Each year at ICA we tend to think that the following year can’t be busier or bigger than the last. But once again, 2008-09 has proven to be another highlight. Our activities can be split into three categories: organizational, communications and policy.
During 2008-09 our funding bases have become more solid. In addition, two important funding outcomes have enabled us to target and achieve several long-held objectives. We were successful in receiving funding under a federal government small business grant as part of the government’s package to assist small business during the global financial crisis. The Commonwealth Bank committed to website advertising, research sponsorship and other support.
ICA’s Board has been fully active during the last 12 months, with 10 Board meetings being conducted. Overseeing the website upgrade, rebranding and management of the SBAS programme added additional responsibilities to the Board’s activities during 2008-09.
The site had existed in its previous format since our inception in mid-2001. It had served a purpose but was long overdue for an upgrade. The website is our organizational and communications tool. Everything operates through its being a hybrid between a highly specialized online news outlet, a lobbying and advocacy tool and a provider of membership services.
The upgrade has involved substantial new software commitments to increase site functionality, database management and security. To accompany the upgrade, a new logo and colour scheme were adopted and sourcing of content made easier through a two-tiered drop-down menu arrangement. The news page has been made ‘newsier’ and more visual with the use of themed graphics. The upgrading task has been enormous and is ongoing with a ‘search engine optimisation’ programme currently in place.
The website is our primary communication tool. In the three months since the launch of the new site (late July 2009) traffic on the site has almost doubled and continues to trend upwards. In addition, we are aware that our content is monitored by many organisations. Because we frequently produce unique and specialized news and analysis, many items have wider distribution through other organisations.
Other communications avenues
Accompanying the website upgrade we have upgraded the approach to our regular online ‘mass emails’. These are news digests sent to our registered database. Distribution is coordinated with new items on the website and the style has become ‘chattier’, more frequent and covers a wider range of topics.
The development of liaison with Business Spectator this year has been of great value. Ken Phillips’ regular articles for Business Spectator bring a small business perspective to Business Spectator readers and greater exposure for ICA.
Business support products
An additional development this year was the production of business support videos and business templates. The videos cover such topics as ‘managing during a crisis’, ‘cash flow’ and so on. The videos are based on interviews with self-employed people and draw on their expertise and experience for the messages. The business templates are intended for practical use to assist small business people draw up marketing, sales and other business plans. We see these as of particular importance for anyone seeking finance.
During October and November and in conjunction with the Commonwealth Bank and others, ICA is conducting a national small business roadshow covering Perth, Adelaide, Canberra, Sydney, Newcastle, Melbourne and Brisbane, Gold Coast and Sunshine Coast. In all, around 25 meetings are booked/being conducted. These are breakfast, lunch or evening sessions lasting around 90 minutes and conducted by ICA’s Executive Director Ken Phillips. The presentations cover regulatory issues affecting the self-employed such as tax, workers’ compensation, fair contracts, finance and so on. The target is to assist the self-employed and those who engage them to be better aware of, and prepared to handle, relevant issues in their business operations.
This is being held in Melbourne on 12 November with the theme of ‘Building Relationships with the self-employed’. The range of speakers is strong, including people from ACCC, ATO, Small Business Commissioner and a visiting professor from the UK. The intention is to engage in a discussion on how regulations and commercial activity can be better orientated toward the development of improved working relationships with the self-employed.
ICA maintains an active liaison with the media and is in fact monitored by the media. Commentary on ICA’s approaches to small business-related policy issues regularly appears in the print media and on radio. Further, we maintain an active dialogue and communication with a range of business, consumer and even some union associations on matters of small business interest.
Communications: Government agencies
ICA seeks to (and does) have good working relationships with a range of government department involved in small business issues.
In particular, we do considerable work with the following:
- ATO: ICA has a long-standing and active engagement with the ATO. ICA is a member of an ATO micro-business consultative committee. We have specific liaison protocols and ATO representatives with whom we deal and forums where we can present and discuss issues with them. We receive ATO information related to small businesses and promote relevant ATO information on our website.
