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Labor appoints fourth small business minister in two years

Monday, 4 February 2013 | By Michelle Hammond

The small business sector has been handed its fourth minister in two years, with former immigration minister Chris Bowen assuming the role as part of an unexpected cabinet reshuffle.


Prime Minister Julia Gillard has been forced to reallocate several major portfolios following the shock resignation of two senior ministers.


Nicola Roxon has resigned from her role as Attorney-General, to be replaced by Victorian MP Mark Dreyfus, QC.


Roxon will serve on the backbench until the federal election in September, when she will exit politics altogether.


Meanwhile, Senator Chris Evans has resigned as Minister for Tertiary Education, Skills, Science and Research.


Evans will be replaced by former immigration minister Chris Bowen, who will also take on the small business portfolio.


The former small business minister, Brendan O’Connor, who had the job for less than a year, will become the new immigration minister.


In a statement released on the weekend, Bowen insisted small business is an important priority for the Gillard government, highlighting his experience in the area.


“I have previously enjoyed working to reduce regulatory and tax burdens on small business, including establishing a Small Business Superannuation Clearing House,” he said.


StartupSmart contacted the minister’s office this morning, but he could not be reached prior to publication.


Peter Strong, executive director of the Council of Small Business of Australia, told StartupSmart Bowen “has some runs on the board”, having worked with him in the past.


However, Strong is concerned about Bowen’s ability to spread himself between the small business and tertiary education portfolios.


“[The tertiary sector is] a very aggressive sector. They’re at your door every minute of the day,” Strong says.


Strong would also like to see the small business portfolio remain in the same pair of hands on a permanent basis.


“We’d like to have that job [be] permanent… My members have raised some concerns around that,” he says.


“Bruce Billson has consistently been the small business person for the opposition.”


Australian Industry Group has also welcomed Bowen’s appointment as small business minister, with chief executive Innes Willox saying he “engaged very positively” with business during his time in the immigration portfolio.


But the opposition is less than impressed, pointing out Bowen is Labor’s fourth small business minister since 2011.


Prior to O’Connor, Mark Arbib was in the role for less than three months after taking over from Nick Sherry.


Shadow small business minister Bruce Billson said Labor’s “revolving door” of small business ministers shows the portfolio is merely an afterthought.


“Once again, the small business community will have to explain its issues and concerns to now a fifth Labor minister, and the fourth in 14 months,” Billson said in a statement.


“Once again, the Gillard government has chosen to tack on the small business tag to another portfolio.”