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Labor’s Small Business tokenism: opinion



Employment Legislation

By Senator Scott Ryan

Senate Estimates hearings are a chance to directly question the officials who run government, as opposed to the theatre of parliamentary question time.

During Senate Estimates a few weeks ago I had my thrice-yearly opportunity to ask questions of those who run small business policy. I asked Department of Industry, Innovation, Climate Change, Science, Research and Tertiary Education officials about the future of Labor’s so-called Small Business Commissioner.

The answer was surprisingly frank. We were told that this so-called Commissioner was not “on-going and will terminate in 2015/16”. So much for a long term plan to change the policy environment for small business.

When then Prime Minister Julia Gillard introduced the position, she said the position would;

“Provide small businesses with a new voice to highlight their issues to the Australian Government… And ensure the interests of Small Business remain at the forefront of Government policy making”.

But despite all the hype, the real, meaningful capacity of the position has always been questionable. The Commissioner has no;

  • Legislative backing;
  • Specific powers; or,
  • Stated Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) by which small businesses can measure the success of the role (e.g. red tape reduction).

And now we find out that in only three years, the Commissioner and his staff will be packing their boxes as the role terminates on June 30, 2016

This was never a serious mechanism to change the policy environment for small business – just bureaucratic and political tokenism.

Compounding the disregard for small business at the political level, there have been five Small Business Ministers in 15 months. Nearly everyone I speak to in the community who has engaged with the Government has spent more time introducing these ministers to the issues than working on solutions to them.

With Kevin Rudd back, again, as Prime Minister; will we get yet another Small Business Minister?

Intuit Australia, a Small Business accounting firm, recently conducted a study which revealed Small Business owners spend on average one third of their time dealing with administrative tasks, rather than focusing on the core work of their business. But addressing this when the small business minister keeps changing is simply not possible.

This is not the approach a Coalition Government would take.

Tony Abbott has stated that, if elected, the Coalition’s Small Business Minister will be in Cabinet – ensuring the small business perspective is heard when all decisions are made.

And the Coalition knows we need to demonstrate our commitment with more than rhetoric, so we have committed to;

  • Abolishing the carbon tax while keeping income tax cuts and fortnightly pension increases; conscious that consumer confidence is brittle and needs to be rebuilt;
  • Support business growth and viability by cutting red-tape costs to business by $1 billion each year; and,
  • Extend unfair contract provisions to small business to ensure fairer deals with big business.

Importantly, we will also create a Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman as a single entry point for services and for access to dispute mediation – a position with direction and purpose.

In my travels I constantly hear small businesses ask for a government that is stable, predictable and that will help rebuild business and consumer confidence. The Coalition has helped deliver this previously; we are committed to doing so again.

Senator Scott Ryan is Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Small Business & Fair Competition

*Dynamic Business is not affiliated with any political party and we welcome discussion and debate from all political persuasions.

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