A former small business minister has been appointed as the new Australian Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman.
The Australian government has appointed Bruce Billson as the successor to Kate Carnell in the role of Australian Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman (ASBFEO).
The office of the ASBFEO was established in 2016 to act as an independent advocate for small-business owners and to provide small businesses and family enterprises with assistance should they find themselves involved in a business dispute.
Ms Carnell was appointed the inaugural ASBFEO for a five-year term beginning in 2016.
Mr Billson’s five-year term will commence from next Thursday (11 March 2021).
He was a Member of the Australian House of Representatives from 1996 to 2016 and was the federal minister for small business from 2013 to 2015.
Prior to being elected to the Federal Parliament, Mr Billson was the ministerial adviser to the Victorian Minister for Natural Resources (1994-96), policy adviser to the shadow federal minister for the environment (1995) and held several senior local government positions (1987-94).
Announcing the new ASBFEO, the Minister for Employment, Skills, Small and Family Business, senator Michaelia Cash, said Mr Billson would play a pivotal role in his new position in helping shape the Australian government’s response and continuing support of small and family business as they make their way out of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Small and family businesses are the bedrock of local communities across the nation. We know that they bore the brunt of the pandemic and we need to make sure that they are at the forefront of the recovery,” Minister Cash said.
“Never has there been a more important time for small business to have a strong voice. The appointment of Mr Billson as the new Ombudsman shows the government’s unwavering commitment to supporting and growing the sector as we collectively chart our pathway back to prosperity.”
“As a former minister for small business with a seat at the Cabinet table, Mr Billson brings with him a valuable and unique perspective that will no doubt amplify the voices of small and family businesses across the nation.”
Speaking of his new role, Mr Billson commented: “The pandemic has been punishing for many of our small and family businesses, which will need a supportive environment to help lead the nation into recovery.
“All of my efforts will go towards putting the wind in the sails of small business and helping to energise enterprise to Australia’s benefit.
“Most importantly, I’ll be focused on ensuring the small-business community has the support and confidence they need to survive and thrive well beyond the COVID crisis.”
Ms Carnell welcomed the appointment of her successor, stating that the former small business minister was a champion of the sector.
“Having played an integral role in the establishment of the Ombudsman’s office, Mr Billson is well positioned to carry the torch,” Ms Carnell said.
“He is highly regarded by the small-business community, and I am confident he will be an effective advocate for the sector.”
Kate Carnell leaves ‘a lasting legacy’
Senator Cash thanked the outgoing and inaugural Ombudsman, Kate Carnell, for her “dedicated service to the small and family business community and her strong advocacy on their behalf over many years”.
“Ms Carnell leaves a significant legacy and has provided a solid foundation on which to build,” she said.
Similarly, Mr Billson thanked his predecessor for her unwavering commitment to the small-business sector over the past five years and her “lasting legacy” as a “a fierce advocate for Australian small businesses”.
Several members of industry also celebrated Ms Carnell’s successes as the inaugural ASBFEO, with the Commercial & Asset Finance Brokers Association of Australia (CAFBA) stating that she had “served with distinction”.
“CAFBA thanks Ms Carnell for her outstanding work and for the level of access and collaboration that CAFBA has enjoyed with the ASBFEO at all levels over that period,” the association said.
The broker association said it looked forward to continuing to work closely with the ASBFEO under Bruce Billson’s leadership, adding that CAFBA has “enjoyed a long and successful working relationship with Mr Billson”, with former CAFBA president and current chair of the CAFBA advocacy committee, David Gandolfo, having acted as an adviser to Mr Billson’s Ministerial Advisory Council in 2014 and 2015.
Likewise, Peter White AM, managing director of the Finance Brokers Association of Australia (FBAA), commented: “It is great to see Bruce Billson being appointed as the new Small Business Ombudsman.
“I’ve had the pleasure of having conversations with Mr Billson in the past, when he was in a ministerial position.
“He is a businessman who has been through the tough times of business as well as the good, and he is very well suited to the role.
“The interactions we’ve had have all been positive and personable, and as the new ombudsman he will serve small business well,” Mr White said.