Malcolm Turnbull is still in the honeymoon period as prime minister but he’s already managed to get the small business community offside by booting Bruce Billson from his role as small business minister.
Turnbull should be kicking back and basking in glowing approval ratings from small business, which is the heartland of the Liberal Party’s constituency.
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But instead he’s made a significant error by getting rid of one of the most passionate advocates small businesses in this country have ever seen.
As a former small business owner himself small businesses knew that Billson understood them and had their back.
He was the driving force behind one of the government’s few successful policies this year, the $20,000 small business tax write-off.
Billson has also led the campaign to reform competition law and implement an effects test despite fierce and concerted opposition from within his own party.
Getting rid of Billson flies in the face of what small business themselves want, with SmartCompany’s survey last week showing 43% of SMEs wanted Turnbull to keep Billson as small business minister.
Of the remainder 39% were undecided and only 18% wanted Billson out.
“He is doing a great job, very dedicated to the job,” one SmartCompany reader responded reflecting the overwhelming view of small businesses.
Small business groups have also expressed their disappointment at Billson’s departure with even the ever cheery and positive Peter Strong, chief executive of the Council of Small Business of Australia, saying it has sent “shockwaves through the small business community”.
“Did vested interests in big business successfully have Bruce removed?” Strong says.
Turnbull’s dumping Billson appears at best to be petty politics, a punishment for being one of Abbott’s backers.
The more sinister alternative is that Turnbull is already bowing to the power of big business and wants to dilute the influence of the small business minister.
As Fairfax reports today there is speculation Turnbull is concerned about Billson’s strong advocacy for small business.
“I don’t think Malcolm likes Bruce’s personality,” an unnamed source said.
“He is very vocal in cabinet. He doesn’t let small business go and that gives Malcolm the shits.”
Mourning the end of Billson’s reign as small business minister means no disrespect to the incoming minister, Kelly O’Dwyer, who is talented and comes from a strong small business background.
But small business is genuinely concerned that O’Dwyer’s dual role as assistant treasurer and small business minister will mean small business will get the short straw.
Malcolm you’ve stuffed up with this one.