Cocktails with the Politicians

Monday, 01 May 2000


    It was one of those evening cocktail get-togethers at an accounting firm where, like a human pinball wizard, you keep bouncing from person to person in the hope of scoring an intelligent and meaningful discussion.

    After bouncing off a desultory accountant and an employee of a business association with a history of failure in achieving mediocrity, I hit upon Kevin - and Kevin was angry.

    He said he was a small to medium sized-business person much beloved by the political masters of the Australian business universe.

    Unfortunately, Kevin wasn't feeling that loved.

    "I really have the s..ts with the whole system," he opined rather strongly. "I mean here you have the bloody Liberals and the ALP asking you to pay money just to sit in the same room with them and eat rubber chickens.

    "When does access to elected officials become a privilege that you have to pay for? The buggers say that they need extra money to fund expenses but you and I already contribute $38 million in tax money to pay election costs every time these jokers want another mandate.

    "We are supposed to live in a democracy where we elect people to represent us in Parliament and then they turn around and ask us for money just for the privilege of having them mouth meaningless platitudes over lunch or dinner.

    "And, what about the hypocrisy of having that tobacco company sponsor the recent Liberal Party convention when in the same breath the Government is going on about the war on drugs and wanting to stop gambling on the Internet."

    By this time, I was looking for any opportunity to bounce on to another encounter but Kevin was having none of it. He launched into the history of Kevin corp.

    As with many small businesses the Kevin corporation had humble beginnings. He, his wife and sundry other relatives and friends had sold possessions and mortgaged homes to start a small TV and computer repair business.

    It was tough at first, with all profits ploughed back into the business. This wasn't judicious risk taking, this was living on the edge.

    Luckily for Kevin and his team, the virtual impossibility of trying to get one of the big computer companies to provide after-sales service provided the marketing edge he needed and the business prospered.

    He opened other shops, cash flow improved and he was also able to form strategic alliances with some of the bigger players as their preferred partner for customer service.

    From a staff of five and a turnover of little more than $250,000, the business grew to more than 100 employees with a turnover of more than $10 million. Kevin could actually buy that 4-wheel-drive he had been dreaming of for so long.

    "If you think that I have made it, you'd be dead wrong," he says forlornly.

    "No one in this country has any idea what a small business person has to put up with. On my office wall are more than five licenses and 10 permits just to operate. I pay council rates, I pay at least five different State taxes, I pay company tax, income tax, I pay tax on the money in my bank account, I have to pay superannuation to my employees, I have to take out workers compensation insurance, I give my employees money to go on holidays - and I can't fire them if they're no good, because they will take me to court.

    "Where's the logic and commonsense in all this?" Kevin shouts. "When are governments going to learn that one rule does not fit all. Why should I and my business be forced to be a provider of social services.

    "Is the average Australian worker such an ignoramus that he or she can't take care of their own affairs? Why should business, or governments for that matter be, placed in the position of providing safety nets for workers? Who has a safety net for me if my business goes broke and I lose my house?

    I venture the opinion that tax reform will prove beneficial.

    "By all means fix the tax system. It is a crock at the moment. The idea of calculating your tax on the basis of cash flow sounds pretty good, but I need more details. The GST has been so badly handled that my accountant cannot even guarantee the tax office will give me an ABN by the deadline.

    "And I am not exactly overjoyed about the extra cost I will incur just to comply with the system and become the Government's tax collector.

    "But I would wear all that if only the Government would make some meaningful attempts to give us some recognition instead of asking me to fork out hard-earned money just to sit at a table with a pollie," Kevin mutters as he walks off to the drinks table in search of much needed sustenance.

    I beat a hasty retreat home. Close encounters of the small business kind can be very depressing.

    'When are governments going to learn that one rule does not fit all. Why should I and my business be forced to be a provider of social services'


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