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Federal budget 2022 summary – hits and misses: What SMEs think

The federal government’s first budget after entering office included few surprises. Families and healthcare have gained significantly, as planned, while tax evaders and dams have suffered due to attempts to curb fraud and waste.

Here are the experts’ opinions on who did well and who was left out of the October budget.

Lindsay Brown, Vice President and General Manager, APJ at GoTo

“As debt reaches $892 billion as of mid-October, and interest rates and cost of living continue to increase, the signs of a looming recession are showing. A recent survey from GoTo found that 79 per cent of Australian business leaders believe a recession will occur within the next six months. For businesses, the focus should be on preparing to support their employees, protect their bottom line, and maintain business continuity. 

“Sixty-one per cent of businesses are actively preparing for an economic downturn, with the most common strategies utilised to create a recession-proof business including forming business continuity plans (47%), maintaining high employee morale (46%), and having a cost-effective product to produce (46%), as well as maintaining work equipment regularly (44%). 85% of business leaders agree that ensuring employee devices are working properly is vital to keeping their businesses running and prepared for future issues.

“With a recession top of mind for so many Aussies, especially the SMB community, it’s great to see the Federal Government committed to improving the well-being of these organisations.

“GoTo found that 91 per cent of Australian business leaders believe it is important to keep employees’ morale high during economic downturns. With the government’s support through the nearly $15 million funding towards mental health support and debt counselling for small business owners, we are taking the right steps towards protecting the well-being of the SMB community.”

Garry Valenzisi, Vice President and General Manager at Iron Mountain ANZ 

 “Many Australian businesses have undergone a rapid digital transformation in recent years. However, this is a rapidly evolving space, so the federal government’s announcement of a $10.1 million investment to expand the Flinders University Factory of the Future is essential in helping Australia keep pace on a global scale.

“Investment into developing and manufacturing future technologies will help drive business innovation and advance critical projects for the benefit of individuals, businesses and the Australian economy. 

“However, to maximise the benefits of such investment, it is critical to ensure that the country has a skilled workforce in place, which is why it is so positive to see that the federal government continues to invest in upskilling opportunities with $485.5 million dedicated to funding an additional 20,000 university places, of which more than 10% will be dedicated to tech courses alone.”

Guy Callaghan – Chief Executive Officer, Banjo Loans

“Today’s budget announcement demonstrates the current state of flux in the Australian economy finds itself. On the one hand, many industries are experiencing high growth with large revenue inflows, while others continue to feel the pain of uncertainty of the last few years, now compounded by rising costs of borrowing and inflation.

“The Government’s budget goes some way to provide a financial and strategic commitment to ensure small to medium businesses (SMEs) are digitally enabled, resilient and have the support, incentives, skills and training needed to be competitive in an uncertain future.

“As was clearly communicated prior, this was not a Budget stocking full of free gifts, but there are some schemes that will certainly help fund initiatives and measures to support SMEs, such as the $2.4 billion commitment to extending NBN full fibre access to 1.5 million homes and businesses by 2025.   

“Cheaper child care and greater paid parental leave will support small businesses to increase the available workforce to the tune of 37,000 extra workers (more than 90% of Australian businesses are SMEs).

“Pleasingly, there is a focus on decreasing the skills gap we are experiencing in the labour force with funding allocated to upskilling our local workforce & tertiary education in needed areas such as care and the digital economy.  The boost to the skilled migrant program is also very welcome, but this will take time to play out.

“Investment in manufacturing to expand our industrial base and regional centres should result in positive job creation. Items like small business energy grants will all help with growth initiatives for businesses struggling with increasing power prices.

“There is inflation pressure on wages driven by increasing energy prices and groceries. The Government’s focus on investment in renewable energy will create jobs and eventually decrease prices, but again this is more of a long-term plan.

“Thankfully, this was not a budget that pandered fully toward the big end of town, with the targeting multinationals to pay a fairer share of tax – a scheme that sounds good but is hard to deliver. 

