The former deputy chair of the committee which called for ex Liberal minister Bruce Billson to be censured in 2018 has described Billson’s rumoured appointment to the role of Small Business Ombudsman as “disgraceful”.
The Australian Financial Review on Monday reported that Billson would take over from inaugural ombud Kate Carnell when her term ends on March 10, with Billson to receive a five-year term.
Billson was censured by parliament in 2018 after it was found that, years earlier, he had failed to declare payments that he had received from the Franchise Council of Australia (FCA) while he was still employed by the government.
He took on the role of executive director at the lobbying group after being demoted by Malcolm Turnbull in 2015, but began receiving a $75,000 salary from the FCA months before his retirement from politics.
On Tuesday assistant shadow minister for government accountability Pat Conroy — who was also deputy chair of the privileges committee that investigated Billson — described the rumoured appointment as “disgraceful”. He noted that a censure motion is “incredibly significant”.
“This government is clearly out of touch and has clearly forgotten that only two years ago, Mr Billson was censured by the House of Representatives on a unanimous resolution,” he said.
“His own party said his behaviour was wrong, it was incorrect, it besmirched other Members of Parliament. How is he fit for this role?”
The Council of Small Business Organisations Australia said the appointment, if true, was “great news”.
“COSBOA identifies Mr Billson as one of the best performed small business ministers in Australia’s history,” it said in a statement.
“He achieved remarkable outcomes for the small business community. This includes profound and necessary changes to unfair contract terms, a major increase in the threshold for ‘instant tax write-off’ that continues to this day and the championing of necessary changes in competition policy, the first in many years, that provided more certainty for small businesses.”
COSBOA also thanked Carnell for her work.
Carnell, a former Liberal ACT chief minister, was appointed as the first ombud in early 2016, replacing the position of then-Australian small business commissioner Mark Brennan.