Wanted: A small business minister who actually gets small business

Prime Minister Julia Gillard announced her cabinet reshuffle today after the blood-letting which followed last week’s attempted leadership spill.

Gary Gray was appointed as Small Business Minister after the resignation of Small Business Minister Chris Bowen, a key supporter of Kevin Rudd.

Gray’s appointment seems to fit with reports Gillard planned to reward her most loyal supporters with the prized cabinet positions as Gray is a former national secretary of the Labour party.

He has worked in business before as well as a long political career, but Gray’s experience has all been at the top end of town. 

There wasn’t much choice for Gillard in her eligible ranks of ministers, as there are precious few with experience in actually running a small business.

The Labor party’s problem is the majority of its representatives are either career politicians or previous union representatives.

The career politicians started out as media advisers or policy wonks before running for parliament (like Gray) and the union representatives tend to also have a background which excludes any experience of dealing with small business.

Like Bowen before him, Gray will have to juggle several portfolios.

As well as being small business minister he will also hold down the cabinet positions of minister for resources and energy and minister for tourism.

That’s a heavy workload given Bowen struggled to combine his teritary education portfolio with small businesss.

Surprise, surprise, small business was the one that got short shrift.

Then there’s the issue of timing.

Bowen only lasted in the role for two months, during which time he initiated zero policies which relate to small business.

Can we expect much more from Gray in the limited time left before the election?

In the few months left he has little chance of competing with the formidable Bruce Billson, the Shadow Small Business Minister who is a former small business owner and after several years in the job is across every element of small business policy.

Let’s hope Gray shows more of a willingness to engage with the small business community than many of his five predecessors. 

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