By Erika Echternach
Two new NSW political parties are hoping to pressure the State Government into addressing concerns impacting small businesses and Sydney nightlife.
The Small Business Party and the Keep Sydney Open Party have recently registered in NSW.
The Small Business Party was kick started by Angela Vithoulkas, who already serves on the City of Sydney Council.
As a small business owner herself, Ms Vithoulkas was inspired to enter state politics and create a party specifically for small business.
“There are decisions being made at every level of government, whether they’re around policy, legislation, or state significant infrastructure projects, where small business is not being considered on the impacts of any of these decisions,” Ms Vithoulkas said. “We are just expected to be collateral damage.”
Ms Vithoulkas has vowed to be the voice for small business, meaning that for the first time in national history, NSW’s 700,000 small business owners and their 1.5 million employees will have a political home and someone to vote for to specifically address their needs.
“I’m going to stand fast on advocacy because nobody is there to fight for small business,” Ms Vithoulkas said. “To be effective, we need a seat at the political table so that we’re at the beginning of the process and the decision making, not coming in at the end trying to fix a problem that has blown up too far to fix.”
Although Ms Vithoulkas has been a small business owner for 30 years, she said the six-month process of registering the party has been the greatest challenge she’s faced.
“It is probably one of the most difficult projects I have ever undertaken,” Cr Vithoulkas said. “It’s not just a matter of getting signatures, it’s a matter of getting people to reconfirm that they want to be part of the party and the bureaucratic process that’s involved in all of that.”
However, Ms Vithoulkas said there has been an overwhelming amount of support throughout the process from business owners who have joined the membership base and shared their problems with her.
Ms Vithoulkas strives to increase awareness of these issues such as the Pacific Highway upgrade, which has left 23 families lacking $7.5 million worth of wages, and the Circular Quay business owners who aren’t receiving rental rebates despite the impact of construction work.
However, Ms Vithoulkas said the Small Business Party is not a single-issue party because small business includes small business owners’ families and communities.
Similarly, although originating as a grassroots organisation in 2014 to protest the lockout laws, the Keep Sydney Open Party (KSO) stands for more than merely repealing lockout laws.
Tyson Koh, the organisation’s founder, explained that the lock out laws were a symbol of how out of touch the government was.
“While it’s really frustrating that night life in this city has had a big wet blanket thrown over it, it’s everything that law represents,” Mr Koh said.
“We know to have fulfilling nightlife we need to have adequate social spaces, we need 24-hour transport, we need better planning laws, better licensing laws, so really it’s quite a broad palette of issues that Keep Sydney Open is going to be concerned with.”
Mr Koh said KSO was not originally intended to become a registered political party, but when the government did nothing to repair the damage done by lock out laws to the cultural scene and small businesses, KSO had to start thinking bigger than rallies.
“The government wasn’t listening and still isn’t,” Mr Koh said.
Because of the government’s detachment, KSO officially registered as a political party, and celebrated by throwing a launch party at King’s Cross Hotel last Saturday.
“Obviously it was highly unorthodox for a political party to throw a dance party in a nightclub, but I just think that speaks to the heart of who we are,” Mr Koh said.
KSO chose to hold the party at King’s Cross Hotel given the venue’s history and how the entire precinct has suffered since the introduction of lock out laws.
For the party, KSO was careful to craft a diverse lineup of DJs, including Basenji, Purple Sneakers and even Mr Koh himself.
For now, neither KSO nor the Small Business Party have named their candidates.
Mr Koh said KSO is still building their membership base and hosting town hall style meetings to learn what is truly important to its members and community.
“After we consult with our member base in a meaningful way, we expect that a few candidates will come to the fore — people who are really passionate and experienced in different areas,” Mr Koh said.
Ms Vithoulkas is also committed to drawing from the views of those she represents.
“If anybody has any concerns or faces any challenges in their small business, I want them to reach out,” Ms Vithoulkas said. “There is no problem too small that I won’t try to help with.”
Ms Vithoulkas can be contacted via www.thesmallbusinessparty.com.