Small business; innovation; trade – a triptych that embodies Australia’s ‘real’ economy. It is also Minister Philip Dalidakis’ job description. In his interview with Neos Kosmos, Minister Dalidakis describes his commitment to the welfare of the sector, promising to cut red tape and payroll tax to ensure that Victorian small businesses stay at the centre of the community.

Victoria recently hosted the annual Small Business Festival. What aftertaste did it leave you with?
The Small Business Festival has just come to a close and we were delighted with how it went. I was lucky enough to attend several events throughout the festival and the thing that struck me most was the drive and optimism within the small business sector. There are so many people who either already run a small business or are considering starting one that have incredible enthusiasm and really want to help others in the industry. This year’s festival was the biggest we’ve ever had with more than 500 events across the state that inspired local businesses and offered tools and information to help business owners.

The Andrews’ Labor Government knows that small businesses are the heart and soul of their local communities and economies and employ almost half of all private sector employees.

If we can keep supporting them, and they can keep growing, then that means more jobs for Victorians. We are supporting these businesses by cutting payroll tax, cutting red tape, leading the push for fair payment within 30 days, providing services and programs through Small Business Victoria.

What makes small businesses important for the economy and the broader community?
Small businesses are crucial for two main reasons. In an economic sense they are obviously important because they create jobs and growth. They are also important socially. Small businesses, particularly in regional and rural Victoria, are often hubs and foundation stones of their communities. The local pub not only employs people but is a gathering place in times of celebration and hardship. The local café gives teenagers their first job, a taste of financial independence and a sense of belonging and purpose within the community.

While big business and corporations are also important, they can’t claim to be cornerstones of local communities the way small businesses can.

What is your take on the health of the sector today?
The sector is incredibly healthy with net growth of over 15,000 businesses last year alone. As with any industry, there will always be challenges, but we’re working with small business owners to combat those challenges.

We know that late payment interrupts cash flow, so we initiated the process to create the Australian Fair Payment Scheme.

We have been told that payroll tax is restraining growth, so we have slashed it. We know that small business owners in regional and rural Victoria sometimes have trouble accessing advice and information, so we have created the Small Business Bus which sends that expertise to them.

‘Innovation’ is becoming a keyword in any conversation about growth, development and the economy, but it often seems devoid of meaning (especially when it comes to political debate). What does innovation mean to you?
To me, innovation means people or organisations that do things differently or, of course, do new things entirely. It doesn’t need to be technology-based but it is best shown through disruption caused by companies using new technologies to solve old problems. Innovation is important because if companies and people in Victoria are innovating, it means we can compete on the global stage. Many of the jobs and industries that will drive our future economy are not even invented yet and innovation will be the creator of these jobs and industries.

For example, a Melbourne company such as 99Designs which took the often laborious and expensive process of finding a graphic designer and crowdsourced it; or Carsales, a veteran of Melbourne’s innovation scene and now worth over $1 billion, that company took the caryard and put it online at the touch of our fingertips; and everyone knows Seek’s incredible success story. In hindsight, these ideas seem simple, but it is this innovation which can create thousands of jobs for Victorians and make our companies some of the most successful in the world.

The main objective of any entrepreneurial activity is profit, but there are other aspects that remain either under-explored or just emerging, such as self-fulfilment, or social impact. How do you see the business culture evolving today?
Undoubtedly, more and more businesses are focusing on more than just the bottom line, which is a very good thing. This is being driven by staff who are worried about meaningful and purposeful employment as much as their take home salary.

More and more companies are focusing not just on what they do, but how they do it. Not just what they produce, but how it’s produced. Customers don’t just want a good product anymore, they want to know that the product has been ethically made and businesses have had to respond to that.

Businesses are also focusing more on staff well-being, both physical and mental, which is something that has been neglected for far too long.

I know political life can be extremely chaotic and stressful so, while I expect my staff to work hard, I also expect them to stay home when sick or knock off early on a Friday afternoon if it’s a quiet day. All businesses should be the same. Happy staff means more productive staff and the world is waking up to that.

How has your Greek background influenced your work in politics so far?
I am extremely proud of my Hellenic background. Earlier this year I was lucky enough to take part in the World Hellenic Inter-Parliamentary Assocation in Athens with other Greek MPs from all over the world. This was the second time I had attended and it was a great opportunity to meet other Greek MPs and learn about the impact they are having around the world. It also offered the chance to learn more about what we can do to support our Greek brothers and sisters back home.