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Dr Craig Emerson: Pollie wants a cricket bat

Dr. Craig Emerson, Minister for Small Business.

Easier BAS, faster Net: Craig Emerson, Minister for Small Business, goes into bat for you!

He’s Australia’s new Minister for Small Business, a bona fide Doctor of Economics who, it seems, harbors a secret desire to be a cricket commentator. Marguerite McKinnon caught up with Dr. Craig EmersonMP, as he begins his first innings.

It was supposed to be a straightforward interview for the newly crowned Minister for Small Business, but when it came to talking politics, Craig Emerson popped out cricket analogies like a seasoned Tony Greg; his leg break deliveries flew from leg side, to offside, in entirely different angles.

In between the allusions to the game so favored by many of our nation’s pollies, past and present, the Minister explained his top priority was to ensure the various Government departments could cope with change before he started the promised election policy roll-out.

Craig Emerson: “The runs that you get on the board are then on the board.”

Well, you can’t argue with that logic! He continues;

“If you like, you’re hitting fours and sixes instead of singles once you’ve got yourself really set at the wicket. I want to make sure, now that we’re in, that we get well established, and then we can hit some boundaries rather than doing a little leg glance here or there.”

Anyone walking by would think this jovial character was about to don the Baggy Green and go into bat. And in a sense he is. In this case, Dr. Emerson wants to spearhead history-making changes by taking to the crease on behalf of small businesses.

But first, we have to clear the cricket-analogy boundary.

MM: “How hard will it be to implement the first things on your ‘To Do’ list?”

CE: “Ah, well I don’t think it will be enormously hard. Let’s just get it right. Everyone, no doubt, will be thinking that everything should happen yesterday. We will get early runs on the board, continuing with the cricket analogy…”

MM: “Well, it is summer.”

CE: “Exactly! (Laughs) If we want to rack up a good score it’s not very smart to walk to the wicket and say, ‘I’ll hit three fours and a six in the first over.’ What happens is you tend to get out! And what I’d rather do is get in, get the foundations of the innings established, and then we can hit some fours and sixes.

“So when people look back on it they’ll say, ‘Wow! That was a fantastic inning!’ But it ain’t so fantastic if you’ve hit one four and the second is a lofted drive and you’re caught.”

MM: “Wow, that’s very impressive! You should do some commentary on cricket.”

CE: (More laughter)

What can your Government do for you?

MM: “But, really, in fairness to people who aren’t into cricket, and want hardcore answers, what do you actually mean? Small businesses really need to know steps 1,2,3 and 4. They are looking for a new voice and want to have something concrete they can look forward to. What is your Government going to do about it?

CE: “Well, I’m going to implement our policies as quickly as we possibly can, consistent with good policy formulation and implementation.”

It’s couched in typical politician speak but, at last, some knocks. Dr. Emerson declares his main priority is to help small businesses flourish and expand in Australia.

And it’s no small task he’s been set, considering the collective small business community is worth four times the value of the Australian Stock Exchange… we’re talking trillions of dollars here.

“It’s no small task he’s been set, considering the collective small business community is worth four times the value of the Australian stock exchange” Addressing the skills shortage

The Minister says the biggest gripe he hears from small businesses is about the skills shortage: “The previous

The government did precious little about it and a Rudd Labor Government is hitting the ground running in terms of investing in skill creation in Australia.

“I think that’s an urgent task. Those skills won’t be created overnight, but if you don’t start somewhere, then the shortages will just become more and more acute with the aging of the population.

“In order for small businesses to be on a sustainable growth path they need to be able to gain access to skilled staff and that’s really been a very heavy constraint on small business expansion.”

Where’s our broadband already?

Of course, one of the biggest infrastructure issues for small businesses setting up shop, particularly in regional areas, is broadband. We’ve seen a lot of spins and heard a lot of premature declarations, particularly prior to the 2007 election, but we’re still waiting…

Like all of us involved in or reading Nett, the Minister says “faster broadband can help small and medium-sized businesses by improving online services and applications, increasing business productivity, and reducing administration costs.”

He’s also on our side regarding the price small businesses face to have a decent voice and data services: an OECD Survey released in July 2007 found that for Australian small businesses, phone and internet costs are the third highest in the world.

The Minister claims to be full across this and says, “Australian small businesses, therefore, need reliable fast broadband services that are good value for money, to take up opportunities and to compete in an increasingly global marketplace.”

It all sounds great, but what will we actually get, in a nutshell? The Minister says Labor’s National Broadband Network will “provide a platform to boost productivity growth, build and expand Australian businesses and give our children faster access to the world’s learning resources.”

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