2019 in review and a look ahead to 2020 - servicing members, building networks and developing ideas
Strong engagement with our members, customers and clients underpinned our advocacy and made a major contribution to our submissions to state and federal budgets and the Federal election campaign, in collaboration with the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
We secured several key results for members in the Victorian Budget, including significant infrastructure spending, more support for apprenticeships and training and payroll tax relief. This included a reduction in the regional payroll tax rate to 1.2125 per cent. As a result, regional Victoria remains the most attractive place in Australia to conduct business.
Throughout the year, we continued to be active on government policies affecting our members. Our submissions to state and federal governments on key issues impacting businesses included:
- Workplace manslaughter
- The 2019-20 State and Federal Budgets
- The City of Melbourne Draft Transport Strategy 2030
- Port of Melbourne's proposed Port Rail Solution
- Inquiry into the Victorian On-Demand Workforce
- Commonwealth Government Red Tape Committee inquiry into policy and process to limit and reduce red tape
- Victorian Labour Hire Licensing Scheme
- Environment Protection Amendment Act 2018.
We have been very active in serving our members over the last year; our workplace relations advice line answered 14,657 calls, providing them with up-to-date, independent and accurate advice on a range of workplace relations issues.
Through the year, our internships program provided valuable benefits to members, increasing their resources and business capacity. We have successfully placed over 320 interns in Victorian businesses over the past three years.
Through Apprenticeships Support Australia (ASA), we worked with 6,000 Victorian employers to support their 16,500 active apprentices and trainees. ASA successfully signed up 10,000 Australian Apprentices with Victorian businesses in 2018/19.
Our global services have also proven to be invaluable to trade engaged members. The volume of carnets and certificates of origin issued performed strongly this year, despite the impact of the drought and uncertainty over the United States-China trade war.
Growing Victorian exports and supply chains was also a priority. In May, a group of Victorian business delegates visited Jiangsu Province in China, where they met businesses in their relevant sectors to create relationships that will help grow their operations and take their businesses global. And in October our Executive Director of Policy, Trade and Public Affairs participated in a Japanese Government funded study tour in Japan on employment and industry practices.
Our Health Industry Taskforce united key health industry experts and practitioners to identify the reforms needed to ensure the future success of Victoria's diverse and important health industry.
Finally, a new regional partnership with the Kyabram Chamber of Commerce took the total number of regional alliances to 16.
As these diverse achievements show, it was a busy and fulfilling year across the breadth of our operations.
Our policy and advocacy focus in 2020
Disaster recovery and resilience – With many local businesses directly and indirectly impacted by summer bushfires the entire Victorian Chamber team is focused on helping business get the support they need to rebuild and prosper. After the initial recovery effort, our focus will be on mental health, ensuring local businesses are awarded contracts for the rebuilding effort and the role of business in community wellbeing and resilience.
Exports – Victoria's exports are strong and growing but less than three per cent of Victorian businesses export. Too many Victorian SMEs still view exporting as risky or lack the funding, expertise or connections needed to become internationally engaged. In 2020 we will continue to call on governments to work with industry to leverage Victoria's strengths and capabilities, help businesses capitalise on Free Trade Agreements and grow new business opportunities in fast growing overseas markets.
Energy and climate change – Members tell us that they are struggling with high energy costs that threaten their competitiveness, and in some cases their ongoing operation. Energy intensive businesses in trade exposed sectors are particularly affected, as energy makes up a higher proportion of their total costs and their ability to pass on cost increases is limited. Emissions from business use of electricity and gas are also contributing to climate change. In 2020 we will work to ensure that more is done to help businesses manage their energy use, reduce emissions and create new competitive advantages through innovation and industry development.
Wage theft – Recent high-profile underpayments and the Fair Work Ombudsman's compliance data show that there are areas of non-compliance in some sectors of our economy, such as hospitality. However, the non-compliance problem is complex and has multiple causes. Higher penalties are not necessarily the answer. In 2020 we will work closely with policy makers to ensure the Fair Work Ombudsman is resourced to promote and monitor compliance with relevant laws. We will also continue to promote cultural change and increase awareness of minimum wage rules, and the risk to employers of getting it wrong.
Business growth – Victoria is already a great place to conduct business, but costs are rising and opportunities for growth could be missed without more attention on industry and innovation. In 2020, we will develop a major report with recommendations on how to lower the cost of doing business and increase opportunities to grow trade, jobs and investment across the state.
Skills and VET – Each year via Vocational Education and Training (VET) nearly 400,000 Victorian students seek to attain skills and capabilities that help them gain work, be more productive in their job or transition to further education. While Victoria's vocational education and training system has undergone significant changes over recent years, skills gaps remain across several industries. Apprenticeship and traineeship enrolments and completions also continue to fall. In 2020 we will engage deeply and widely with members to ensure that our recommendations to the Macklin review of the Victorian VET system guarantee Victoria has the skills our growing economy needs, now and into the future.
Regulation reform – Regulation reform is a priority for the Victorian Chamber and our members. Businesses recognise that regulation plays an important role in helping achieve social, economic and environmental policy objectives. However, poorly designed regulations and regulatory duplication can damage business performance and hamper productivity, innovation and job creation. While Victoria has a strong program of regulation reform through projects such as the Small Business Regulation Review program (SBRR) and Better Approvals Project (BAP), more can always be done. In 2020 we will examine members' experiences interacting with regulators and how regulation impacts on investment and job creation.