5 September 2014

APEC SME Ministerial Meeting, Shanghai

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This speech was given by the Hon Bruce Billson at the APEC SME Ministerial Meeting in Shanghai, China.

Thank you Minister Miao.

Australia would like to thank China for its excellent organisation of this meeting where we can discuss ways to use innovation to give our SMEs an edge in an increasingly globalised economy.

Colleagues, Australia is open for business and we continue to welcome and encourage commerce, investment and trade within and between APEC economies.

Across the APEC regions, our SMEs hold the key to future economic growth, improved job prospects, higher incomes and better living standards.

That’s why the Australian Government’s plan is to energise and unleash private enterprise, and SMEs are at the forefront of our ambitions – enabling entrepreneurship, nurturing the enterprise ecosystem and creating the conditions for private sector initiative.

With two million Australian micro and small businesses, getting the economic conditions right to encourage even a modest percentage of our SMEs to expand and to evolve, innovate, to develop new services and products, hire another person or to inspire and encourage others in to embracing enterprise, the benefits for our economy would be enormous.

This is the case for all our APEC economies and why ambitions for accelerated rates of growth and incomes must embrace strategies to optimise the SME contribution and potential in our economies.

I believe the particular strengths, opportunities and challenges before family enterprises when facing economic change, market disrupters and growth and export ambitions warrant closer collaborative examination.

When the dining room table is also the board room table, how do we support family dynamics better aligning with economic dynamism and business innovation.

Decision making, enhancing managerial capacity, bringing in external expertise, succession planning, accessing finance and new markets.

The Minister for Small Business is a dedicated Cabinet-level position supported by the lead economic, analytic, policy and strategy portfolio of Treasury.

We are working hard to reduce red-tape compliance costs by $AUD1 billion per year to relieve unnecessary burdens and government impositions that land most heavily on our smaller enterprises.

The taxes that have been a drag on our competitiveness and added unjustifiably to input costs or discouraged investment have been repealed. A planned company tax cut aims to incentivise and reward investment and growth.

A comprehensive review of our anti-trust (competition laws), unfair contract terms remedies and franchising reforms or aim to ensure that efficient businesses, big and small, can thrive and prosper in a fair and healthy competitive environment.

Sound policy footings and a supportive enterprise ecosystem will encourage entrepreneurship, ambition, growth, enhanced competitiveness and innovation.

In many ways, finance is the oxygen of enterprise and I am encouraged by the focus this week to foster a wider range of SME financing mechanisms, including promotion of private equity, venture capital and new lending models from traditional sources.

Innovation will provide the key impetus by which we can pursue the enhanced growth goals we share.

Nimble SMEs can be more adaptable and flexible than larger businesses, able to exploit niche markets, to develop and embrace new technologies and respond profitably to economic disruptors.

SMEs are crucial drivers and ideal test beds for innovative ideas and processes and often pioneer new technologies or work practices, before they spread more broadly through the economy.

Data shows that Australian businesses that embrace technology to innovate are three times more likely to export and 18 times more likely to increase the number of target export markets than those that resist innovation.

Linking SMEs to innovation

We can support developing linkages between business and innovation.

Supporting research, innovation and collaboration, and then bringing insights, new knowledge and commercial support to market are key factors in our vision to build an innovative and growing economy.

In this regard, the Australian Government has in place a number of programmes supporting business innovation and industry-research collaboration, including with SMEs:

  • The new Entrepreneurs Infrastructure Programme will assist Australian businesses to build research connections, and to identify and develop the skills and knowledge they need to commercialise their idea, product or service.
  • Our R&D Tax Incentive encourages business to undertake research and development by allowing them to offset, through the Australian tax system, the costs of conducting eligible research activities.

We can help new and interesting businesses by connecting them with experienced private sector people who can be pathfinders with hands-on experience in building successful enterprises.

We can also be innovative in the services we provide to business and can facilitate SMEs to take advantage of the opportunities offered through digital technology.

Linking SMEs to the on-line world

The on-line world holds a multitude of opportunities for SMEs to access new markets and innovation in business processes, production, marketing, in fact any of the activities they need to develop, produce and promote their product or service.

With this in mind, the Australian Government is partnering with nine of our peak industry bodies to provide Digital Business Kits as a know how resource to encourage the embrace and application of new technologies.

Government efficiency and services to SMEs

When it comes to efficient and purposeful interaction with government, SMEs shouldn’t have to understand how government chooses to organise itself to do business and access information, services and programs.

With this in mind, a new-single-business service initiative will streamline the way Australian businesses access government information, services and programmes.

The initiative will include a streamlined and consolidated one-stop-shop web presence, call centre, and face-to-face business facilitation network to advise businesses on the most appropriate solution for their needs.

It will make information simple and easy to find and be available any time and on any device.

This is part of a key cultural change for our government – cutting red tape to put SMEs’ needs and interest ahead of bureaucratic administrative convenience.

Sharing ideas of this type is where APEC can show how valuable it can be for member economies.

Australian funded APEC project

Before I close, a brief advertisement if I may, about an Australian funded project being run through the APEC SME Working Group.

This workshop is being held in the Philippines in November that will enhance women-led SMEs’ capacity to internationalise and identify export opportunities.

The workshop aims to:

  • Identify impediments women-led SMEs face in accessing export markets
  • Identify key elements of successful export programs assisting women; and
  • Assist member economies enhance or develop their own export programs to assist women-led SMEs.

Women-led SMEs provide benefits to local communities that go beyond innovation and go to our economies embracing the full entrepreneurial potential of all of our citizens.

I would like to ask your economies to support this workshop.

Thank you.