Senator Cash highlights importance of access to finance, reducing red tape and digital skills
Helping businesses reopen and prosper to get more Australians back into jobs is the number one priority of the Australian Government.
This was the primary message of Senator Michaelia Cash – Minister for Employment, Skills, Small and Family Business when she addressed hundreds of small business owners, accountants and bookkeepers, at a virtual town hall alongside Intuit Australia’s Country Manager, Natira Drayton and Senior Manager of International Corporate Affairs, Simeon Duncan.
“We’re now on the pathway to recovery and that’s so important to remember,” Senator Cash said. “There is a future and as a government we want to work with small and family businesses across Australia to get you to the other side.”
She offered a guarantee that the government’s response would not include increasing taxes because it looks to reduce taxes at every possible opportunity. Instead, it would focus on delivering targeted measures depending on the assistance particular sectors of the economy were going to need.
This included improving access to finance, reducing the red tape that “strangles employment”, increasing digital capability and looking after the mental health of small and family business owners as well as sole traders.
“Those businesses that we saw pivot overnight were able to do so because of their digital capability,” Senator Cash said. “I think that’s a lesson for all of us. We need to make sure small and family businesses that don’t currently have that digital capability are given access to it.”
Backing small business
Almost 1000 small business owners and members of the accountant and bookkeeping community registered for the virtual town hall and were asked when signing up to share their stories, detailing how COVID-19 had impacted their small business or their clients, and how government support packages had helped.
Small business owners reported losing customers, seeing their earnings “cut to pieces” and in some instances completely suspending business operations for weeks or even months on end.
While accountants and bookkeepers have been equally impacted on the financial frontlines of COVID-19, many have been providing small businesses and self employed with the financial expertise they needed to get through.
Some businesses had been operating for more than 40 years, while others had only just opened their doors as the pandemic sent shockwaves through the economy.
“We speak with small business owners every day and we’ve been hearing all the challenges you’re facing,” Drayton told attendees. “Our mission is to back Australian small businesses and our team has been working really hard to help.”
Cash is king
Some of the ways QuickBooks has been able to assist customers have been through quick access to government support like the JobKeeper and Cash Flow Boost initiatives, a Cash Flow Continuity Playbook to help accountants and bookkeepers help their clients stay afloat, and the recent release of the Cash Flow Planner, a cash-flow prediction tool using machine learning technology.
The tool predicts cash flow for the next 90 days in real time by analysing money coming into the business and money being spent, using the data in QuickBooks and bank transactions to model future scenarios. Senator Cash congratulated QuickBooks for launching the Cash Flow Planner, saying it was “absolutely fantastic” because “cash is king”.
Short term pain for a better outcome
Senator Cash acknowledged how it was hard to believe things could get any worse for small businesses when the year started with the drought and bushfires, but then a global pandemic hit.
“We had to make tough but necessary decisions to close the Australian economy. The government took those decisions because it was fighting a war on the health front and had to prioritise the health and wellbeing of all Australians. A comparison of global death rates validates that decision with the UK suffering 160x more deaths per capita, France 110x and the US 90x,” she told attendees.
“At the same time we understood that when you take the decision to close businesses down, you have a responsibility to put in place the necessary support mechanisms. They needed to be bold and had to be accessed as quickly as possible.”
Support is still available
The Australian Government acted quickly and decisively to support the Australian small business community. Some of those who joined the town hall event commented on how tax-free cash flow boosts of up to $100,000, the expansion of instant asset write-offs for most items valued at less than $150,000, and early access to superannuation savings had helped them weather the storm.
Senator Cash thanked employers who had taken advantage of the JobKeeper Program to retain the connection with employees. She said the cash flow boost gave businesses access to their own hard-earned money, with more than 700,000 businesses accessing more than $14 billion.
Small businesses could also access wage subsidies of $7000 per quarter up to a maximum of $21,000 for apprentices engaged before 1 March 2020. She estimated that small businesses were using this to support about 69,000 apprentices. The banks had also come to the party, with about 12,000 businesses having loans worth $1.15 billion approved as part of the SME Guarantee Scheme.
She urged anyone with questions about support packages to contact her office: “We really want this money to get where it needs to go, and that’s supporting small and family businesses in Australia.”
Clearly, eligible small business owners are grateful for government support in their hour of need. For those unsure of the help on offer, you can find a breakdown of the State and Federal packages available here.
Being COVID Safe
Although we are now on the road to recovery, Senator Cash reminded attendees that we will be living with the virus for the foreseeable future. She called on small and family businesses to be clear about what they need to do to be COVID Safe.
You can find a breakdown of the Government’s Roadmap to a COVIDSafe Australia for small businesses, including practical safety and hygiene tips here.
The Minister also called for more Australians to download the COVIDSafe app to help track infections. While privacy may have been a deterrent for some business owners, Cash acknowledged that our smartphones already know more about us than the app ever will.
“For small and family businesses out there, it’s so important if there is an outbreak that we don’t need to close down the whole economy,” she said.
“From my point of view it’s all about the COVID Safe economy, understanding as a business what that means to me, getting in place my digital capability and understanding the containment measures in the event of an outbreak, so we don’t need to return to where we have come from.”
With You Every Step of The Way
The question on everyone’s mind is what’s next for Australian small business and their advisors. This includes Leanne, a BAS agent who experienced first hand the increased demand for her services and would like government support.
For many bookkeepers like her, this has been a time when they’ve had their work cut out to help clients navigate incredibly difficult and stressful circumstances.
They’ve helped clients gain access to government support programs, and some have even offered their time to badly impacted clients without charge, demonstrating the strong bond that exists between them. But others are facing difficulties of their own because clients are struggling to pay invoices.
While government support packages are due to come to an end in September, reviews have been announced into industrial relations as well as skills and training, and the federal budget is due to be handed down in October.
Senator Cash said she understood that some businesses had been inundated with work and praised those like Leanne taking on the extra load. She said the government has a five-year plan to get the economy back to where it needs to be. She praised the quick progress made by the National Cabinet in delivering urgent reform including a $585 million skills package currently being implemented.
“What we really need to do is completely turn the system on its head to ensure the people who are being upskilled or reskilled are actually being trained for where the jobs are,” she said. “Employers are telling us they need job-ready employees from day one.”
The government is committed to working with states and territories to continuing deregulation efforts.
“I’m genuinely humbled by the small businesses across the country employing more than six million Australians every day. You are the backbone of the Australian economy and you deserve support from your government every step of the way,” Cash concluded.
Click here to access a full copy of the webinar recording.