required to match the Australian Government’s 20-day payment policy for small business.
From January to May 2019, the department consulted with over 70 business and government stakeholders across Australia on the design of these initiatives.
Small business mental health
As part of the MYEFO, funding was provided to scale up Everymind’s ‘Ahead for Business’ trial, in recognition of the higher levels of mental health concerns among small business operators. Ahead for Business is a fit-for-purpose response to the mental health needs of small business owners and sole traders. It includes a digital platform (website and app) that connects small business owners to tools, programs and interventions that are tailored to their needs.
The department consulted with key small business and mental health stakeholders through two roundtable discussions held in December 2018 and February 2019, as well as a series of working groups through May and June 2019. These discussions explored the mental health and wellbeing needs of small business, the services currently available and opportunities for further development.
Franchising Code of Conduct and Franchising Taskforce
The department has policy oversight of the Franchising Code of Conduct (the Franchising Code), a mandatory industry code that regulates the franchising sector in Australia.
In late 2018, the department appeared at a hearing of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Corporations and Financial Services inquiry into the Franchising Code. On 14 March 2019, the committee released its report on the operation and effectiveness of the Franchising Code, which put forward 71 recommendations for the consideration of various government agencies and regulatory bodies. The first recommendation was to establish an inter-agency taskforce to examine the feasibility and implementation of a number of the recommendations that followed.
The Franchising Taskforce was established on 10 April 2019 and is co-chaired by the department and the Department of the Treasury (which has legislative oversight of the Franchising Code). The taskforce will provide advice on a government response to the report.
Small business international engagement
The department’s International Engagement Strategy aligns our international activities with the Australian Government’s vision of facilitating the growth of small business and strengthening the deregulation agenda. The department represented Australia on the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Small and Medium Enterprises Working Group and the Working Party on SMEs and Entrepreneurship in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) during the year, allowing us to be an influencer in international small business policy.
The department’s international engagement also included involvement with the Small Enterprise Association of Australia and New Zealand, the Indian Ocean Rim Association and the OECD Southeast Asia Regional Programme. The department continues to work collaboratively with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and other government agencies on bilateral and free trade agreement related responsibilities.
Whole-of-government deregulation agenda
The Government continued to seek out opportunities to cut the cost of complying with regulation. In particular, the deregulation agenda focused on easing the regulatory burden for small businesses, who face proportionally higher compliance costs. Whole-of-government regulatory reform in 2018–19 included:
establishing the Australian Financial Complaints Authority, a one-stop shop dispute resolution scheme to give small businesses and consumers access to free, fast and binding dispute resolution
introducing Single Touch Payroll, which reduces the time small business owners spend on reporting employees’ pay and superannuation information to the Australian Taxation Office (ATO) by sending this information to the ATO from internal payroll systems each payday
implementing Small Business Assist, an interactive online tool that helps small businesses meet their tax obligations.
Australia is recognised internationally for its regulatory policy and governance practices, scoring very well in the OECD rankings for regulatory policy and governance. In November 2018, the OECD Regulatory Policy Outlook showed that Australia is advanced in ex post evaluation practices and regulatory impact assessments.