I know that the National Press Club Address telecast on ABC TV is not the highest-rating TV show in Australia, but I took the time out one lunchtime recently to tune in.  The presentation was by Peter Strong, the CEO of the Council of Small Business of Australia (COSBOA).

And it was well worth the time.  In the words of one of the attendees who asked a question at the end, “You’ve probably picked enough fights to get you through to the end of the week!”

COSBOA is the peak industry body representing Australian Small Businesses (defined as having turnover less than $2m by the Australian Bureau of Statistics).  However, a lot of Peter’s comments are highly applicable to businesses bigger than that as well.

Peter argued that “business class warfare” is alive and well in Australia. “… that too often, decisions that affect us all are being made or manipulated by just a few institutions, businesses and individuals.”

The retail industry triad…

Much of Peter’s address focused on the retail industry and its domination by the triad of Coles, Woolworths and the dominant retail Trade Union, the SDA.  Peter contends that there is a group of about 50 people who control everything that we buy, where we buy and how we buy.

Tweet:  Just 50 people decide what we buy, where we buy and how we buy http://bit.ly/1Vnb07g @PeterStrongSB @bronwynreid

…but mining got a mention as well

The mining industry did come into for a (dishonourable) mention. Apart from commenting on the tax debate (over how much tax mining companies do or do not pay), he highlighted the record of the mining companies as the worst corporate payers in the country.

“…they need to pay their people on time. They are the worst payers in Australia apparently. Some of them take up to 120 days. If you’re running a small business and want to put food on the table, it’s a long time to wait for food – 120 days”. “That isn’t good corporate behaviour”.

Totally agree with that one Peter! And he’s right on the 120 day bit – it’s true.

I did disagree with one comment in Peter’s written address though –“The mining companies do not have a direct negative effect on small businesses, indeed they often have a good day to day relationship…”

I don’t think I’d have to look too far to find a contrary opinion to that comment, and I will be sharing more on this theme in my next post.

Regional business feels the pain…

Coincidentally, on the same day I came across a LinkedIn post by a lady from Wandoan in regional Queensland. Kaylene’s excellent post shared her concern for her regional home town and community – post the resources “boom”,. and made a plea for the resources companies to support local businesses.

In her post, Kaylene also points out a fact that, despite several years of the resources boom, many businesses do not seem to be aware of.  The Queensland Resources and Energy Sector Code of Practice for Local Content (2013) contains this definition:

“Local industry  Refers to either an Australian or New Zealand business…”

The definition does go on to say “Resources and energy companies may adopt a more regionally focused definition to align with local content strategies”, but there it is – Local = Australia + New Zealand.

…of a double whammy     

So, if you are the owner of a small or medium business in a regional area, particularly one where the resources industry has taken over the local economy during the boom years, you could be forgiven for feeling that all is not right in the world.

But what can be done?

It’s all very well to point out problems from the sidelines, but it’s much more constructive to start thinking about possible solutions – and putting them in to practice.

Peter Strong and COSBOA propose a national program of Economic Development, run by an independent body. We get that Peter. At the moment, our economic development agencies are doing the best they can individually, but the really big decisions – the ones that make or break our businesses and communities – are completely remote from us.

As Peter said in his Press Club address, We need to remove the decision making power given to far away developers and economists, and let the locals make decisions that affect them.”

Currently, there is a group of stakeholders in the Bowen Basin working hard on this theme and taking a strategic approach to building business resilience. We will be sharing more on this over the next few months.

In the meantime, I will share this quote from Kaylene of Wandoan;

“As chair of the Wandoan Community Commerce & Industry (WCCI) & a concerned local business owner/ resident, I want this Community to be heard. Local Content, where we are fully compliant, should mean local Wandoan. This community wants a sustainable future. I invite those who make the decisions to get out of their offices, to visit the region, talk to the community, and walk the walk. We have walked the walk – we have supported the Resource and Gas industry. I appeal to you to do the same and support the local regions and those who live in it.

Couldn’t have said it better myself Kaylene.

 

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