Former Jobs and Innovation Minister Michaelia Cash has been appointed Australia’s new Small Business Minister as part of a broad reshuffle revealed yesterday, which also saw the small business ministry brought back into cabinet.
Cash’s formal title will be Minister for Small & Family Business, Skills & Vocational Education, which shows a renewed focus on family businesses by new Prime Minister Scott Morrison, along with a move to pull VET into the ministry, which will likely please small business advocacy groups and lobbyists.
Former Small Business Minister Craig Laundy has moved to the backbench, likely due to his staunch ongoing support for former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, who was ousted in a dramatic leadership spill last Friday. Laundy was Small Business Minister for around eight months, gaining the position after a cabinet reshuffle last year.
Cash’s appointment to the ministry marks the fifth ministerial change in the small business portfolio in just three years, following the departure of Bruce Billson in September 2015. Billson was replaced by Kelly O’Dwyer, before the post was taken up by Michael McCormack and then Laundy.
Cash has not released an official statement about her appointment yet, but said in a tweet yesterday she was “honoured” to be made the new Small Business Minister and that small business is “at the heart of Liberal ideology & a driver of the Aus [sic] economy”.
Honoured to serve in @ScottMorrisonMP Cabinet as Minister for Small & Family Business, Skills & Vocational Education. Small business is at the heart of Liberal ideology & a driver of the Aus economy. Committed to ensuring Australians have the skills needed for #jobs of tomorrow.
— Michaelia Cash (@SenatorCash) August 26, 2018
Speaking to SmartCompany, Peter Strong, chief executive of the Council of Small Business Organisations Australia (COSBOA), says the return of Small Business to cabinet is a coup for SME owners across Australia, believing when small business issues are “at the big table” that’s when the best policy changes happen.
“Being in cabinet is a big thing, and the last time we had small business in cabinet it really worked, and we got some good stuff done. The fact that the ministry is also connected to VET is good too, as VET has been failing SMEs and failing Australia,” Strong says.
Strong has already spoken to Cash about the hot-button small business issues he wants to see her focus on, which includes the further eradication of red tape and a simplification of the workplace relations system, something he says new Industrial Relations Minister Kelly O’Dwyer is also keen to talk about.
Strong says he also reinforced the importance of Small Business Ombudsman Kate Carnell’s office to the new minister. In a statement, Carnell also welcomed the return of the small business portfolio to cabinet, and thanked Laundy for the work he had done.
“It’s great to have the small business portfolio back in cabinet and to have Michaela Cash as the minister responsible. Australia is a nation of small businesses and family enterprises, and our new Prime Minister Scott Morrison sees the value of this sector — the backbone of the Australian economy,” Carnell said.
“We look forward to working with Minister Cash on small business policy and a range of important issues for small businesses and family enterprises. Most importantly, reducing the company tax rate for SMEs to 25%, addressing phoenixing, improving small business’ access to capital, making the Fair Work Act easier to navigate and implementing e-invoicing.”
Small business focus now an election issue
The government’s support for Australian SMEs is looking like a key playing point for the upcoming federal election, with one of Turnbull’s last media conferences last week leaning heavily on pro-small business rhetoric after the government failed to pass its big business tax cuts through the Senate.
Speaking to SmartCompany, head of policy at CPA Australia Paul Drum says the accounting body views the inclusion of Small Business back to cabinet is a positive, and one of the few encouraging things to emerge from the last week of political turmoil.
“It shows that the government intends to pay closer attention to small business, which is consistent with what they’re doing with drought relief at the moment,” Drum says.
“I think it’s fair to say it looks like the government in honing in on small business in the lead up to the next election, especially with Michael McCormack and his small business credentials as Deputy Prime Minister.”
Strong believes bolstered support and policy directly aimed at SMEs “has to be” a focus for the government coming into the next federal election, which he still believes will happen in May next year, despite concerns that a by-election in Turnbull’s seat of Wentworth would threaten the government’s slender majority in the House of Representatives.
“Small business has to be a focus for the government, as there’s so many of us and we all vote. Small business is one of the few groups in the community that are still trusted these days,” he says.
Strong is also hoping to see some stability in the small business ministry, saying recent reshuffles are nearly harking back to the Rudd-Gillard-Rudd government where there were six small business ministers in just a few years.