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Budget 2024: What’s on the SME wishlist ahead of the May 14?

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With the Australian Budget announcement just around the corner, small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) are eagerly waiting to see what the government has in store for them.

This year’s budget holds the potential to significantly impact their growth and ability to navigate current economic challenges.

What will the government unveil to support the backbone of the Australian economy – SMEs? Our experts reveal their wishlish for the upcoming budget.

Dr Hon Weng Chong, Founder of Cortical Labs

“There’s a growing frustration amongst the Australian start-up community that we’re underestimated and underappreciated by policymakers. Recognition is low and policy is lacking compared to so many other markets, and we’re already seeing an exodus of homegrown start-ups moving overseas to more progressive, supportive markets. When the National Reconstruction Fund was introduced a few years ago, it felt like an exciting era, prioritising innovation, ideas and technology. 

“Today, the $15 billion war chest has little to show. As the Budget approaches, it’s critical that the fund begins to fulfil its intended purpose. We need a clear tender process and a clear vision, from the top, about what it wants to use this incredible resource to invest in. Diversifying an economy that has long-been reliant on natural resources and manufacturing is essential, and now is the time to make a statement. If not countless Aussie start-ups could decide it’s time to leave these shores.

“We’re in arms races in so many crucial technologies and industries. The countries that capitalise in the coming months and years, will lead global hierarchies for years to come. We’re at risk of being lapped as other economies surpass us. It’s clear the recent government investment into a Silicon Valley-based quantum computing start-up founded by two Aussies validates the advice given to not only aspiring actors but now to technologists: making it big back home in Australia unfortunately requires a move to the US first to prove one’s worth.”

Chris Christofi is the Founder and CEO of Reventon

Taxes are stifling investment

We need to reduce taxes on properties that are turning people away from investment and thus reducing the amount of properties available. 

This includes:

Raising the limit on stamp-duty exempt properties for first home buyers (In Victoria only purchases up to $600K are exempt) to encourage more First Home Buyers to get into the market. 

Removal of additional taxes on holiday houses/second homes. This puts downward pressure on the amount of regional housing stock. 

Abolishing the 7.5% AirBnB tax in Victoria, which NSW is hoping to follow. 

Re-allocation of resources towards building homes

Too much of the budget is being spent on the Big Build and major infrastructure projects. While we recognise lots of this infrastructure is beneficial, the over-emphasis on big projects means too many construction workers are walking away from home building to work on the big projects where they get paid significantly more money. This is leading to too few homes being built, and too many construction workers leaving to work in the big cities on the big projects and leaving a skills shortage in the regions. 

There needs to be equal opportunities and incentives for construction workers to go back to building more homes. It’s the only way to solve the housing crisis. 

Offer incentives to attract more apprentices

Apprentices can’t be found for love or money in the homebuilding sector. There’s too few apprentices coming through TAFE and those that do all head to the big projects in the cities. A basic wage for a 1st year apprentice is $880 a week. Working on a big project it’s $1250. 

So we need to be

a) attracting more apprentices to TAFE courses

b) incentivising them to work in homebuilding

As a short term solution – we need to increase immigration of skilled labour to build homes. The government wants to build 15,000 new homes, but there’s nobody to build it. Training up new apprentices is the best option, but will take several years to come into effect. So in the short term we need to be bringing in skilled migrants to fill the gaps in the homebuilding sector. 

Cut down on red tape

This is required at every level of government. For a dual-key home, planning approvals take 9 months, then 3 months to contract, and then 12 months to build. So about 2 years minimum to build a home. For a large apartment complex you’re looking at 4-5 years before you even turn soil. The housing crisis is affecting Australians now, but with the current amount of bureaucratic red tape, it’s going to be close to 2030 by the time any meaningful difference is made to Australia’s housing stock, by which time the population will have significantly increased and even more houses will be required. Without reducing red tape it will be impossible to meet the demand and the rental and housing crisis will just keep going from bad to worse. We note that the Victorian government removed the need from a planning permit on a dwelling on a lot of 300 square meters or more, down from 500 meters. Initiatives like this will be needed to meet the massive need for housing stock. 

