Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Taking care of business

I am a small-business woman. My annual turnover is 364 breakfasts (minus Mother’s Day), 300 loads of washing, 60 supermarket ventures and more than 200 taxi-runs.

I share the business with one partner – although he holds down an additional full-time job and so commits only several hours during the week to the business.

I also attempt to hold down other roles – some volunteer, some with small bonuses.  But my main occupation (currently) is ‘primary-care-giver’ and my small business is my family.

As a small-business woman, I am curious as to why this business is excluded from the generous budget incentives announced by the Abbott government this week.

If I could purchase small investments under $20K for my business (like new winter coats, a new computer to prevent further disputes between clients, or a new coffee machine to keep me conscious) and receive an immediate tax deduction then I, too, would be making a valuable contribution to economic stimulation.

I would also welcome a reduced tax rate – although my profits are measured in smiles, laughter and general happiness which the ATO has difficulty assessing.

But most of all, I would really like to be valued by the government as an economic asset for the nation – not a drain on the childcare or paid parental leave purse.

My own small business is in fact wholly funded by the additional activities of my business partner – we have never required much by way of support from the state.  Consequently, we run at an economic loss, but not beyond our means or at a deficit.  We have solid assets.

However, we are conscious of our good fortune.  We know other Australians running similar ‘family’ businesses struggle to manage their cash flow.

The benefits bestowed on the nation by our ‘family’ businesses are indisputable.

We produce the future labour, managers and intellect our nation requires.  We are also the hub of trade and economic activity.  Without our businesses, the nation would be, well, stuffed.

So what budget measures have been announced this year to support our small businesses?

The new single subsidy for childcare, based on family income, replacing the Child Care Benefit, the Child Care Rebate and other payments is welcome.  It will possibly save some childcare users about $30 per week.

But parents who take time-out from the ‘outside-of-home’ workforce to have another baby may lose any support, or their childcare place, if they don’t meet the new tougher activity test.

The trajectory of our businesses relies on flexibility and responsiveness.  Depending on the needs of my clients (admittedly I have only two clients – now aged 12 and 10), I vary my work hours from full-time to part-time to part-part-time as I juggle other employment.

When children are in childcare, women are often moving in and out of ‘outside-of-home’ work to have other children or to find work that better fits with the family business.

For business women who focus entirely on their ‘family’ business, for a short or extended period, the budget was a bit more cruel.

In particular, women who support their family business with paid parental leave from two sources when they have a baby were characterised as greedy dodgers. 

These women were told they could no longer accept government support for their business of breast-feeding or raising a new baby if they had other out-of-home employer support.

This sort of punishing measure will drive some ‘family’ businesses to the wall and force the female managers to return to out-of-home employment to support their tiny four month old clients.

Statutory paid parental leave was introduced in recognition of the critical work women do when they are raising newborns. An 18-week support package was considered a minimum contribution. 

In 2009, the Productivity Commission was concerned that employers would remove their voluntary paid parental leave schemes in light of a government supplement.  But now, quite contrarily, the government is capping their support for the business of producing milk and essential life-support for a newborn.

It is absurd.

Rolling back paid parental leave will save the government $1bn.  Giving women extra time to manage their family business is worth more than this.  Having a go at raising a family is worthy of better government support.

It is impossible to generalise the experience of all small-business women.  We all bend and stretch our arms and bank accounts as required. But we do economically critical work and we warrant the same respect as a small business selling hot-dogs.