In Sydney to congratulate St George bank on funding a raft of new incubator spaces for start-ups, Dynamic Business caught up with new Federal Small Business Minister, The Hon. Bruce Billson.
Long tipped to receive the portfolio, Billson (left) is the first small business minister to be included in the inner cabinet. Previous ministries from both sides of government have attached small business to other portfolios.
Here’s what the new man in the role had to say to small business owners.
DB: What are the absolute key initiatives you’ll be offering small business in the next 12 months?
BB: The abolition of the carbon tax is the first cab off the rank, and work is already progressing on that. The deregulation work – the billion dollars of red tape reduction [is another]. We’ve got a very committed strategic approach to achieving that.
Written branch review of the competition laws. A lot of small businesses are feeling they’re competing not on merit, but against muscle from bigger businesses and that’s really affecting their own economic prospects and decision-making.
Unfair contract terms with ‘take it or leave it’ contracts that they’re told ‘this is it’ – may have unfair provisions it in that if they were consumers, they can seek relief from those provisions, but as a small business you can’t. Our argument is that a small business has no more market power than a consumer, so the same logic should apply.
We’ve also already shifted the small business policy area into treasury, so that all of the economic and fiscal and budget strategy that’s driven out of treasury has small business interests front and centre. There’s work going on in procurement as well, so that small business has a better opportunity to get the Commonwealth work that’s out there.
And above all, to deliver on our promises – so there’s a stable, predictable environment that will support business and consumer confidence, and that’s what so many people in small business are telling me they need – not more surprises. Just a predictable, certain environment where the government is sure-footed, therefore the small businessperson can be sure-footed in their plans, and strategies for the future.
DB: This is a portfolio that has changed hands many times, what are you going to do differently from your predecessors?
BB: Well I’ll hang around! I’ll do what we’ve said we’ll do. I’ll implement our election agenda, which has got more than 20 specific measures in it. And I’ve been partnering with the small business community for the last 20 years, and watched six labor small business ministers come through this revolving door. The small business community knows me. It’s the primary focus of my role – not tacked on to a long list of other responsibilities.
DB: Which are the key areas where you believe small business owners are hurting?
BB: Profitability, costs of doing business, and the carbon tax is just pushing up those business costs at a time when there’s little to no capacity to pass them on to customers. So we’re seeing a real margin squeeze, it’s quite a profitless environment for many in small business.
Sharp pencils to keep getting work, very tight margins, and a lot of people are saying to me ‘when is it our time to see some reward for our effort?’
Even small things, like pausing the time frame on the compulsory superannuation increase. That’s about giving small businesses a bit of headway to get back into a viable position where investment opportunities are welcomed and embraced. It’s about putting the business back into small business. That’s what we’re trying to do.
Photo: Bruce Billson MP (left) with George Frazis Chief Executive Officer, St.George Banking Group (right)