Julian Fayad, Founder and CEO at LoanOptions.ai

I would like to see the government prioritising ongoing investigations into pricing practices within key sectors such as supermarkets and other critical cost-of-living industries like utilities and insurance. I’d also like to see investigations into the supermarkets’ ruthless dealings with farmers and primary producers. It would seem that many industries are taking advantage of media coverage of inflation and using this to increase their own profit margins.

It is imperative that we address the concerning trend of price gouging that impacts everyday Australians. The current landscape reveals unjustifiably high consumer expenses, particularly with grocery bills, which often make dining out a more economical choice. This strains household budgets and threatens the financial stability of many Australian families.

Furthermore, the exorbitant increases in insurance premiums, ranging from a whopping 70% to 100% year over year, are totally unsustainable for consumers. These inflated costs are driving troubled trend policy cancellations among Australians who simply can’t absorb such steep financial burdens, leaving them uninsured.

I implore the government to take decisive action to protect Australian consumers by fostering greater transparency and fairness in pricing across these sectors. Initiatives aimed at promoting competition and affordability will not only benefit individual households but also contribute to a healthier and more sustainable economic environment.

I look forward to bold measures in the upcoming Federal Budget that prioritise small businesses, everyday consumers and address the systemic issues impacting Australians’ cost of living. By addressing these challenges head-on, we can ensure a fair go for all Australians.

Tim Wheeler, Managing Director at Searchr.TV

As an Australian entertainment technology startup, we stand behind our nation’s creative industry and its invaluable contributions to our cultural identity and global recognition. I urge the government to prioritise protecting and promoting Australian-made content, ensuring that local talent and artistic endeavours receive the support they deserve. Nurturing and investing in our creative industries celebrates Australia’s unique cultural heritage and fosters innovation and diversity in entertainment offerings.

Additionally, in light of recent challenges, including a reduction in total available government funding and a reduction in private investments compared to a lower interest rate environment, many startups face increased financial strain. This economic environment underscores the critical need for government support through tax incentives tailored for startups.

In this budget, it would be positive to see initiatives that increase the runway start-ups have, such as deferring PAYG (Pay As You Go) obligations or the ability to carry over company losses for a period of time. This would provide crucial financial relief and stability for emerging businesses, enabling the creation of groundbreaking technologies that enhance user experiences, improve accessibility, and streamline daily activities.

These technological advancements are not just about entertainment. They have the power to educate, inspire, and connect people from all walks of life. By championing technological innovation, we are investing in a future that enriches and empowers all Australians, fostering a more inclusive and connected society.

Jon Tsingolis, Founder and Director at DCT Club

Times are tough. It has become a real struggle for Aussies to find affordable places to live and get ahead. We’re seeing it firsthand with the rental crisis and wages that just aren’t keeping up, not to mention the persistent issue of homelessness. Australia is undoubtedly in a longstanding crisis and is failing to deliver enough of all types of housing. Enough is enough. I’d like to see reducing homelessness in our country prioritised, and am calling for funding of social impact investments to help people at risk of homelessness.

I’d also like to see the government taking real action to support everyday Aussies who are feeling the squeeze. I’m calling for relief incentives for low income renters and more funding of social and affordable housing.I believe success is about sharing joy and making dreams come true for others. I’m challenging the government to do the same. Every Australian deserves a warm and safe place to sleep at night, and also to live free of financial stress and strain. It’s time for meaningful change. Together, let’s ensure that every Australian has a fair go to thrive and experience the joy of dreaming big. 

Mark Perry, Chief Growth Officer at Biza.io

“While the government has been working on energy bill relief for families and small businesses, and hinting at potentially extending these financial returns with the upcoming federal budget, they are missing the significantly bigger opportunity to help consumers in today’s cost-of-living crisis. Australians don’t just need cheaper energy, they need the tools and knowledge to understand how to get the best and most cost-effective energy services for their needs. Currently, most consumers still see the energy sector as a complex minefield of offerings that are designed to outsmart them.