- Department of Innovation: The Federal Department of Innovation has within it a section responsible for independent contractors. ICA has considerable liaison and consultation with the department.
- ACCC: Since the last federal election, a new ACCC deputy chair was appointed with specialized responsibility for small business. As a consequence, ICA has had an involvement during 2009 not previously undertaken.
Policy, campaigns and issues
ICA’s primary reason for existence is to seek constant improvement in the regulatory environment affecting the capacity of self-employed people to run their businesses properly. We seek to assist understanding of the sector and encourage best practice in business operations both by the self-employed themselves and others to whom the self-employed may provide services.
ICA takes the view that self-employed people are very poorly understood and that the research to date (undertaken globally) has approached self-employed issues almost entirely from the labour law perspective. This has resulted in poor quality research. To rectify this, ICA has a strong commitment to encourage and facilitate quality research.
An important development this year has been our involvement in and networking with organisations for the purposes of research into the self-employed sector.
- One research project was completed through a partnership between Monash University, Entity Solutions and ICA. This looked at attitudes about independent contractors in the IT sector.
- An additional partnership is currently under way between Monash University, the Roy Morgan Research Centre, Australian Taxation Office, Commonwealth Bank and ICA. This is a ‘desk audit’ of available data designed to pull together a strong profile of the self-employed.
In early 2008, the Australian Bureau of Statistics released their latest labour survey which profiled the employed and the self-employed. This survey was the first since the ABS reviewed its definitions and identification of the self-employed (2006). ICA was consulted in that review and we believe that the ABS’s new approach provides an upgrade in the statistical analysis of the self-employed.
- Integrity of contract: We see this as our most important issue in the near future and anticipate our focus on this being very long term. We are involved in the development of a network of organisations which see this issue as important. The intention is to develop policy frameworks, identification of specific outcomes and strategies to achieve those outcomes.
- Collective bargaining: We made a submission to the ACCC regarding a collective bargaining application for some owner-drivers in Queensland and have monitored this case.
- Fair work Act: We have commented on the FWA and are pleased in general terms with the isolation of independent contractors from the Act.
- IT contractors: We have monitored developments in the federal government’s handling of independent contractors in the IT sector.
- Workers’ compensation NSW: We have continued our criticism of the very poor manner in which the NSW workers’ compensation laws treat the self-employed.
- PSI legal test cases decisions: We have monitored and commented on the legal decisions affecting the personal services income tax laws. Essentially, the court case of early 2009 has bought clarity to the PSI laws.
- PSI tax review submission: We were invited and did make a submission to the Henry review into taxation. Our submission recommended leaving the PSI laws as they are, but to educate lawyers and accountants, in particular, on the laws.
- Recruitment industry: We reported on the alleged practice of undisclosed commission payments in the recruitment industry and generated a good deal of discussion from our report.
- Sham contracts: The prevention of sham contracts is a major policy position of ICA. We monitored activity in this area during 2009 and reported on the first known outcome of a sham contract prosecution (October 2009).
- Superannuation: There are three reviews occurring into the superannuation industry and ICA is mindful of very powerful lobbying occurring with the purpose of closing down self managed super funds. We are highly critical of this lobbying and are focused on doing what we can to protect SMSFs.
- USA economy: As an interest in the context of the global financial crisis we have monitored and linked to articles that give ‘on the ground’ reports about the state of the US economy. These reports are not what are normally available through the general media.
- OHS harmonization process: We see the harmonization of national OHS laws as highly important and have monitored and commented on the developments in this area. We are openly critical of the NSW laws and that these should not go national. We are supportive of the model laws which were made public in October.
- Parental leave: We made comment on, and were involved in, government consultations on the plans for paid parental leave.
- Unfair contracts: We have continued to monitor activity in the unfair contracts area. There have been no new cases during 2009, but this forms part of our campaigning on integrity of contracts.