Economy

SMEs snubbed, as Abbott announces Business Advisory Council with the “same old” big business faces

Yolanda Redrup /

Prime Minister Tony Abbott has angered the small business community overnight, with his Business Advisory Council almost entirely made up of big business representatives.

Speaking at a Business Council of Australia dinner, Abbott announced the 11 members of his council, with Catering Australia chief executive John Hart the only voice from the small business community.

Council of Small Business of Australia executive director Peter Strong told SmartCompany he was disappointed by the announcement.

“I was appalled. We do have John Hart on there and we shouldn’t disregard John, but you have to say it’s largely the same old faces on there and I thought we were going to try and do things differently,” he says.

“They’re fine people, but there are a lot of old people and they’re people who don’t get small business in any way, shape or form. They don’t have a history of understanding small business issues.”

The other people on the advisory council include BHP chairman Jacques Nasser, National Australia Bank chairman Michael Chaney, Telstra chairman Catherine Livingstone, Premier Investments chairman Solomon Lew, Fox Group Holdings executive chairman Peter Fox and Grocon chief executive Daniel Grollo.

Other members include BlueScope Steel chairman Graham Kraehe, health industry representative Jane Wilson, former Productivity Commission head Gary Banks and Bega Cheese chairman Barry Irvin.

Strong says he has received a number of calls this morning from COSBOA members who are disappointed with Abbott’s advisory council.

“We just can’t believe that after all the promises we’re stuck with the same old group of people, it’s like nothing’s changed,” he says.

“It’s great to have the Small Business Minister in cabinet, but it doesn’t mean he’ll win every debate. I’m a bit worried the big end of town supporters in cabinet may have got their way.”

As well as announcing his business advisors, Abbott provided an update yesterday on the upcoming competition policy review.

“The federal government has provided the states and territories with draft terms of reference for a competition review. The review panel will be established shortly so that we can have a final report within 12 months,” he said in a statement.

“The last comprehensive review of competition policy – the Hilmer Review – was carried out in 1993 and much has changed in Australia’s economy since then.”

But Strong says after the announcement of Abbott’s advisory council, he is concerned the competition review panel will also be dominated by big business representatives.

“I hope we don’t get someone from the big end of town to head it up. You obviously can’t get the local newsagent to head it, although they’d do a better job, but you need someone who will understand the difference between big and small business and aren’t stuck in the policies from the 1990s,” he says.

Addressing the BCA audience, Abbott also said the Coalition will be making “pragmatic” reforms, but business will need to be patient.

“In a stable, peaceful, pluralist democracy, few things change dramatically overnight, nor should they. The BCA’s blueprint for reform, published earlier this year, acknowledges this with its timetable of what could realistically be achieved in the first term of new government.”

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