“This is the exact problem the CDR (Consumer Data Right) was launched to address, yet ongoing delays are keeping these benefits from consumers, leaving them in the lurch as they try to navigate the growing costs and complexity of the energy industry. In this federal budget, we need stronger action and stricter measures in place to ensure the full capabilities of the CDR are delivered in a timely manner. This is particularly true for action initiation, which has the potential to be a major function of the CDR, and will allow consumers to easily switch providers based on informed and personalised data comparisons using CDR data sharing.”

Simon Berglund, Snr Vice President & General Manager (APAC), Diligent

As Australian businesses prepare to mandatorily report on climate-related information in their annual reports, executives must now look at climate data through a risk lens in order to not just comply with legislation, but also maintain or improve competitive advantage. It is critical to understand how both local and relevant international regulations, Scope 3 expectations, and adverse weather conditions create new business risks, accelerate existing risks, trigger customer expectations and motivate investor activism.

However, mandatory disclosures are only part of the solution for a more climate-friendly living and working environment. Government can do more to incentivise businesses to reduce their carbon emissions. This could be as simple as making it easier to capture, analyse, and report on the sort of climate data that is now required to be disclosed. If businesses have the correct tools to be compliant, they can make inroads on their climate initiatives and adhere to new requirements simultaneously.

Government can do more to drive toward a more climate-friendly living and working environment – penalties are the stick, incentives are the carrot.

Clear, achievable definitions of what needs to be captured, analysed, and reported and why is the start. Allowing businesses to work collaboratively with climate consultants and technology vendors will allow executives to not only meet new requirements, but drive their climate initiatives for success on both the Australian and global stages.

Evan Thomas, Channel Director, Armis

The forthcoming Budget must put greater emphasis on national cyber resilience by addressing the need for local businesses of all sizes to protect valuable data in the current cybersecurity climate. Continued investment into a heightened focus on security and trust, particularly against rapid AI adoption, is paramount to national security and economic performance.

Nation states have emerged as active players in the cyber landscape. When successful, cyberwarfare attacks could destabilise economies and cripple entire commercial and societal systems. In addition, Australia’s innovation performance, already lagging behind other developed nations, is at further risk from the threat of cyberwarfare. 60% of IT leaders say digital transformation projects have stalled or stopped entirely due to cyberwarfare risks. 

Government measures to enforce cybersecurity at the forefront of AI development and amplifying ‘secure by design’ will compel local organisations to urgently shift their cybersecurity strategies from reactive to proactive to effectively defend against significant cyber threats. Further investment in this area will also instil a sense of encouragement, resonating with a robust community of like-minded individuals who want to ensure the responsible development and deployment of AI technologies. 

As nation-state actors are increasingly using AI for attacks, it’s time to start using it for defence. Organisations must stay ahead of the curve with continuous threat intelligence and deploy solutions that use AI and machine learning to scan the dark web, whilst setting dynamic ‘honeypots’ for bad actors and providing actionable data ahead of vulnerabilities, attacks and impacts.

Make no mistake, AI will continue to be a new, evolving frontier for some time, and we may need additive measures to achieve adequate levels of cyber awareness and readiness. Regulatory intervention is a critical step in the early part of our AI journey as a nation. However, without proper attack surface management and automation, organisations face imminent challenges from generative AI surpassing human capabilities. Proactive security measures provide organisations with network insights, which can detect breaches and anomalous behaviours. In addition to AI, prioritisation and ongoing monitoring play a crucial role in addressing threats hierarchically, considering potential impact and exploitation level. 

A proactive cybersecurity posture combined with AI-powered threat intelligence is a winning formula to drive key outcomes efficiently. When used for good, AI technologies can help keep businesses and society secure by stopping cyberattacks before they happen.

Simon Howe, Area Vice President Australia and New Zealand, ExtraHop

We encourage the Federal Government to support Australian businesses with an uplift in their cybersecurity posture with tax incentives and subsidies for program investments. According to the OAIC, the period from July – December 2023 saw 483 data breaches, up 19% from the first half of the year, with malicious or criminal attacks being the leading source of data breaches. In addition, the 2024 ExtraHop Global Cyber Confidence Index found Australian organisations are generally ill-equipped to manage and mitigate their cyber risk with many acknowledging they are frequently the victim of ongoing threats, and falling behind when it comes to identifying and remediating threats.