“Hopefully, the targeted budget programs should lay the groundwork for a more secure economic future – powered by the private sector – but it will be mixed with financial pain in the short term.”

MYOB’s chief employee experience officer, Helen Lea

“These announcements are the measures with long-term potential for small business in what is a targeted budget allocation. The blending of these two investments could well be the gift that keeps on giving to small and family-run businesses. For each new community, there will be cafes, restaurants, hairdressers, retail centres, childcare and more – as these hubs grow, small businesses will take shape alongside them.

“As well as stimulating new business growth and boosting the economy, what’s key is that businesses have the enabling infrastructure to support their survival and growth. More than ever, that infrastructure is digital – with recent MYOB research finding that 28% of small business respondents are challenged in accessing a stable internet connection. 

“Creating new communities with modern networking at the forefront will help the business community contribute all the more to the economic growth of the country. An additional $2.4 billion attached to the rollout of the NBN in regional and rural Australia will provide the infrastructure on which this can occur.”

Louise Hyland, CEO of the Australian Mobile Telecommunications Association (AMTA)

“AMTA and the Australian mobile telecommunications industry welcome the Federal Government’s investment of $1.2 billion in the Better Connectivity for Regional and Rural Australia Plan, announced in tonight’s budget, to help build a streamlined approach to the continued rollout of network infrastructure.

“We are pleased that the Government recognises the importance of enhancing connectivity in rural and outer suburban areas. Investment in mobile infrastructure delivers better-connected communities.

“In particular, AMTA welcomes the investment of $39.1 million over five years from 2022–23 for two additional rounds of the Peri-Urban Mobile Program to improve mobile reception in peri-urban areas that are prone to natural disasters. 

“The Federal Government’s support of mobile coverage through new investments in regional and remote Australia and the associated delivery of improved speed, capacity, and latency has the potential to support economic recovery, play a key role in building disaster resilience and preparedness in regional Australia, and provide substantial benefits to communities.

“A Deloitte Access Economics report commissioned by AMTA earlier this year, titled 5G Unleashed: Realising the potential of the next generation of mobile technology, estimated 5G will increase Australia’s GDP by $67 billion by 2030 based on the current trajectory for adoption, with an additional productivity benefit of $27 billion to be realised through accelerated 5G adoption by industry – a total of $94 billion in economic benefits this decade.

“AMTA and the mobile telecommunications industry is working with the Government in its efforts to raise awareness of the economic benefits to be gained from the adoption of 5G across the industry – including innovation, jobs, productivity, and global collaboration & competitiveness.”

Joseph Lyons, Xero Managing Director, APAC

“Xero acknowledges the challenging economic landscape in which this Budget has been handed down as the Government seeks to create a stronger and more resilient economy. 

“Xero’s Small Business Index data highlights the resilience Australian small businesses have shown this year in the face of inflation and macroeconomic challenges, with positive sales and jobs growth. However, the road ahead for small businesses remains bumpy with ongoing turbulence across the globe and mounting cost of living pressures. 

“It’s imperative that small businesses are supported by the Government to continue to drive digital adoption to ensure they are adequately prepared for what’s ahead.

“Xero will continue to engage with the Government to enact genuine change and drive productivity forward, with initiatives such as eInvoicing, for Australian small businesses and their advisors.”  

