By David Bates

Earlier this month I had the pleasure of speaking at the Council of Small Business Australia’s (COSBOA) National Small Business Summit in Brisbane. I had been invited to take part in a panel discussion about independent contractors and the various difficulties they face as a result of Australia's complex – and sometimes conflicting – state and federal employment laws.

While my presentation certainly focussed on that topic, I felt compelled to also comment on the presentation delivered in the preceding session by the Fair Work Ombudsman (FWO), Natalie James.

Ms James - always a passionate and clearly well-informed speaker – had reaffirmed her agency’s commitment to providing reliable advice to employers. While I agreed with much of Ms James' presentation (especially her acknowledgement that Australia 'probably' has the world’s most complicated employment laws), I took issue with a number of the more optimistic assertions put forward by Ms James.

I've since been contacted by quite a few attendees who, while expressing their support for my comments, appear to have misunderstood where I – and the organisation I lead – stand on a number of key IR issues.

So, I'd like to take a few minutes just to set the record straight.

1. Firstly, I'm not 'anti-FWO'. However, the FWO is a taxpayer-funded Commonwealth agency that can - and should - accept and respond to fair criticism from those who drive the Australian economy: small business owners. 

And for the avoidance of any remaining doubt, I think the agency generally tries very hard to fulfil its extremely difficult remit.

Indeed, I'm more than happy to acknowledge those recent initiatives which have been aimed specifically at helping SMEs comply with 'probably' the world’s most hopelessly complex employment laws.

But in my view – and the view of many hundreds of employers I meet each year – it could still do much better, and I'll accordingly continue to call it like I see it.

2. I'm not anti-Union. But I sure am anti-corruption, and the damming findings of the Royal Commission into Trade Union Governance and Corruption prove beyond any and all doubt that Australia's unions have a serious, systemic problem with corruption.

To be clear, I'm also ‘pro-rule-of-law’. So, I frankly find it astounding that Commonwealth agencies (such as the FWO) continue to invite discredited unions like the CMFEU to the table when they embark on ‘stakeholder consultation’.

You don’t have to be a genius to appreciate the breathtaking irony of a tax-payer funded agency responsible for upholding employment laws spending any of its time receiving ‘feedback’ from a union which appears committed to breaking as many of those laws as possible.

3. I'm not a 'right winger'

In fact, I started out as a recruiter for a large blue collar Union, but gave it away when I realised most members voted Liberal (they were aspirational) and many other union officials were just in it for themselves (they were also aspirational!)

I believe in fairness, equal opportunity, hard work, reward and the rule of law. That sounds fairly centrist if you ask me.

5. I do have hope

Like every other small business owner in Australia, I occasionally have days when all the government interference, the endless red tape, and the taxes I pay make me question whether running a business is really worth it.

But when all is said and done, I take great pride in being a small business owner and I’m determined to see it through. I just wish our federal government gave small businesses the respect, trust and support they deserve. Lip service and platitudes just don’t cut it in the real world. Actions speak louder than words.