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Small business to be a cabinet role in Coalition government

Friday, 17 May 2013 | By Rose Powell

Opposition Leader Tony Abbott has announced in his budget reply that small business will be a cabinet position in his Coalition government, if elected.


Should the Coalition win on September 14, it’s expected this role will stay with Bruce Billson, who has served as shadow minister for small business, competition policy and consumer affairs since 2010.


Billson has been in parliament since 1996 as the member for Dunkley, Victoria. Billson has previously argued that small business needs to be front and centre in the government’s thinking.


He has raised concerns over what he describes as the “revolving door of ministers” as being bad for small businesses, arguing that five ministers in 15 months denied the small business community with a “a stable and reliable ally in government”.


This is the second time small business will be a sole cabinet position, after Peter Reith’s stint in the role in 1997. Under Labor, the portfolio has been mixed with other briefs – current incumbent Gary Grey is also the resources minister.


According to Billson, the small business role will not only be a cabinet role, it’ll also be located within Treasury for the first time.


Billson tells StartupSmart: “We want small business to be at the heart of the government’s economic analysis and policy development. So we’re moving it into the Treasury department which is the epicentre of economic decision making.”


On Billson’s agenda for his first few months on the job would be a range of initiatives announced by Abbot last night.


These include ensuring departments understand and document the costs of their procedures for small businesses, and a thorough review of competition policy.


“We will set up a root and branch review of competition policy to ensure that small business gets a fair go and small business will be a cabinet portfolio within the Treasury department,” said Abbott.


Billson believes the competition policy is well overdue for a review, 22 years since its creation.


“We need to recognise that government tenders can be extremely complicated and have big barriers to entry,” says Billson.


Billson believes the way the government offers jobs should be simplified as part of this review.


He says: “The way governments currently bundle jobs together is an issue. In many projects, no small business would be able to bid for these types of jobs. But if they were disaggregated, lots of small businesses could apply.”


In his budget reply speech, Abbott also reiterated his commitment to increasing small business productivity by reducing paperwork and tax pressures.


“We will cut red tape costs by at least $1 billion a year – to give small business a much-needed break – and we’ll have parliamentary days dedicated to repealing laws, not passing them. By cutting tax and regulation, we will boost productivity,” says Abbott.


Further details of the red tape reduction such as which policies would be up for review and removal weren’t specified in the speech.


Abbott has previously outlined a commitment of two days per year for the Parliament to review and remove unnecessary legislation in his Real Solutions policy outline.


Billson is keen to see a rethink of compliance, procurement and core administration tasks all businesses have to complete.


“Small business owners don’t have a team of 25 people to manage compliance,” he says. “A lot of this work is done during a couple of hours on a Sunday.”


Abbott and Billson also mentioned the repeal of carbon tax as key, arguing it would lighten the cost of living pressures faced by small business.


You can read Abbott’s full speech here.