Council of Small Business of Australia has given a cautious welcome to the appointment of Nick Sherry as small business minister, but attacked the government for keeping the post outside cabinet.
Sherry, who has been a senator for Tasmania since 1990, succeeded Craig Emerson as small business minister in Julia Gillard’s post-election reshuffle. Emerson has become minister for trade.
Sherry was previously minister for superannuation and corporate law and assistant treasurer under Kevin Rudd.
Peter Strong, executive director of COSBOA, admits that he “doesn’t know much” about Sherry and that he’s requested a meeting with him.
Strong insisted he was optimistic about the appointment but expressed his disappointment that small business still isn’t represented by a cabinet minister.
“We’ve been saying that we want a small business minister in cabinet for the past two decades,” he tells StartupSmart. “Small businesses represent 96% of all firms – the argument goes on and on.”
“What underpins it all is that small businesses are people. They are treated as small versions of big companies, which is palpably not true. We want protection in areas such as contracts – that is the number one priority for the new minister. Number two is getting an ombudsman for small businesses.”
Asked about Emerson’s record, Strong says: “I’d compare (Craig Emerson) to (former Liberal minister) Fran Bailey. As far as we can tell, they fought long and hard for small businesses, but they both had the same reaction from their parties, which is nothing.”
“He didn’t influence his cabinet and wasn’t heard. He ended up being an apologist to small businesses rather than an advocate. Maybe Craig Emerson will continue to talk about small business in cabinet as trade minister. You have to be optimistic and positive in change but you worry that everything will stay the same.”
Strong says the appointment of Bill Shorten as superannuation minister may also result in the burden of super collection taken from firms, although he adds: “It would be the first piece of red tape removed from small businesses in 20 years. Can you name me another? Some things have been streamlined, but nothing has been removed.”
The opposition was quick to attack Sherry’s appointment, with Bruce Bilson, shadow small business minister, saying that the decision to keep him out of the cabinet was “either punishment or pure Labor disinterest in the small business people that drive the engine room of the Australian economy.”
Sherry refused a request for an interview in his first full day in the new position.