START UPS, UPSTARTS AND COMPETITION
Melanie Perkins and Cliff Obrecht started Canva in their early twenties. Ruslan Kogan started Kogan at age 23. At the same age, Scott Farquhar and Mike Cannon-Brookes started Atlassian.
Yet the data shows that such stories are increasingly rare. In 1976, 17 percent of business owners were aged under 30. In 2021, the figure was just 8 percent. Conversely, the share of business owners who are aged over 50 has risen from 30 percent to 47 percent. True, the age profile of the whole population has shifted in that period, but not so dramatically as the age profile of business owners.
As someone who is over the age of 50, I hasten to add that there’s nothing wrong with older business owners. Age brings wisdom and insights. Plenty of studies have shown that age discrimination is a real problem. But a dynamic ecosystem needs a plethora of younger entrepreneurs, and the data suggest that there’s only half as many today as in the 1970s.
It's not easy to start a business. The early stages of commercialisation and business growth can be high risk and high cost, even at the best of times.
That’s why the Australian Government is backing small business by providing around one million small businesses with direct energy bill relief. We’re also putting in place the Small Business Energy Incentive to help businesses with annual turnover of less than $50 million save on their energy bills.
We’re improving small business cash flow by halving the rate of increase of quarterly tax instalments for GST and income tax. And we’re making it easier for small businesses with an annual turnover of less than $10 million to invest and grow through the $20,000 instant asset write-off.
Competition policy is vital too. We need new businesses pushing established players to improve efficiency, we need startups planting the seeds of change, and we need modern competition laws playing their part to ensure a level playing field for all businesses - big or small.
Recently, Treasurer Jim Chalmers and I announced a competition taskforce that will review the nation’s competition policy settings.
History shows competition reforms can change lives for the better, delivering growth and providing new opportunities for businesses.
The Hilmer Review and the national competition policy reforms that followed in the 1990s are among Australia’s most significant economic reforms. They led to an estimated permanent 2.5 per cent increase in Australia’s national income which equates to around $5,000 per household.
The breadth of the reforms is hard to comprehend today. People got to choose their electricity and gas provider. Bakers could decide when they could bake bread. Nurses and doctors were allowed to provide foot treatments which were previously the sole domain of podiatrists. Retail trading hours were deregulated. Professions were brought under the umbrella of competition laws for the first time.
The challenges are different today, but our competition taskforce will have the same ambition. It will consider mergers reform as a priority, including the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission’s proposals. Taking a leaf from the Hilmer reforms – where coordination across jurisdictions enabled a steady tempo of change – the Competition Taskforce will also examine options for coordinated reform with states and territories.
Sport provides an example of how encouraging startups can foster competition. When the GWS Giants entered the competition in 2012, the AFL went out of its way to foster its growth. Seven years later, GWS played in the grand final.
Just as on the sporting field, economic competition benefits us all. It’s great for small businesses, great for consumers, and great for the Australian economy.
Originally published in the Canberra Times on Monday the 23rd of October 2023.