Small business leaders around Australia are concerned the appointment of Gary Gray as the sixth small business minister under the current government creates further uncertainty about the direction of small business policy in Australia.
Given Gray has also been handed responsibility of the resources, energy and tourism portfolios, SME advocates believe he will not be able to adequately dedicate his time to understanding the needs of small business.
Council of Small Businesses of Australia executive director Peter Strong told SmartCompany he’s disappointed by the rate of turnover in the position.
“We run on confidence, but it’s hard to be confident when we’re unsure of the future. There have been a lot of surveys done and uncertainty is the biggest problem,” he says.
“I don’t know how much he understands, we’ll have to see if he understands the issues facing small business about competition law and consumer problems.”
“He needs to sit down and give the industry confidence and set some policies.”
Prior to his position in government, Gray worked with companies such as BHP Steelworks, Wesfarmers and as an advisor to Woodside Petroleum.
Strong says when it comes to the small business minister, background is important.
“If you have a background like [Opposition Small Business Spokesman] Bruce Billson does in small business, then you are more likely to understand the problems businesses face.”
Without that, Strong says it comes down to the attitude Gray has and if he has the capacity to understand the fact we’re not just business we’re people,” he says.
SmartCompany contacted Gray for comment but received no response prior to publication.
Australian Retailers Association executive director Russel Zimmerman told SmartCompany Gray won’t have the time to develop an understanding of small businesses prior to the September election.
“It would be nice to see a person allocated the role stay in it long enough to be able to get to understand small businesses.”
“It’s going to be hard for him to get a grasp on the portfolio. If they are returned again, we hope they’ll bring some stability,” he says.
Zimmerman says an election needs to be held because the government has recently become a “farce”.
“I think there was a good reason for the government to go to the people because it’s become a farce,” he says.
Zimmerman says he’s also concerned with the number of responsibilities Gray is taking on board.
“Tourism and small business go hand and hand, but certainly his other role will not be necessarily associated with small business,” he says.
Gray is yet to communicate with Zimmerman or Strong, but both industry representatives say they hope he will do so soon.
Accounting group MYOB released a new report today which found SME dissatisfaction with the federal government remains high at 54%.
MYOB chief executive Tim Reed told SmartCompany the number of recent small business ministers is “appalling”.
“It’s a message which says government policies have not been well explained to small business owners,” he says.