Politics

What Malcolm Turnbull as PM means for small business

Broede Carmody /

Bruce Billson

Australia will soon have a new prime minister after Malcolm Turnbull toppled Tony Abbott at last night’s party room meeting.

Turnbull won the Liberal leadership ballot by a relatively narrow margin of 10 votes – 54 to Tony Abbott’s 44.

This is despite business leaders saying they wanted a decisive result so businesses can be certain there won’t be further political destabilisation in the future.

The Abbott government billed itself as a government for small business, particularly after this year’s budget, which included generous tax incentives to the small end of town.

But Turnbull’s win means Australia will have changed prime minister five times in the past five years.

What does a change of prime ministers mean for the backbone of the Australian economy?

 

Startups, not small business, will likely take centre stage

 

After winning the leadership ballot, Turnbull told the media Australia needs to embrace innovation and digital disruption.

“The Australia of the future has to be a nation that is agile, that is innovative, that is creative,” Turnbull said.

“We can’t be defensive, we can’t future-proof ourselves. We have to recognise that the disruption that we see driven by technology, the volatility in change, is our friend if we are agile and smart enough to take advantage of it. There has never been a more exciting time to be alive.”

These are words the former communications minister has used many times before, particularly while speaking at tech startup events.

While it is early days, we can expect the new prime minister to embrace new technologies as opposed to old ones – effectively putting the mining and manufacturing sectors on notice.

Peter Strong, chief executive of the Small Business Council of Australia, yesterday told SmartCompany he hopes Turnbull will not side with big business on important issues.

It is not known if Turnbull opposes the introduction of an effects test into Australian competitive law, however the former communications minister does have a background in big business as an investment banker and his deputy – Julie Bishop – is understood to be against changing Australian competition law.

Despite these factors, Turnbull has promised to consult widely and will need to woo the National Party if he is to govern effectively.

The Nationals voted in favour of an effects test at their national conference over the weekend and the party has said the Coalition agreement will need to be renegotiated given that Tony Abbott will no longer be PM.

Will the Nationals flex their political muscle and force Turnbull to back the effects test? Watch this space.

 

Bruce Billson may not be small business minister

 

Last night, Turnbull flagged a cabinet reshuffle.

This is standard procedure after a leadership change, with a new leader’s supporters rewarded with plum roles and opponents resigning in protest or demoted.

The current ministry will remain in place until Friday, with Turnbull’s new cabinet announced sometime next week.

Small Business Minister Bruce Billson was seen walking into the Liberal party meeting room last night alongside a group of Abbott supporters and was among those who flanked Abbott earlier this year when he survived a spill motion in February.

Despite the leadership upheaval, Billson remained his usual upbeat self this morning – telling the ABC he now hopes to “get back to work”.

“It [the ballot] was handled well,” Billson said.

“It was a good opportunity for colleagues to express a view.”

While Billson’s current portfolio is not yet guaranteed, the Small Business Minister is regarded as one of the government’s most effective operators.

It would also be a bad look for the Liberals to change small business ministers, given the party has repeatedly criticised the Labor Party for appointing seven small business ministers in its six years in power.

 

Business confidence will likely rise

 

While technology startups will undoubtedly be a focus under Turnbull’s leadership, small businesses are still likely to benefit from an overall boost in market confidence.

Turnbull has promised to renew the government’s economic agenda and he is known for having a close relationship with the Senate crossbenchers, meaning a Turnbull government would have a much better change of pushing through important reforms.

The majority of business leaders SmartCompany spoke to yesterday believe Turnbull will be a better prime minister for businesses than Tony Abbott was, including serial entrepreneur Dick Smith.

“I think he [Turnbull] could get more business confidence,” Smith says.

“He’s a successful businessman and I like the fact he’s middle of the road. Most Aussies like middle of the road people.”

 

 

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Broede Carmody

Broede Carmody is a former senior SmartCompany reporter. Before this, he was a co-editor of RMIT University's student magazine Catalyst.

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