Former small business minister Bruce Billson

Not content with running a protection racket for appalling serving ministers in its muppet cabinet, the Morrison government is now promoting former disgraced ones as well.

And no, I’m not talking about former federal Liberal president Nick Greiner going to New York as consul general this week, nor the litany of diplomatic posts — from George Brandis in London to Arthur Sinodinos as US ambassador. They undoubtedly remain distinguished servants of the people.

I’m talking about the expected appointment of discredited former minister Bruce Billson to the position of small business ombudsman to replace the respected Kate Carnell whose terms ends next month.

It sounds like such a small sinecure — but it has a big stench.

You see Billson is one of those very rare creatures whose unacceptable actions actually earned him an official censure from parliament. That’s no mean feat.

A quick recap of the lowlights of his career.

Then-small business minister Billson spat the dummy in 2015 after being demoted by Malcolm Turnbull. He was one of the very few moderates so quickly dumped by the new PM — which says a lot really.

It was blamed on a “personality clash” and small business groups decried his demise in the belief he had been their voice and was looking after their interests.

Making good on his threat to quit politics, Billson bowed out in the 2016 election and soon after, like any good pollie, announced he had taken a job as executive director with the powerful lobbying group the Franchise Council of Australia (FCA).

It should be noted that franchising was long one of the most contentious sectors in the small business portfolio — the source of countless complaints and inquiries, with the FCA representing the big franchisors who are the main enemy of the poor small franchisees.

But the real problem was that it emerged Billson had begun being paid by the FCA months before he actually left the building.

Yes, a politician was secretly pocketing a $75,000 salary from a controversial lobby group associated with his previous portfolio while still being paid by the taxpayers.

It was so egregious that he received that rarest of things: a formal censure by parliament following a privileges committee report that criticised his failure to list the external salary on the compulsory register of members’ interests.

But wait! There’s more!

The standing committee also found that at the same time he had received another undeclared payment, this one to his personal consultancy. Surprise. That too was from the FCA.

Fast forward a few years and Billson has moved on from the FCA — although he is on the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission’s small business and franchise advisory committee — and bounced back into a raft of other jobs leveraging his expertise in the sector from Judo Bank to BDC Partners and his own consultancy firm, the aptly name Agile Advisory.

That’s obviously nothing compared to the allure of a secure, easy, five-year government post as ombudsman — so long as there are no conflicts of interest of course.

And while Carnell was also a political appointment, a former Lib pollie and lobbyist, she has won plaudits for her advocacy for small business, especially in improving payment times.

That’s presumably not a problem for Billson who will obviously be recreating his role as Beaming Bruce, champion of small business.

But my favourite part is that the creation of the position of small business and family enterprise ombudsman was originally announced with great fanfare back in May 2014 by the then-small business minister. One Bruce Billson.

Forget jobs for the mates. If you plan well ahead it can be jobs for yourself. Or perhaps Billson is just a lucky guy.

Janine Perrett was the founder and host of Channel Nine’s long running Small Business Show.

Peter Fray

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