AIIA’s CEO, Simon Bush

“The government ‘s promise to deliver 480,000 fee-free TAFE and community-based vocational education places over four years alongside its obvious commitment to growing skills demands in the clean energy sector are both important steps forward. These both showcase planning for the long-term as these deal with the jobs of the future and contribute to Australia’s future economic prosperity.
“Another key element of trying to bridge the alarming tech skills gap is welcoming and encouraging a wide range of demographics to the industry – that’s why the AIIA fully supports the budget funding increase for childcare. This will allow more working parents, particularly mothers, into the workforce – a group currently severely underrepresented within technology.
“Cyber security rightly remains a focus for the government, and the new $31.3m investment in government cyber resilience and security is necessary. We’ve unfortunately seen too many incidents in recent months, so it’s vital for the government to continue to harden its own cyber defences.
“Australia does have a digital divide between our cities and regions so the significant $1.2 billion in additional investment in NBN Co, particularly targeting regional areas and connectivity, should lessen the barriers for regional Australia and assist in expanding the tech workforce in a post-pandemic world.
“The AIIA now looks forward to working with the Labor Government on driving and implementing policies to be funded in the May 2023 budget. Areas around critical technologies, such as AI and Quantum, are of particular interest – they’ve received some funding in previous budgets but need far greater investment and accelerated implementation to ensure Australia can compete on a global stage. The budget funding tonight of $4.8m towards greater support for Quantum research and PhDs is definitely a step in the right direction, as we can not afford to fall further behind our international peers.”

Chris Dahl, CEO of Pin Payments

Small business overview on budget

“Labor’s budget has delivered on many fronts but failed to provide adequate relief for struggling small businesses. While Chalmers briefly touched on supporting small businesses through new energy efficiency grants and extending tailored mental health and financial counselling programs, these results were disappointing.

“Small businesses have been overlooked in a budget that aims to address rising costs for some whilst forgetting others. Small and medium enterprises looking to improve their energy efficiency have been awarded $62.6 million in grant funding in Labor’s budget. This means small and medium enterprises hoping to invest in energy-efficient upgrades will be eligible for Commonwealth grants.

“While this is positive news regarding sustainability and easing some financial pressures on businesses, it does not provide any short-term financial relief that SMBs desperately need.

“However, small businesses have been struggling due to significant skills and labour shortages, and the relief needed is immediate. This budget did not deliver on that front and fell short of addressing the pain points of many businesses right now, which are under pressure from inflation, rising costs and two years of economic difficulty.

“However, supporting women to re-enter the workforce and providing cheaper childcare and additional paid parental leave are all definite positives from this budget, which will undoubtedly ease some of the skills and staff pressures facing businesses.”

Josh Goulburn, CO-Founder

“Once again, the food and hospitality industries have been completely forgotten in this budget. Despite being an industry which has been struggling the most post-pandemic due to skills and labour shortages and food scarcity issues. As an industry that feeds the nation, food businesses are tired of being left behind regarding government support.

“We’re pleased to see that, in some way, the jobs and skills crisis has been addressed in this budget through half a million fee-free tafe courses and 20,000 new university places over the next two years.

“For the hospitality industry, this means there will no longer be a financial or privileged barrier to entry, and we’re hoping this will attract new talent to the industry. However, this relief will take years to come into effect for businesses that needed staff yesterday.

Speeding up visa processing times, as promised by the labour government, is good news, but it will not provide immediate aid as needed for many businesses.

“One positive of this budget was Labor’s unwavering support for women and their commitment to getting women back into the workforce. Cheaper childcare, which will provide women with 1.4 million additional work hours, is a welcome change. Hospitality as a career option is often difficult for women or parents who cannot find adequate care during the evenings. 

“Providing parents with equality and some relief surrounding childcare will bring much-needed relief to businesses that desperately need additional staff. Likewise, it provides women with opportunities in hospitality careers which previously were made difficult due to unaffordable childcare and unequal leave policies.”

The federal government’s first budget after entering office included few surprises. Families and healthcare have gained significantly, as planned, while tax evaders and dams have suffered due to attempts to curb fraud and waste. Here are the experts’ opinions on who did well and who was left out of the October budget.

Dr Silvia Pfeiffer, CEO and co-founder of Coviu

“Tonight’s Federal budget is looking like it will take a positive step towards validating the effectiveness of virtual health services in addressing some of Australia’s leading healthcare challenges. 

