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Wellbeing / Social responsibility

What does Mark Latham have against garden gnomes?

When ex-politicians are given a national platform to express their views, you’d expect they’d treat that platform with respect. Not Mark Latham though.

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I confess, if we played a word association game and you threw the words “Mark Latham” at me, the first phrase that comes to mind is “relevance deprivation syndrome”. Mainly due to his penchant for using his regular Australian Financial Review column to throw clickbait-grenades rather than exhibit the kind of thought leadership appropriate of someone with his brain and profile.

Previous Latham columns have derided people with mental illness, attacked working mothers and made damaging generalisations about the type of person likely to commit domestic violence (note I’m not linking to those articles because … why give him the clicks?).

So it’s little wonder that, given the recent announcement of small business tax breaks in the 2015 Australian Federal budget, when he went casting around for an easy target for column fodder last week, his eyes fell on:

“small businesses … the garden gnomes of the modern economy – purely ornamental and totally dispensable.”

Over the course of a 900 word brain dump, that single line is about as close to reality as Latham got. Which is to say – he didn’t. At all.

"I feel if we, as Australia’s largest online community of solo and micro businesses responds that way, we’ll be giving credence to words that have approximately none at all."

Now normally Latham is dangerous because he mixes just enough truth and fact into off-base commentary to make his thoughts seem reasonable to those who aren’t quite on top of his current subject of choice.

But this particular effort descended into satire almost immediately when he opened with:

“In no other section of society do we praise smallness, let alone construct religious-like shrines where we’re expected to worship the glory of teeny-weeny-sized enterprises.”

before declaring:

“In other walks of life, especially the world of sport, no one wants to be small. The world’s fastest man, the six-time Olympic gold medallist Usain Bolt is 1.96 metres tall. By contrast, midget runners are so poorly regarded by the IOC they haven’t been allocated any special events at the Paralympics.”

Um. What?

Others have responded to Latham’s ridiculous words with rebuttal but given he’s failed to put forth any kind of logical argument I feel if we, as Australia’s largest online community of solo and micro businesses responds that way, then we’ll collectively be giving credence to words that have approximately none at all.

So why even write this piece then?

I figure this is a great opportunity to celebrate small business and all that it brings to the Australian economy … with something notably absent from Latham’s piece: facts!

And the best place to start is with this one: 99% of all businesses in Australia are small to medium enterprises responsible for employing 2.8 million people (65% of the workforce).[1]

Which explains why, in 2013, our Federal government promised to deliver a 1.5% annual growth rate in the numbers of small businesses:

“We want small businesses providing more than half the jobs in the private sector because that is where people get a start in life, that is where entrepreneurship is fostered and innovation happens. This is an important part of building a more productive nation and is at the heart of building our economy.”

Speaking of innovation, small to medium enterprises are better placed to do so – even more than start-ups. And certainly more than their large counterparts.

But I think the best measure of the worth of small business is the way they’re boosting the collective happiness of the Australian population.

The majority of respondents in our 2012 Understanding Micro Business survey cited flexibility, lifestyle and being in control of their own lives as the key factors in deciding to run their own businesses with 86% of respondents saying they were “happy in their work, with their happiness and enthusiasm increasing over time.”

Also “the longer they are in business, the happier they tend to be. The happiest people have been working for themselves for more than five years.”

And interestingly, growth is not on the radar for half the survey’s respondents, who stated they intend to remain small but profitable. Plus how’s this for an emphatic endorsement for autonomy: only 1 in 10 people would jack in their job for a lucrative, 5 year contract if it meant working full time for someone else.

So maybe Mark Latham wasn’t far off in describing Australian small businesses as garden gnomes because, generally speaking, those little fellas are pretty happy too.

Kelly Exeter

(former Flying Solo Editor) is an author, editor and ghostwriter with particular expertise in helping non-fiction writers get their book babies out into the world. Connect with her on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

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