In 2014 small business looks set to have a fairer trading environment, improved access to government grants and a government which is “small business friendly”, Small Business Minister Bruce Billson told SmartCompany. Billson yesterday met with other federal, state and territory small business commissioners to discuss issues such as removing red tape and having a single point of entry for small business to access information on government grants. The small business advocates also discussed overhauling legislation which affects small business, with the goal of making the laws simpler. “We’re getting on with it and getting into it,” Billson says. “There were three things we were trying to achieve yesterday. One was a formal opportunity to catch up with the state-based small business commissioners and secondly to hear from them what they’re seeing in the field, what issues are being raised and what disputes they’re responding to.” Billson says making sure “field evidence” informs his own thinking is crucial. “Some of the feedback which was shared was that it can be bewildering for a time poor small business person to find their way through the mystery of the different state and federal roles and departments which may be of interest to them,” he says. “The idea is to streamline it so they don’t have to be brilliantly knowledgeable about the federation to be able to access services which are of interest to them.” Billson says over time, the aim is for small business to be able to access things like information on government, available government grants and advisory services in one place. “In the short-term we’re looking to make sure avenues for information like business.gov.au are publicised and that the information and links of most relevance for small businesses is easy to find,” he says. “At the moment accessing grants can be overwhelming which acts as a disincentive.” The single point of access for small business information will eventually be shifted from Industry to Treasury. When meeting with the commissioners, Billson also started the discussion about transforming the role of Australian Small Business Commissioner (currently held by Mark Brennan) into the small business and family business ombudsman. This role would have more authority to police fair commercial conduct between big and small businesses. However the major focus for small business at the moment is repealing the carbon tax. “Right now it’s abolishing the carbon tax, mainly because of its importance to restoring business and consumer confidence and relieving the cost of living pressures from households,” Billson says. “But we also want to remove the cost pressures from businesses. They’re saying they’re optimistic about the future, but there are difficult trading conditions and there isn’t an appetite for consumers to pay more, so the cost pressures can result in profitless trading periods.” Billson says he wants to help create a confident, stable and predictable government which will “encourage those inclined to invest to do so” in order to generate strength in the economy. Other issues currently on the agenda for Billson include responding to the last week’s productivity commission findings into how regulators interact with small business, reviewing competition laws, and implementing some of the changes from the Wein franchise report in regard to legislation which overlaps with the states. “We’re finding there are particular pressure points which have arisen. There has been quite a lot of traffic through their (the commissioners) offices about commercial disputes, there’s been a lot of activity in the construction sector and franchising and retail too,” he says. “One of the discussions was to make sure what the Commonwealth does is complimentary to what the states are doing and not part of the confusion.” As for the review of competition laws, Billson is looking into the “terms of reference and what arrangements will get the best outcomes”, removing unfair contract protections and making it easier for small businesses to do business.
Three Business Enterprise Centres in regional areas have each received $200,000 government grants to provide coaching and mentoring to small businesses, but it’s unknown whether other BECs will receive similar support.
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