Ten Aussie politicians who grew up with or ran small businesses

Ten Aussie politicians who grew up with or ran small businesses


Small business has been in the political limelight this year, with the federal government declaring small business “is the new black” with its $5.5 billion small business and jobs package in the budget. Meanwhile, Opposition Leader Bill Shorten has also promised to do his bit for the nation’s two million small business owners. State and territory governments have also been getting in on the action.

However, for some members of parliament their interest in small business extends much deeper than the latest press release or policy announcement; they’ve grown up in and even started their own small businesses.

Here’s SmartCompany’s list of just some of the Australian politicians with small business running through their veins.


1.    Joe Hockey

Federal treasurer Joe Hockey grew up in not one, but two small businesses. Hockey’s parents operated a deli in Chatswood and later operated a real estate agency in Naremburn, both in Sydney.

It’s an upbringing that Hockey has often spoken publicly about, including during his budget speech in May.

“I like so many of my colleagues, grew up in a small business family,” Hockey said.

“That small business put a roof over our heads. It paid the bills. It gave all of the family a chance at a better life.”

“Small business is often a family business, a business of brothers and sisters, uncles and aunts, cousins, parents and children. And for those who work in small business, who are not related, well they often become family.”


2.    Bruce Billson

When federal Minister for Small Business Bruce Billson speaks about the hard work required to run a small business, he knows what he is talking about.

Billson’s father was a builder who moved the family from Albury, New South Wales, to Seaford in Victoria because work dried up. His dad later found work with the Department of Housing but to make ends meet, Billson’s mother also created a small business of sorts by becoming an Avon sales consultant. Billson’s first jobs were in small businesses owned by others: delivering newspapers, and working in a milk bar.

As a backbencher in the Howard government, Billson and his wife Kate opened their own small business, a retail shop on the Mornington Peninsula selling artworks. However, the shop did not pan out.

“It didn’t work, we didn’t succeed,” Billson told Fairfax earlier this year. “When we sold it we took quite a hit. We’re still paying for it

“It means that when I speak to small business I can say ‘I’ve felt the bumps that you’ve felt’. I know how completely personal having your own business is. It’s almost like having another family member.”


3.    Anne Ruston

South Australian Senator Anne Ruston says being a business owner is one of the reasons she decided to enter politics.

The Liberal parliamentarian became a business owner with her husband Richard Fewster in 2003 but the business, Ruston’s Roses, has been in her family for decades. Now one of the largest commercial rose gardens in Australia, as well as a tourist attraction, Ruston’s Roses was established by Anne Ruston’s uncle, David Ruston, as a business in 1968, although the property first starting growing roses in the 1920s.

Ruston told Australian Businesswomen’s Network before the 2013 election the most important lesson she has learnt in business is “to have a strategy for business growth and risk management – to have a vision and follow it through”.

She is also passionate about reducing red tape for business owners.

“We’ve been forced to spend a greater amount of time complying with more and more red tape,” she said at the time.

“It’s made me a passionate advocate for reducing this burden on Australian small business so they can get on with doing what they do best – making money and creating jobs.”


4.    Tim Pallas

Speaking in Melbourne last week, Victorian Treasurer Tim Pallas told attendees at the launch of the Victorian Small Business Festival he was proud to have grown up in a small business family.

“Small businesses are the backbone of our economy,” Pallas told the room.

Pallas grew up in Toronto, near Newcastle in New South Wales, and his dad was the local GP. Pallas started his working life as a labourer in a steel works and an abattoir before obtaining qualifications in arts and law and then working his way up through the union movement and entering politics in 2006.


5.    Daniel Andrews

Pallas’s boss and Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews also grew up in a small business household.

Andrews’ father Bob was the owner of a mixed business store in Glenroy in Melbourne’s northern suburbs, but after the store was rebuilt after having been badly damaged by a fire in a neighbouring business, Bob Andrews reportedly sold it at a loss.

The Andrews family moved to Wangaratta in the state’s north east where Bob Andrews drove a truck delivering Don Smallgoods and later became a beef farmer.


6.    Peter Whish-Wilson

He may come from an economics and investment banking background, but Greens Senator Peter Whish-Wilson is also a small business owner.

The Greens spokesperson for small business is the owner and manager of Three Wishes vineyard in the Tamar Valley in Tasmania, along with other members of his family. His wife Natalie also operates her own physiotherapist business in Launceston.

The Whish-Wilson’s established the vineyard in 1998 and Peter’s parents Rosemary and Tony managed the business until the couple took over in 2003. According to the James Halliday Wine Companion, Three Wishes produces pinot noir, chardonnay and riesling and exports its wine to Sweden.


7.    Teresa Gambaro

Queensland liberal politician Teresa Gambaro previously told the Australian Businesswomen’s Network calling out dinner orders at her parent’s restaurant at the age of nine fostered her business, and later, political career.

The federal member for Brisbane is the daughter of Italian migrants, who despite arriving in Australia with no possessions built a successful family business by starting with a local corner store.

“They worked hard and built one of the first local supermarkets in new Farm in Brisbane,” Gambaro said.

“They would deliver groceries to people who were sick. They knew who was hurting and they were compassionate to those in need.

“Through their hard work my parents went on to develop a seafood wholesale and export business, which progressed to what has become one of Brisbane’s iconic fine restaurants in Caxton Street – Gambaro’s!”

“We all worked in the family business and because I had the best English, my parents gave me the microphone at the age of nine to call the ‘No. 12 chicken specials’.”

Gambaro later went on to work in hospitality, fundraising, franchising and HR. She also taught at the Business School at the Queensland University of Technology before entering politics.


8.    Andrew Wilkie

Many Australians know federal MP Andrew Wilkie as a critic of Australia’s involvement in the war in Iraq and as one of independent members of parliament that initially supported Prime Minister Julie Gillard’s minority government.

However, Hobart shoppers would also recognise Wilkie is the former co-owner of a Persian rug shop in Tasmania’s capital.

“It allowed me to refine a broad range of skills, for instance financial management, understanding of the legislative framework and salesmanship,” the politician said before the last election.


9.    Luke Hartsuyker

As deputy leader of the House of Representatives, its likely Nationals politician Luke Hartsuyker draws on some of the people management skills he picked up running his family’s tourism business before entering politics.

Hartsuyker’s father, Tom Hartsuyker, established The Clog Barn, a Dutch-themed tourist park in Coffs Harbour, after emigrating from the Netherlands to Australia in 1951. Luke managed the business prior to entering politics. He also has experience working in real estate and property investment and development.

In his maiden speech to the parliament in 2001, Hartsuyker spoke about the plight of small business owners.

“Small business is constantly looking to improve productivity and efficiency, not only to improve the bottom line but also just to survive,” he said.


10. Gai Brodtmann

Federal member for Canberra Gai Brodtmann ran her own communications consultancy for a decade before entering politics in 2010.

“The decision to start my own business was one of the toughest and riskiest I’ve ever made but it was well worth it,” the Labor politician told the Australian Businesswomen’s Network before the last election.

“I loved every minute of running my own business and I plan to return to it after my parliamentary career.”

Brodtmann is currently shadow parliamentary secretary for defence. She is co-chair of the Parliamentary Friends of Small Business, chair of the Small Business Caucus Committee and founder of ACT Labor for Small Business.





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