After leadership rumblings that seemed to last longer than his just-shy-of-two-year term as PM, Tony Abbott has exited stage left. Whatever your take on the Abbott Government’s achievements, what seems clear from the sidelines is 1) if Tony had a clear vision for the country, he failed to let us in on it, and 2) his PM-ship seemed destabilised to the point of being terminal.
Our 29th PM, Malcolm Turnbull, cited Abbott’s inability to provide ‘economic leadership’ and ‘the economic confidence that business needs’ as his primary reasons for the challenge.
There’s little doubt the constant cloud hanging over Abbott, and his seeming reluctance to tackle the key reforms we need to address to progress, affected business confidence. Anecdotally, despite reasonable economic conditions, the business owners I speak to have felt some measure of apprehension which naturally translates into less investment and less jobs. Time will tell if this change addresses these concerns.
Speaking as a business owner, on behalf of SMEs across the country, what we most want from Malcolm is confidence through certainty. This is only possible from a government with three things.
First, stability. This means no more leadership challenges until the next election.
Second, the country is crying out for a leader with a clear vision for the future, a plan for how to get there, and the ability to effectively communicate this plan to bring the rest of us along with them so we can execute the plan. (This must resonate with SME owners, as the vision/plan/execution triumvirate mirrors exactly what is required of us to be successful business owners / leaders.)
Finally, SMEs want a government with an appetite for taking on real reform (eg Tax reform). The constant speculation – and resulting policy vacuum – on fundamental issues dents business confidence, and hinders investment and job creation. You don’t need to be Einstein to gather that any significant new investment in renewable energy would have been put on hold during Tony’s reign, for a number of reasons. Now, with a more progressive and climate-aware PM, it’s a fair bet that innovation and investment can again fuel this growth sector.
Ultimately, what SMEs want is a government that provides opportunities for Australia’s more than 2 million small businesses. This would centre around tax reform that removes some of the barriers holding business back, which I argue is best achieved by an increase in the GST rate. (But that’s another blog post.)
So what do SMEs want from Turnbull (or whichever leader beats / knifes him in the near future)? Exactly what they expect from us: to adapt to the changing landscape (just as they expect us to adapt when they keep moving the goalposts, or put another legislative hurdle in our way); to nimbly capitalise on opportunities (although most would argue that regardless of whether local, state or federal, being nimble is hardly a government attribute); and ultimately, to create more jobs (because if that happens, it means they’ve created the right environment to allow SMEs to thrive – meaning we can get on with the job of creating jobs).
Do you need to be a successful businessman with real-world experience (rather than a career politician) to provide economic leadership and create business confidence? Definitely not – but it sure doesn’t hurt.