Prime Minister Scott Morrison has reshuffled the Australian Public Service (APS) and there are lots of changes to Departments most relevant to many channel businesses.
Responsibility for small business is one of the big changes.
Today small business is tended by the Department of Employment, Skills, Small and Family Business. That Department will be “consolidated” into a new Department of Education, Skills and Employment.
But a new Department of Industry, Science, Energy and Resources will assume “small business functions”
The Department of Industry, Innovation and Science will also go, to become part of a new Department of Industry, Science, Energy and Resources.
Communications will move out of a department tied to the Arts and into a new Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Communications.
The changes won’t see any ministers moved on: Morrison’s announcement of the changes said “Having fewer departments will allow us to bust bureaucratic congestion, improve decision-making and ultimately deliver better services for the Australian people.”
COMMENT: These changes sounds great in theory, but in practice moving people and responsibilities between Departments is seldom swift and disruptions are near-inevitable.
The symbolism of the changes are also notable.
Moving Communications into an infrastructure portfolio makes sense as it suggests overdue recognition that in the digital age, communications tools are as important as roads or railways.
Dropping any departmental reference to innovation is a significant move as it ends Turnbull-era emphasis on R&D as an essential economic engine.
Pushing Small Business into Industry is worthy – politicians are always talking up small business’ contribution to the economy – but the rationale for decoupling it from employment and skills matters is not clear, especially as smaller businesses struggle to attract and retain talent.
And then there’s the fact that the Small Business ministry is a merry-go-round appointment: Australia has had 11 ministers in the portfolio since 2007 and none have served for three years.
Channel businesses don’t get a lot of recognition from Australia’s governments, as politicians equate small business with building sites or factories. At first sight, these changes suggest even less interest in our industry.