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Annual Report 2020

1. Overview

It is a huge understatement to say that at our 2019 AGM in October no-one could possibly have predicted the events of 2020. Not only has Covid-19 produced a global health crisis, it has also triggered arguably the greatest economic crisis since the 1930s’ Great Depression!

But also of heightened concern is the discovery of the thin line between democracy, the rule of law and the authoritarian overreach of government by democratically elected leaders acting as dictators. This has been on display to a scary degree in Victoria. It is, in essence, a huge shock to the collective psyche that, in the name of ‘saving lives’, respect for and adherence to the rule of law by those who rule over us should be so trashed.

2. Departures from the board this year—Our great thanks
We ‘lost’ two very valuable members from our board during the year—both due to health circumstances. Our many thanks to Peter Murphy our retired Chairman who had provided valuable guidance and considerable research ‘grunt’ to our efforts. Also, many thanks to Graham Schorer—a very long-term supporter and valuable board member.
A great loss to SEA.

3. Finances
As a volunteer not-for-profit, our finances have always been tight but as of our October 2020 AGM the financial position is strong.

When the Covid crisis hit in March we immediately cut expenses. Our thanks to our network of service providers who’ve taken these cuts ‘on the chin’ with great understanding. Conversely, we had a number of our long-term supporters having to cut their support dramatically. We well understand this and thank them for the support that they can provide. From around August 2020, however, we’ve had a surge in support from small businesses as well as particularly significant numbers of individuals joining as ‘campaign members’. This has resulted in a solid financial position as of the October AGM. We intend consolidating on this, as in these uncertain times we must be cautious about the future.

4. Membership
SEA membership across all our categories is up significantly on last year by around 60 per cent.

5. New Website
Our existing platform provider Adobe is closing down the platform in 2021. This has forced us to develop a new website on a new platform. Considerable time and money has been allocated to investigating options, planning and progressing. A new website is under construction with an anticipated launch in late 2020/early 2021.

6. Social Media
Our website has traditionally attracted around 3,000 unique visitors a month. This has increased dramatically to around 9,000 as of September 2020. In addition, our Facebook traffic has increased dramatically by around 400 per cent as of October. These traffic increases have been generated by the following campaigns:
  • The provision of easy-to-understand information and analysis on the Jobkeeper and related Covid support packages for the self-employed.
  • Our campaign to alert people to the Victorian government’s plans to make self-employment illegal.
  • Our activity to require prosecution of the Victorian government for breach of work safety laws related to the to the hotel quarantine mess.
  • Our ‘Put Labor Last’ campaign for the Victorian council elections in October.
7. Activities of our Executive Director—Ken Phillips
Ken’s activities on behalf of SEA over the last 12 months have included:
  • Washington DC research trip over 2 weeks in October 2019. Investigating laws covering the operations of the IRS. Ken has produced a 50-page report on recommendations for reforming the ATO.
  • Federal Parliament visits advocating on a variety of issues—
    • 26–27 October 2019
    • 24–26 February 2020
    • 24–26 March 2020
    • Visits stopped due to Covid
  • Meetings with Victorian state MPs, November 2019.
  • Australian Building and Construction Commission. Security of Payments Working Group. 4 meetings during the year.
  • Meeting with Inspector-General of Taxation, 13 December 2019.
  • ACCC, 13 January 2020.
  • Federal ALP consultations.
  • Federal Coalition consultations.
  • WA Small Business Ombudsman consultation on ‘pay on time’ issues.
  • Appearance at hearings of the Federal Parliamentary Tax & Revenue Committee hearing, 26 June 2020.
  • Presentation to the Monash University Tax Law Research Group on ATO reform issues, 23 Sept 2020.
8. Policy issues
Our focus is on achieving positive public policy outcomes for self-employed people. That means pushing for laws that give self-employed, small business people a fair go in their business activities.
Lists of our submissions on issues is here.

Our focus during 2020 is as follows, with most of these campaigns having long lead times to achieve success. Some activities and submissions, etc., are shown below around key policy objectives we are pushing:

Reforming the ATO. See here.
  • Submission to the review of ATO policy on Personal Services Income Tax laws.
  • Submission to, and appearance before, the Tax and Revenue Committee review of the ATO’s 2018-19 report.
Pay on Time. See here.
Being paid on time rates as a top priority for small business people. The Morrison government has implemented 2 parts of their 3-part election promise on this issue.

Unfair Contract laws ‘beef up’. See here.
We strongly support proposals to make the unfair contract laws for small business stronger. We’re calling on the Morrison government to move quickly with these changes.

Protecting the Right to be Self-employed—Common law
There’s a concerted attempt in Victoria to create laws that would make self-employment illegal. The legal ‘trick’ sought is to dump common law and create a different definition.

We’ve seen this done in California in January 2020 and it has decimated the self-employed in that US state. We are campaigning to stop this happening in Australia. See issues around the gig economy here and here.

Work Safety Issues
We’re campaigning to have the Victorian government prosecuted under work safety laws for breaches of the Act over the hotel quarantine mess. Detail and explanation is here.

This is hugely important, not just for self-employed people, but for the entire Victorian and Australian community. Our legal advice is that the evidence is overwhelming that breaches of work safety laws by the Victorian government require prosecution. The courts will decide guilt or otherwise. But if prosecution does not occur, the entire work safety system effectively collapses. There cannot be one rule for the ruled and a different rule for the rulers.

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