After six years in government, the same amount of small business ministers have come and gone – but the Coalition’s likely man for the job wants to change that.
Bruce Billson, who has been the opposition spokesman for small business for several years now, won his marginal seat of Dunkley over the weekend with a 3.94% swing to a two-party preferred vote of 54.98%
Billson has proven popular with businesses. He was elected in 1996 – but prior to that he owned an arts and crafts shop with his wife on the Mornington Peninsula.
His experience gives the Coalition ammunition Labor’s ministers never could – empathy. When Billson speaks, he dusts his remarks with anecdotes about his time running a business, remembering the difficulties with tax and cashflow. Billson is seen as one of the clan, rather than an outsider.
While the Abbott cabinet is yet to be appointed, Billson is confident he’ll be called into the role once again – and he spoke with SmartCompany about what he has planned for the next few years.
“I’m optimistic the Prime Minister elect will invite me to continue that roll,” he says. “I have a deep love for the small business community, and I’ve worked hard to develop that suite policies and I’m red-hot keen to see them through.”
Billson has been an avid critic of the Labor government’s handling of the small business minster portfolio, suggesting the revolving door of ministers has led to the perception Labor doesn’t care about SMEs.
At the NAB Small Business Summit in July, Billson said there was “not enough small business skin in the game” in Canberra. “You can’t have a revolving door and expect policies to be distilled and understood.”
Today, Billson told SmartCompany he maintains that sentiment – and if anything, it’s even stronger.
“We see the post-mining boom economy as being more diverse and inclusive of our small business enterprises,” he says.
“We’re particularly looking forward to looking at family enterprises for future job growth. We want to support that enterprise.”
Billson has the backing of small business groups, including COSBOA, which will ensure a key line of communication between the industry and government.
Billson will certainly be constrained in some areas – business would likely want more action on industrial relations and penalty rates than they’re likely to receive. But for now, Billson’s likely appointment is a sign that following a campaign largely focused on small business the Coalition has finally made the portfolio a priority.
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“It’ll be good to get cracking, so that renaissance in enterprise can start as soon as possible – and people know that not only is the nation open for business, but so is this government.”