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Australia lacks Obama-style small business plan – Opposition

Wednesday, 2 February 2011 | By Oliver Milman

The Obama administration has unveiled a wide-ranging strategy for start-ups in the US, prompting the Federal Opposition to accuse the Government of lacking a similar plan for Australian small businesses.


In the wake of President Obama’s State of the Union address last week, the US Federal Government has launched Startup America, a major public/private partnership to encourage entrepreneurship in the country.


The partnership, which will be chaired by AOL co-founder Steve Case, has the backing of tech giants IBM, Google and Facebook. IBM will invest US$150 million to fund programs to promote entrepreneurship and business opportunities in 2011.


A raft of other measures includes a commitment of US$2 billion to match private sector investment in fast-growth companies, mentorship for 6,000 young entrepreneurs and a review into the regulation placed on small businesses.


The Australian Federal Opposition says that local start-ups lack similar support from the Government, claiming that only the Coalition has a similar strategy for the small business sector.


“Unlike the Government in Australia, Obama recognises the need to get behind businesses,” Bruce Billson, the Shadow Small Business Minister told StartupSmart. “Only the Coalition has a comprehensive plan for small business and support innovation.”


“Our plan (at the last Federal election) touched on more than Obama’s plan – it focused on tax, finance, contracting and family enterprise. It had ‘small business first’ policies.


“Small businesses are the engine room of the economy but the Government has an indifference towards them. Its polices are geared towards big business. It doesn’t even have the Small Business Minister in the cabinet.”


However, Senator Nick Sherry, the Small Business Minister, hit back, saying: "The Australian Government has introduced one of the most comprehensive packages in history to help with almost every facet of running and growing a small business."


"These range from advisory services, to support measures, to tax reform. In many ways, others are playing catch-up with the Australian Government's initiatives to assist small business."


"A recent World Bank report shows Australia is in the top 10 of 183 economies on starting a business, getting credit and ease of doing business - including number two for starting a business."


Peter Strong, executive director of The Council of Small Business Organisations of Australia, says that Australia has lacked a broad small business strategy “for the past 20 years”.


“It’s been very piecemeal – there’s nothing you could hang your hat on,” he says. “The Government’s innovation programs are very good, but they are aimed at particular sectors. They have to be part of a broader strategy.”


“Retail is a good example. We have a review of the sector at the moment, but it’s reactive to the scrutiny it has been under recently. It’s not part of a larger strategy.”


“The US (mentorship) of young entrepreneurs sounds fantastic. We’d like to get involved with education here as they identify good academic skills but not entrepreneurial behaviour.”