The relationship between the ACT Government (basically the Labor Party, The Greens and UnionsACT) isn’t awful and also isn’t great.
Many ACT Government regulators are OK. Some aren’t. Some local regulators, a minority, to be sure, can be very bolshy and abusive of small business people and their employees.
The main issue is that many advisers to the politicians aren’t fans of small business and will kowtow to the likes of the Canberra Centre and other big landlords and developers. They believe they’ll never get the small business vote and don’t need it anyway.
Here are some examples of interactions between small businesses and the ACT Government.
When the Canberra Centre expanded in 2010, I attended the opening event run by the Chief Minister. I told one of his advisers that this wasn’t good for the small businesses outside the Canberra Centre. She replied, “but Garema Place had died and needed to be revitalised”.
When I pointed out that the owners of the Canberra Centre had purchased most of the shops in the area and had made the rent so high that it meant the shops were empty and the whole area struggled, she didn’t want to know, didn’t answer and walked off.
At the same time, many car parks on the west side of Northbourne Avenue were being closed and the car park under the Canberra Centre was expanded. When I questioned this, as my shop was on the west side, the bureaucrat said, “if your business is any good, people will walk there from the Canberra Centre”.
Arrogance, ignorance, aloofness and ideological dislike of business folk are traits of too many advisers.
Next, when the government started building the light rail, they decided to close the law courts car park and use it for equipment storage and as parking for the workers who were building the rail.
When the businesses in the Melbourne Building (opposite the law courts car park) objected and said that would be the end of their businesses, an ACT bureaucrat told them, “but when the light rail is finished, the station will be right next to your building, and you’ll make a motza”.
An ACT bureaucrat who had never run a business and didn’t ever want to run a business told the business operators, many of whom ran successful long-term businesses that they would make a motza – as though they were stupid.
One of the business people asked, “when will you finish building the light rail?” The answer? “In four years.” The bureaucrat seriously thought that these businesses could weather four years of significant decreases in customers with the resulting decrease in income and work for their employees. To be so ignorant and dismissive is not OK.
Then we have the secret agreement, a signed agreement in around 2009, between the ACT Government and UnionsACT where union representatives were given access to all confidential ‘commercial in confidence’ tenders submitted for government contracts by private businesses.
When questioned, the government said, “it wasn’t a secret, it is just that no one knew about it”‘. Non-public servants answerable to no one had access to confidential business information and those businesses did not know it was happening.
The ACT Government, in the main, has no real regard for the small business folk of their jurisdiction. They don’t hate small business folk, they just don’t value them.
These are the small business people who contribute to the treasury coffers, provide jobs, make our suburban shopping centres interesting, make places like Lonsdale Street fascinating, and sponsor sports teams all over Canberra.
Now if the Canberra Liberals can show they aren’t in the pocket of big business, like Labor is in the pockets of the unions, then we might get somewhere. Maybe.