Amid a recent uptick of attacks against the world’s most profitable industries and critical infrastructures, and industry regulatory bodies tightening compliance rules, understanding an organisation’s ability to effectively manage cyber risk is more critical than ever before.
The government should support businesses so they can provide employees with regular security awareness training that educates them about the importance of practicing secure habits and how to identify the telltale signs of a security breach, significantly reducing the risk of successful attacks.

With greater visibility into threats, businesses can better identify their weaknesses, reinforce their defences to build resilience, and operate their security efforts in a more efficient and effective manner, responding to security threats with greater speed and accuracy.

Jason Duerden, ANZ Regional Director, SentinelOne

“The Federal Government’s continuous focus and investment into key areas of technology, such as online services and research and development, calls for even more investment in cyber capability into the public and private sector.  Aligned to the 2030 national cybersecurity goal of the Albanese government and acceleration of AUKUS, the Federal Government must also diversify supply amongst industry by supporting sovereign firms and specialist cyber security firms.”

Pieter Danhieux, Co-Founder and CEO, Secure Code Warrior

The release of the National Cybersecurity Strategy came with the ambitious vision of making Australia a world leader in cybersecurity by 2030. To achieve this, I believe we need more targeted funding at the coalface of cybersecurity innovation in this country. My wishlist would certainly include the following elements: new funding for startup accelerators across Australia, including reinstatement of cybersecurity-focused accelerators, like the now-concluded Cyrise program.  In addition, there should be a funding allocation to target vulnerabilities in enterprise software and critical infrastructure at their source, including security upskilling programs for developers to not just bring us in line with other key markets, but exceed them and establish a new global benchmark for others to meet.  Finally, the government should invest in programs to encourage cybersecurity careers from secondary school onwards.

“Ricoh is deeply invested in the digital transformation landscape, so we eagerly anticipate the Australian Federal Budget’s prioritisation of advancements in infrastructure, particularly in high-speed networks, data centres, and cybersecurity measures. Additionally, we urge the government to allocate substantial resources towards fostering digital skills development, crucial for sustaining our nation’s competitive edge in the global digital economy. Furthermore, we advocate for robust investments in recycling infrastructure to support our sustainability initiatives, ensuring that Ricoh’s own efforts, such as using post-consumer recycled materials and reducing plastic packaging are complemented by an efficient and effective recycling system.”

Sadiq Iqbal, Cyber Security Advisor, Check Point Software Technologies

I would like to see the Federal budget allocate an increased investment in driving the Australian cyber strategy to the next level from vision to practical reality.  This could include the establishment of a cyber force to deal with increasing foreign state sponsored attacks against our most critical infrastructure entities.  There should also be funding to support the go-live of the promise to provide small and medium business with both security health checks and guidance around building a strong cyber defence, along with a support hotline for incident response.

In addition, increased investment in building cybersecurity awareness is critical for all Australians, to be better prepared to deal with the constant threat of phishing attacks, in the many forms they face on a daily basis from emails, to phone calls, to text and social media. For example, free community awareness training, or a hotline or government website to verify the legitimacy of suspected scams and also to provide immediate support in the case of a ransomware or sextortion attack, which have sometimes caused rather dire consequences for the victims. Another idea could be a government funded made-for-television and social media educational campaign on cyber awareness, highlighting security precaution with viral humorous undertones as was recently undertaken in New Zealand.  

Anthony Daniel, Regional Director – Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific Islands, WatchGuard Technologies

“The Federal Government should invest in increased funding for national cybersecurity initiatives aimed at improving digital resilience and combating evolving cyber threats. This could involve specific allocations for the deployment of advanced security solutions to protect critical infrastructure and sensitive data. 

There should also be incentives or tax breaks to encourage Australian businesses and organisations to invest in robust cyber security measures which could stimulate the adoption of cutting-edge technologies to better safeguard against cyberattacks and breaches.  Finally, there should be support for initiatives that promote cybersecurity education and workforce development. This would help address the growing demand for cybersecurity professionals and contribute to the overall cyber resilience of the nation.”

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