Small business doesn’t want a talking head
You have to wonder what’s going on when governments turn on the charm towards small business.
There’s been a little bit of that lately by the Federal Government with a range of announcements such as the proposal to appoint a new Australian Small Business Commissioner.
We have even seen the Prime Minister venture down to a small bookshop in Canberra to make the announcement.
Ok, that might have been a little corny or predictable, but no doubt our Prime Minister was trying to cuddle up to small business by offering a new small business cop on the beat. The problem is that people remember the last time the Federal Labor Government offered us a new “cop on the beat.”
Remember the “tough petrol cop on the beat” we were promised? The poor old Petrol Commissioner doesn’t even want to be called the petrol commissioner anymore. How could any smart prime ministerial adviser allow the prime minster and the Federal Labor Government to fall into that potentially huge trap for a second time?
Well, Canberra is one of those places where advisers can quickly lose touch with the punters in voterland. Dangerously for the advisers they pour over responses from carefully selected focus groups and they rarely stray too far from their political comrades when seeking an opinion.
Not surprisingly, the advisers like to talk to those who agree with them and certainly don’t really like those daring or smart enough to have an alternative, or heaven forbid, “new” idea or approach. Indeed, those having a new idea or approach can be seen as “activists” and need to be kept away lest they encourage Ministers or MPs to have new ideas that the advisers or bureaucrats don’t like.
Of course, by not taking on new ideas the gene pool eventually collapses and Governments inevitably get voted out. As sad as that may be for some, it’s even worse to find out that those advisers and bureaucrats who caused the problem in the first place may still have a job and continue to be a bad influence on a new Government. There’s obviously something to be said for all departmental jobs to be declared vacant when a new Government is elected!
Naturally no adviser is ever going to willingly admit that he or she has limited expertise or has made a mistake. Unfortunately that leaves Governments to sink or swim on the advice of advisers and bureaucrats who are narrowly focused and protective of their political turf.
It’s even worse when it comes to small business policy as few advisers or bureaucrats understand small business. That’s why the small business portfolio is so challenging and that’s why small business issues are often escalated to the Prime Minister’s office for the simple reason that the Prime Minister’s advisers are supposed to be smarter than your average adviser.
A smart prime ministerial adviser would know that there are lots of votes amongst small businesses for any government that helps small businesses get a fair deal from the big end of town. An even smarter prime ministerial adviser would know that small businesses would quickly see through a big talking but toothless, powerless and defenceless Australian Small Business Commissioner.
And, of course, the smartest type of prime ministerial adviser would be pushing very strongly for an independent Small Business Commissioner that’s tough, who is backed by new, cutting edge legislation, and who can handle all the legal tricks and games that the big end of town can play.
Small businesses don’t want a talking head for an Australian Small Business Commissioner. There are plenty of industry associations that are ready to talk on behalf of small businesses. We also get lots of talk from the ACCC on small business issues.
Instead, what small businesses want, and need, is a Small Business Commissioner who can do what the ACCC and industry associations always talk about but can’t or don’t do. Small businesses want a person who can directly help them in their dealings with the big end of town. That means a Small Business Commissioner who can help resolve disputes between small businesses and the big shopping centres, franchisors, Coles and Woolworths and the like.
Here the Federal Government didn’t have too far to go for guidance on how to get it right when it came time to announce the proposed new Australian Small Business Commissioner. Victoria had long shown the way. South Australia had improved and strengthened that Victorian model. Western Australia saw the light and now New South Wales is onboard.
Of course, a Federal Labor Government or a Labor-groomed prime ministerial adviser could have easily ignored a coalition-led initiative in Western Australia or New South Wales, but what about the ground breaking work done in South Australia by a State Labor Government? Surely, a smart prime ministerial adviser would have been looking in the direction of South Australia for guidance on a truly ground breaking Australian Small Business Commissioner.
Sadly, even visionary advisers get blurry vision sometimes. Who knows what happens. They may get distracted by challenges to their boss or their authority, or they may not have the energy or strength to override those departmental officers who call the shots and who don’t want their authority challenged by a truly independent Small Business Commissioner. It might just be that a Small Business Commissioner is not the biggest thing on the adviser’s mind or the adviser knows the proposal is just a gimmick.
We all know how fast government can move when they really want to, so you have to wonder why they don’t seize the opportunity when one is handed to them on a platter.
In the meantime, we await the announcement of the person who is to become the new Australian Small Business Commissioner. This is an exciting time as there’s no shortage of rumours doing the rounds. A Melbourne Cup field of names has been mentioned and the odds in relation to particular names have lengthened or shortened depending on which conspiracy theory is popular on a particular day.
While knowing the person who gets the role often tells you a great deal about how the role might develop, the more astute observer will look to see what powers the person is actually going to get from the Federal Government. People appointed to the role can come and go, but the powers the person is to be given is much more revealing about what the Federal Government is really thinking about the new role.
Here we know that the new Australian Small Business Commissioner is regrettably not likely to have any legislative backing and will lack statutory independence which all means that the Commissioner can be removed at anytime. With that level of uncertainty and window dressing you have to wonder who would apply for the role.
No doubt the person appointed will be introduced as a “star” appointment, but we will all know that stars can sadly fizzle, fade away or just implode. Let’s hope the person appointed is tough enough to stand up to those bureaucrats and advisers who were looking for a “yes” person for the role.
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