A brief history of small business in Australia, 1970-2010

DOIhttps://doi.org/10.1108/JEPP-08-2012-0044
Pages222-236
Date14 October 2014
Publication Date14 October 2014
AuthorMichael T. Schaper
SubjectStrategy,Entrepreneurship,Business climate/policy
A brief history of small business
in Australia, 1970-2010
Michael T. Schaper
Curtin Business School, Curtin University, Perth, Australia
Abstract
Purpose – The purpose of this paper is to provide an overview of the development of the SME sector
in Australia, concentrating on a number of key areas: small business definitions and numbers; the
role of government; the emergence of key industry groups; and the evolution of education, training and
research services.
Design/methodology/approach – The study is a result of extensive literature reviews, desk
research and the recollections of various participants in the field.
Findings – There have been major changes to the Australian small business sector over the last 40
years. In 1983-1984 there were an estimated 550,000 small firms, and by 2010 this had grown to
almost two million. Government involvement in, and support for, SMEs was virtually non-existent
before 1970. Following the delivery of the Wiltshire report (1971), however, both state and federal
governments responded by developing specialist advisory services, funding programmes and other
support tools. Virtually non-existent before the 1970s, several peak industry associations were formed
between 1977 and the 1990s. At the same time, formal education and teaching in the area exp anded in
the 1970s and 1980s and is now widespread.
Practical implications – Development of the small business sector in Australia has often paralleled
similar trends in other OECD nations. State and territory governments have often (but not always)
been the principal drivers of policy change.
Originality/value – There has been no little, if any,prior documentation of the evolution of the small
business sector in Australia in the last 40 years.
Keywords Education, Policy, History, Advice, Government, Industry association
Paper type General review
Introduction
Historical accounts of the development of small business are a relatively new phenomenon
in academe, even though small-scale enterprise is as old as human commercial endeavour.
Like many emergent disciplines, the focus of most small business researchers to date
has been on identifying, explaining and modelling the small enterprise phenomenon as it
currently exists; there has been little attempt to try and chronicle its evolution over time.
Yet such information is important for the development of the SME sector. Without
an understanding of how it has changed in size, what policy approaches have already
been attempted, and what mechanisms government has already put in place to deal
with small firms, it is extraordinarily difficult to develop an appropriate contemporary
policy framework for the sector.
Moreover, such historical analysis needs to take place at the national, rather than
global, level. All countries have their own political, economic, demog raphic and
geographical characteristics, each of which imp act on the SME sector. As Odaka
and Sawai (1999, p. 4) argue: “Given the inherent characteristics of high heterogeneity,
diversity, and complexity, small business can best be understood when it is placed in
its historical and regional context”.
Whilst there have been a number of histories written of SME development in
certain countries (see, e.g. Sato, 1989; Blackford, 2003; Forje, 2009; Jurado, 2010;
Marchesnay, 2011; Casson and Casson, 2013), there are still many other nations in
The current issue and full text archive of this journal is available at
www.emeraldinsight.com/2045-2101.htm
Received 30 August 2012
Revised 23 January 2013
25 January 2013
Accepted 25 January 2013
Journal of Entrepreneurship and
Public Policy
Vol. 3 No. 2, 2014
pp. 222-236
rEmeraldGroup PublishingLimited
2045-2101
DOI 10.1108/JEPP-08-2012-0044
222
JEPP
3,2

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