“We’re particularly pleased to see a focus on increased access to mental health services with the allocation of $10.9 million towards the NewAccess for Small Business Owner program, a telehealth program that partners small business owners with specialised mental health professionals who understand the unique challenges of running a  small business.  

“It’s also positive to see that the government also announced the restoration of a subsidy for bulk-billed video telehealth psychiatry consultations. With 88% of psychologists reporting an increase in demand for service and 3 in 4 reporting growing waiting lists, this action from the government to encourage access to telehealth is timely and necessary. 

“These subsidies show a move in the right direction towards broader systemic support for Australia’s mental health through accessible and equitable care.  However, there is still room for improvement. 

“If we take a holistic look at the Australian healthcare system, there is still a need for patient-end support services for telehealth for disadvantaged Medicare patients, as well as investment needed in virtual care within the NDIS and struggling aged care sector. 

“We need a commitment from the government to support the use of virtual care consistently throughout our healthcare system. In doing this, the government will create a more equitable and accessible healthcare system for all Australians.”

Jamie MacLennan, Senior VP and MD, Asia-Pacific at LifeWorks

“The inclusion of ‘wellbeing’ metrics, in addition to the traditional financial ones, is not only socially responsible, but it is also fiscally sound. Economists have long recognised the benefits of a broader definition of values and costs for the economy. By focusing on wellbeing, Australia is only catching up with other countries – most notably our near neighbour New Zealand.

“While we should applaud this move to track the quality of life, the Government also needs to adapt its traditional allocation of funds. Its support for mental health has grown recently, but it primarily focuses on acute or high-intensity mental health issues and curative health care. This contrasts with the Government’s Stepped Care model, which identifies a spectrum of mental health issues and care – highlighting a gap in supporting preventive mental health care.

“Measuring and addressing well-being is also essential at the micro level. We see that leading companies recognise the benefit of enhancing their staff’s mental health and well-being. Furthermore, there is a clear financial imperative for organisations. Higher mental health directly correlates with increased productivity and engagement, boosting financial returns.

“Supporting mental health and wellbeing is also a critical factor in attracting and retaining staff, with the consequent impact on organisations’ sustainability. However, this is not always understood or effectively delivered.

“Hopefully, a national focus on wellbeing can encourage organisations to implement their own programs and measure outcomes.”

Jo-Anne Ruhl, VP, MD for Australia and New Zealand at Workday

“We applaud the Government’s commitment to modernising technology and replacing out-of-date legacy systems in aged care. Modern, cloud-based systems will enable agility, streamline administration and provide the right insights and data for informed decisions that will ultimately provide better support to the elderly in care.    

“Having the right technology backbone in place will enable the much-needed reform of the aged care sector and allow organisations to improve administration and focus on their greatest asset, the employees. This is extremely critical in a sector with ongoing staff shortages, leading to overworked employees under enormous stress and at increased risk of burnout.    

“The pressure on the healthcare system over the past few years has highlighted the importance of modern technology enabling agility and providing the right insights and data for workforce planning and management. It is also pleasing to see the Government commit to encouraging more women to enter STEM careers by announcing the $5.8 million for the Women in STEM and  Entrepreneurship program.” 

Dean Swan, Regional Vice President Asia Pacific & Japan at monday.com

“Global trends such as digitisation and the pandemic aftermath are shaping the future of work. They are influencing the type and quality of jobs that are available and the skills needed to perform them. Australia is a high-income country with low unemployment, so companies are struggling to find qualified workers in sufficient numbers.

“According to the OECD, adult participation in training by skill level in Australia has a 48% participation rate, but for low-skilled workers, it drops to 15 per cent. This is why it’s important to focus on providing the necessary support and skills  for the entire workforce, including parents re-entering the workforce and different age demographics,  as well as  finding new ways to enhance our skillset throughout our careers to keep up with changes.”

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Yajush Gupta

Yajush Gupta

Yajush is a journalist at Dynamic Business. He previously worked with Reuters as a business correspondent and holds a postgrad degree in print journalism.

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