The Fast Lane: Experiencing the Bruce effect

The Fast Lane: Experiencing the Bruce effect

Billson serving up aces in the small business portfolio (Billson, in the blue shirt, alongside Chris Kachel of Tennis Australia and Victorian MP Tim Pallas)

In person, Small Business Minister Bruce Billson is shorter than you might expect, but there’s that cheery grin, bear hug of a handshake and twinkly blue eyes which can’t fail to communicate his glee.

It’s clear Billson is having a whale of a time as small business minister.

Even the traditional business press is not immune to his charms, dubbing him the “ever cheery care bear of the house of representatives” and “the evangelical minister for small business”.

Forget Mark Latham’s “garden gnome” jibes, small business is having a moment and a lot of it comes down to the Bruce effect.

After years of being ignored in successive budgets, small business was front and centre in this year’s budget thanks to Billson’s advocacy for his small business package.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott calls him “Pastor Bruce” proselytising for Australia’s two million small business owners.

It’s clear Billson’s influence is on the rise. 

Who was that flanking Abbott when he emerged from the party room after the attempted leadership coup in February? Billson.

Who stole the limelight from Treasurer Joe Hockey on budget night to the extent his chief of staff pleaded with lobby groups to “please mention Joe”? Billson.

Who scored the coveted National Press Club address last week? Billson again.

Billson may be the flavour of the moment and small business may be in Billson’s own words “the new black, the new kale of the café scene, the yogalates”, but this hasn’t all come out of the blue.

Billson spotted an opportunity to win small business voters back when Labor was in government and churning through multiple small business ministers.

Under the Rudd and Gillard governments, small business minister was the job that nobody wanted and ministers only stayed in the portfolio for as long as they had to (Chris Bowen lasted a month).

But Billson has made the role his own: taking the time in opposition to learn what SMEs want and trying to apply that in power.

Billson’s star is on the rise and I’m sure there have been offers of other roles within the government.

It’s testament to Billson’s genuine passion for small business that he hasn’t tried to move into a more prestigious or coveted job but instead has worked to increase the power and status of the small business portfolio.

Whether Billson will be able to withstand the pressure from big business interests and the supermarket duopoly, which have traditionally had the ear of the Coalition, remains to be seen.

His intended changes to unfair contract laws and misuse of market power laws are not popular with the top end of town.

But for now, we can all sit back and enjoy the wonder that is the Bruce effect.

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