The office of the Australian Small Business Ombudsman (ASBFEO) and the departmental small business division are being moved out of the Department of Industry and into Treasury.
SmartCompany understands Minister for Employment, Workforce, Skills, Small and Family Business Stuart Robert has also now been sworn in as a Treasury minister, following his inclusion in the influential expenditure review committee in cabinet.
Newly appointed Small Business Ombudsman Bruce Billson confirmed ASBFEO’s move to Treasury to SmartCompany this morning, saying the change will “put small and family businesses at the heart of the national economic agenda in this crucial phase of recovery”.
Billson is understood to have long been in favour of the Ombudsman’s office being housed within Treasury, and SmartCompany has been told Minister Robert holds a similar view.
The moves have been welcomed by the Council of Small Business Organisations Australia (COSBOA); however, chief executive Peter Strong says the change to the departmental small business division should be treated with some “caution”.
This is because of what happened the last time the division was moved to the Treasury department, with Strong telling SmartCompany the division was effectively “gutted”.
In 2013, the small business division was moved to Treasury shortly after former prime minister Tony Abbott was elected.
Strong says all the small business specialists either left or moved to other parts of Treasury following this change, and he is concerned there is potential for the same thing to happen again.
“The history is not a good one,” he says.
However, Matthew Addison, a director of COSBOA and chief executive of the Institute of Certified Bookkeepers, says the move also has the potential to give the small business sector a greater role in helping to form policies that will affect the sector before such decisions are made.
“Treasury is the heart of economic policy,” he tells SmartCompany.
A similar sentiment is shared by Billson, who says Treasury is largely responsible for the policy settings needed to create a “supportive environment” for small and family businesses.
“I am delighted that those shaping economic policy will have the small business sector at the forefront of their minds,” he says.
“I’m optimistic about the contribution we can make to this central economy agency and in turn, the contribution small and family businesses can make to our national recovery efforts.”
SmartCompany contacted small business minister Stuart Robert but was directed to the Prime Minister’s office, which did not respond before publication.
SmartCompany also contacted Treasurer Josh Frydenberg’s office but did not receive a response prior to publication.