2022 Federal Election Series. Part 1: What does the recent history of small business ministers and shadow ministers tell us?

“The Morrison government is the best friend small business can have,” says Stuart Robert, the Minister for Employment, Workforce, Skills, Small and Family Business.

Meanwhile, his Labour counterpart Richard Marles described Labour as the party of small business claiming “the Morrison government has taken the small business for granted for too long”.

With the election less than 3 weeks away, who can small business owners believe or is it time to switch to the minor parties or independents?

theBankDoctor’s Election Series aims to assist small business owners form a considered view as to which is the best party for small business. The Series comes in four parts:

Part One: What does the recent history of small business ministers & shadow ministers tell us?

Part Two: What have the major parties actually done for small business?

Part Three: What are small business owners likely to get from the next government and is this what they really need?

Part Four: Is the Coalition or Labour the best party for small business or are the minor parties and the independents a better alternative?


One of the most telling measures of how committed the political parties really are about the small business sector is how they have prioritised small business in their ministries and shadow ministries over the years. An analysis of the period since 2010 sheds light on this. 

In the 9 years since Tony Abbot came to power, the Liberal coalition has had 6 ministers for small business with an average term of 18 months. The longest serving minister was Michaelia Cash at 31 months.

Only 2 of the 6 ministers, Bruce Billson and Michael McCormack, acted solely as Minister for Small Business. Billson was the only minister who held no other portfolio responsibilities and was also a member of cabinet. He was in the job for 2 years until September 2015 when Malcolm Turnbull overturned Tony Abbott.
McCormack, the only member of the National Party to hold the small business portfolio in government or opposition, was not in cabinet during his 15 months as Minister for Small Business.
The other 4 Coalition ministers for small business had additional portfolios, usually aligned ministries such as employment, vocational training etc. 3 of these were also members of cabinet during their terms in charge of small business amongst other portfolios.
Only 3 of the 6 ministers are still in parliament, Michaelia Cash, Michael McCormack and the current minister Stuart Robert.

None of the 6 could have been considered as coming from small business although prior to and post politics Craig Laundy was involved in his family’s large hotel business.
Since 2010 no Liberal party small business minister or shadow minister has gone on to become the leader or deputy leader of the party.
When the Coalition was in opposition between 2010-2013 Bruce Billson was the shadow minister and a member of the shadow cabinet.


Under governments led by Julia Gillard and Kevin Rudd there were 5 ministers for small business with an average term of 7 months with the longest serving minister being Nick Sherry for 15 months.
None of the 5 ministers acted solely as Minister of Small Business. They each had additional portfolios ranging widely from Sport to Energy & Resources and Tourism.
Chris Bowen is the only former Labour small business minister still in parliament and he and Gary Gray were the only members of cabinet although at the time they both held other more senior portfolios.
None of the 5 could have been described as coming from small business.

Since Labour has been in opposition there have been 6 shadow ministers with an average term of 18 months. None of these shadow ministers acted solely as shadow minister of small business. Labour seems to regard the small business portfolio as an add on. In recent years it has tacked this portfolio onto the already heavy workloads of some of their bigger names like Chris Bowen, the Shadow Minister for Climate Change and Energy and now Richard Marles who is also Deputy Opposition Leader and Shadow Minister for Science, National Reconstruction, Employment and Skills.

5 of the shadow small business ministers are still in Parliament being Michelle Rowland, Katy Gallagher, Chris Bowen, Brendan O’Connor  and Richard Marles.

Given that Marles holds multiple shadow portfolios it is difficult to  conclude that his rise up the ranks has been due to his performance in small business.

None of the 6 could have been described as coming from small business.
Whilst length of time in a portfolio is not necessarily an indicator of success, holding a portfolio for a relatively short period inhibits a minister’s ability to get on top of the issues and build relationships with key stakeholders.

If we were to look for “best practice” Tony Abbott as Prime Minister and Bruce Billson as Small Business Minister arguably had the strongest commitment to and impact on the sector. Abbott was insistent that the portfolio be included in cabinet. Billson spent nearly four years as shadow minister and two years as minister. Both Abbott and Billson were strong advocates of the sector and generated a heightened level of awareness of its importance in the economy and society in general.


Billson was a strong supporter of Abbott and when Abbot was toppled by Malcolm Turnbull in September 2015 he was despatched to the backbench. The interests of the small business sector were trumped by Turnbull’s determination to extract revenge from his same side opponent Abbott. Billson did not contest the next election in 2016.
As an aside, last year Billson was appointed by the Morrison government for a 5 year term as the Australian Small Business & Family Enterprise Ombudsman, an organisation he and Abbott were instrumental in establishing. Many in the small business sector saw this as an inspired choice although Richard Marles said this role “should be an advocate for the interests of small and family business, not an advocate for the Liberal Party” and the appointment “shows both Scott Morrison’s disregard for parliamentary standards and for ensuring an effective advocate at the national level”.

In the event of a Labour victory it may well be that Marles will do to Billson what Malcolm Turnbull did to him in 2015.

Hell hath no fury than a politician scorned!
Based on how they have treated the small business portfolio, neither party has displayed the level commitment that would lead small business owners to become rusted on supporters but Labour would appear to have done even worse that the Coalition.
In Part Two to be published tomorrow, we look at what the two parties have actually done for the small business sector during their time in power.

Disclosure: The author is not a member or supporter of any political party or candidate standing at the forthcoming Federal Election.


About the Author