It has long been acknowledged by Coalition governments that small businesses are the engine room of the Australian economy.
Family businesses make up around 70 per cent of all businesses and hold a staggering $4.3 trillion in wealth.
Some of Australia’s most iconic firms and brands are family-owned. Many of them are start-ups and others go back several generations.
Given this point, it is not surprising that many Australians have a business in the family tree.
My grandparents’ story is an Australian classic. Soon after their marriage, Alec and Gwen started a small business from their rented home: she made felt ties and he sold them door-to-door. That entrepreneurial spirit later led them to open a milk bar. The business was on the ground floor and they lived above it: a picture of how intimately so many families live with their businesses.
Their business grew and evolved into a grocery store. They gave 30 years of their lives to it. They took risks and seized opportunities, they employed people, and they were proud to give their children the opportunities to go to school and university they never had.
I’m the beneficiary of all that hard work, and I couldn’t be prouder of what they achieved. It’s because of them that I have so much respect and passion for the dynamic, entrepreneurial people who make our country tick.
I also understand the unique challenges business families face.
The challenges of resolving conflict where deep emotions and loyalties are at stake.
The challenges of succession planning, where owners find it difficult to let go of something they’ve put their heart and soul into, and the business survival depends on this.
The challenges of getting the right governance structure in place, getting access to capital, and dealing with what can be at times burdensome regulation.
These can be contributing factors to the difficulty of not only starting a business but for it to continue to survive and thrive.
At the same time, most family-run business owners will tell you they outperform non-family competitors, and feel better equipped to cope with hardship and uncertainty.
The Coalition government is conscious of the strengths of family businesses and the challenges.
We are determined to do more to help family businesses in Australia, and one of the main ways we’re helping is setting up for the first time an Australian small business and family enterprise Ombudsman.
The Ombudsman will be an advocate for small businesses and family enterprises and will act as a concierge for dispute resolution, to allow businesses to resolve disputes without resorting to costly litigation.
The legislation has passed and the Ombudsman will begin operating early next year.
In 2013, we also committed to unshackle small businesses from unnecessary red tape and regulations and the government is achieving this.
As the minister for small business and assistant treasurer, I am excited to have responsibility for this sector and other projects that will recognise the importance of family businesses in our economy and culture.
I look forward to bringing a passion born of personal experience and real gratitude to the task of helping small businesses.
Kelly O'Dwyer is the federal minister for small business and assistant treasurer.
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