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A new era begins

This is my first column for B2B since commencing in the role of Chief Executive, ACT & Region Chamber of Commerce & Industry. The passing of Dr Chris Peters earlier this year was felt throughout the Canberra community and I wish to acknowledge the professional manner of Chamber staff during this difficult time ensuring our member’s needs were met. It is an honour to work alongside such good people.
The Chamber is placing small business interest’s front and centre of the political debate. The grass roots campaign, Small Business, Too Big to Ignore is based upon “The Big 4 You Can’t Ignore”. This campaign focuses on everyday business issues, including, regulation that is suffocating local small businesses, our tax and finance systems that make it impossible for the average small businessperson to comply with and understand. The campaign also aims to cut the cost for small business to hire, keep and dismiss staff; and argues for infrastructure that helps businesses deliver goods and services in an efficient way. In short, local small businesses are overtaxed, overregulated and overlooked by government with Canberra home to the lowest business survival rate in the nation. Outrageous.
Small businesses consist of everyday people running newsagents, butchers, florists, gift shops, fruit and veg stores, hairdressing salons, consultancies, cafés, restaurants, service stations, and home appliance stores. These businesses are run by people who are up before most of us wake in the morning; and are still working long after we have gone to bed. While employees seek a work-life balance we should spare a thought for those small business operators loaded up night after night with government red tape and compliance burdens. It is also worth remembering that small business operators may have families and they, too, seek a work-life balance. They truly are the silent majority and they deserve our full support.
As the Chamber celebrates its 77th year, we continue to actively stand up for our local small business sector. We do so because of a tendency for the private sector to be overlooked when more can be done in driving private sector development in Canberra.
One of our priorities is to push for an economy less reliant on public sector employment and one more focused on driving entrepreneurial opportunities and success for local businesses, big and small. A second priority is small business investment resulting from Canberra’s world-class tertiary institutions. We are known across the nation as the ‘Knowledge Capital’, and that reputation brings significant business opportunities, particularly in the field of innovation. While Western Australia has its mines; Canberra has minds, and we should be capitalising on them. In support, the Chamber will be hosting an innovation conference next year to showcase our local expertise and to attract potential investors to our city.
From my experience of living in Austin, a university-city home to large government institutions, I was very impressed with the way business worked with the government sector, and I believe we can learn from that. For example, the ACT Government should consider adopting more aggressive efforts to attract large corporations through special taxation measures and performance based incentives; and to consider increasing the amount of business and industry development funding ($10m) to match the amount currently spent on tourism and events ($40m).
Canberra is home to some 26,000 small businesses and it’s time for the rest of the country to sit up and take notice. We are excited about Canberra’s future, but importantly, it must be a future that recognises small business is at the heart of our way of life.
For further information regarding the Chamber and our services please contact (02) 6283 5200 or visit www.actchamber.com.au.
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