The first leaders’ debate between Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese took place last evening at the People’s Forum in Brisbane, including questions from undecided voters.
The leaders faced off on several topics, including the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS), housing affordability, an anti-corruption body, and the plan ahead for the economy. Albanese was ultimately named the winner with 40 per cent of the votes, a slim margin of 5 per cent over the Prime Minister.
The rest of the voters at the people’s forum, hosted by Sky News and The Courier Mail, remained undecided.
Among the many questions posed to the leaders was that of JobKeeper and the economic recovery plan ahead. One small business owner noted SMEs, sole traders, and microbusinesses like himself were “left out in the cold” during the pandemic.
“JobKeeper was not accessible to us as we were not employees of our businesses,” said Daniel, the owner of a café in a local commercial airfield.
“There were a lot of friends around that were sole traders that contracted to others, they were not eligible as well. We were told that we should dip into our super, our future that we would no longer be able to attain if we draw down on it now. So, moving forward into the endemic phase of COVID, what is your plan to help small businesses, sole traders, and microbusinesses?”
The Prime Minister went first, pointing to the tax reductions down to 25 per cent for small businesses by the Liberal Party and the 100 per cent asset write-off for new equipment like “a coffee machine, a fridge, or a new machine.”
“We’ve lowered taxes for small businesses because it is tough,” Prime Minister Morrison said. “One of the key things that small businesses have to deal with is their cashflow. And in this budget, we provided 100 per cent tax deduction for those who were training [people], but also on the investments you have to make.”
He also highlighted the technology investment boosts to support digital adoption by SMEs that were announced in the Federal Budget last month.
Mr Albanese, too, voiced Labor’s support for the small business tax cut for companies below 50 million dollars in turnover and the asset write-off. He added that there was a need for a plan to “lift wages through the economy” to take pressure off small businesses.
“One of the things that’s happening is that if people haven’t got enough money to spend, if they’re struggling to get by, they can’t afford to go to the local café,” Mr Albanese explained. “They cut back. And that’s one of the things that we’re seeing that’s holding back our economy.”
One point of contention between the two leaders was the resurrection of the industrial relations reforms first proposed in December 2020, a move that would “remove the better-off-overall-test” according to Mr Albanese. (As per sections of the Coalition’s industrial relations bill, it would allow the Fair Work Commission to approve pay deals that did not leave workers better off overall if it was deemed “appropriate” to do so, taking into account the impact of COVID-19 on businesses.)
PM Morrison was quick to clarify the Liberal Party’s stance on the matter.
“What we said was, we would go forward with the measures that weren’t the emergency pandemic measures,” he stated. “There were some emergency measures that were only for that time and that’s what (the removal of the test) related to. They’re no longer applying and they’re no longer part of our forward agenda.”