GOVERNMENTS did not fully understand family-owned enterprises, whose long-term focus made them different from other small businesses, a parliamentary committee into family businesses has been told.
Family business operator Graham Packer said the government needed a family business minister and agencies that catered to family-owned business as distinct from a small business minister.
There was little understanding of the specific needs of family businesses, which were not always small businesses, and of the desire of owners to pass them on to the next generation, he said.
"Family businesses have long-term goals, commit their whole-of-life philosophy to making a success of their business in the hope that the next generation will follow on," Mr Packer wrote in his submission to the inquiry. "Surely that is the backbone for a strong and well-cared-for community."
Queensland-based Packer Leather has been in operation since 1891, employs 92 people and exports to 17 countries. Even so, it has struggled to get finance to buy the land its factory occupies, despite having had the same bank for more than a century.
Mr Packer said banks were too risk-averse and did not value innovation and research and development.
With submissions due on Friday, the Coalition's small business spokesman Bruce Billson is urging family businesses to take part in the inquiry.
"While family businesses have many advantages and a proven record of success, challenges exist, such as when the dining-room table becomes the boardroom table and family structures morph into business structures and with policies and laws that inadequately reflect the family business dynamics," he said.
"These challenges can include communication between family members, senior family members letting go of leadership and ownership control, providing liquidity for family owners to exit the business, securing adequate capital for growth and retirement, and choosing a suitable ownership structure for the next generation."
The committee was set up earlier this year to inquire into the challenges unique to family enterprises.
It is examining the contribution of family businesses to the economy and their structural, cultural, organisational, technological, geographical and governance challenges.
It is also looking at access to finance and insurance and what it costs them.
The Council of Small Business of Australia noted that family businesses could range from small to large businesses and had different needs.
"For the larger or wealthier families, where there have often been generations involved in the business, there is much complexity and more to be gained and lost.
"Therefore, structures, succession plans, inheritance and management styles become important and open to scrutiny and, at times, abuse," the council said in its submission.
"For the smaller, less wealthy businesses, they are more focused on day-to-day activity and making an income than they are on structures and succession planning.
"Indeed, in most cases, succession planning is about selling the business rather than passing the business onto family members."
It said more research was needed, including determining the number of wealthy family groups and what sectors they were found in, and the number of family members employed in small business.
Peak body Family Business Australia said more information was needed to highlight the importance of family-owned enterprises to the economy.
"Australian governments have thus far failed to recognise and appreciate the importance of the family business sector, let alone introduce innovative policy designed to leverage the vast patient capital invested by Australian family businesses," it said in its submission.