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How to get your voice heard by the government

14 March 2017 | 11 minute read
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It is easy to believe you have no say in government policy, but a former federal minister says Australians have more voice than we realise. You just need to use that voice.

Business owners face many issues, some of which can be fixed with a helping hand from the government. Think tax changes, financial assistance, a more rigorous focus on payment terms and, of course, reduced red tape.

However, these issues – and their adverse effects on business growth – aren’t always brought to the attention of those in position to fix them.

Bruce Billson, former federal small business minister and now Efic ambassador, says the issues small businesses face are often ignored by the government who focuses on big business instead.

“There are these big discussions around policy settings and all that. It is too easy just to go to the big unions, big business, even big government and not realise [the impacts on small businesses],” Mr Billson said.

“One of the biggest issues that [has come] up with me is the rules are so darn complicated, you need a PhD in human resource management and linguistics to work out whether you’re doing the right thing or not. It shouldn’t be that hard.”

In order to simplify issues, Mr Billson said business owners need to share their stories and experiences to draw attention to the practical implications of key issues.

“There’s no substitute for the field evidence that someone in the game, in the contest, can bring to those kinds of conversations,” he said.

“If I had my time over again, I’d probably be more supportive and more forthright in saying, ‘Please, get involved. Tell the broader public about your story.’

“If you’ve not been in that life of a small business, it’s probably hard to relate to the story because if you’ve always been a wage and salary earner, and someone else has had to worry about paying the payroll, and it was someone over there that was the last person to be paid, that happened to be the founder, that story needs to be shared more.”

During his time as federal small business minister, Mr Billson would attend small business round tables and town hall meetings, and what struck him was how people shared their stories.

“You don’t have to be a small business person. You are a citizen that understands the centrality and how crucial small business is to our economy, our way of life, our opportunity for livelihoods,” he recalled.

“I think that narrative needs a bit more of a conversation.”

Mr Billson encourages business owners to speak up in their communities and directly to politicians, and take an active approach in ensuring their concerns and ideas are heard.

“A lot of people are just too busy, so they look to their industry associations or their chambers of commerce or someone to carry that ball for them,” he said.

“I used to throw this question [to business owners], ‘You are prime minister for one day. What would you do? Now, that means don’t just talk about what is annoying you or your grievances, or what’s giving you the ear hurt. What positive action, step would you take? What would you do?’

“The insights that were shared had been really vivid, fantastic, and I might say informed a lot of my policies. People said, ‘Yeah, this, this, this. Yeah that’s annoying me. I understand there is only so much you can do about that but this thing – I can’t understand why the government doesn’t do dot, dot, dot, dot.’

“It was a really rewarding way of getting into the thinking and the lived experience of enterprising men and women, and using those insights to help shape better policy. That helped with the small business budget package.”


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