Australia’s fourth small business minister under Labor since 2007, Brendan O’Connor, says the ministry’s elevation to Cabinet reflects the Government’s commitment to small business, which is suffering “challenging times”.
A surprise appointment to the role, O’Connor has so far been tight-lipped on his plans for the sector, but says the Government is “very much focused on the need to ensure that small business can operate effectively in this country.”
Speaking to Sky News yesterday about his plans, O’Connor said he would look at the case “being made by small business advocates like COSBOA [Council of Small Business of Australia] about the need to cut red tape and remove unnecessary regulation.”
“I’ll also be looking at the way in which small business intersects with those laws which govern bigger businesses.”
“I think it’s fair to say that we want to make sure that we don’t impede the capacity for SME companies to prosper.”
“That’s why in less than four months you’ll see a tax cut to those small businesses from 30% to 29%, a year ahead of bigger businesses.”
O’Connor added there was no better way to place small business at the centre of decision-making – as advocated by COSBOA, the Coalition and the Greens – than to put the ministry in Cabinet.
“It’s a reflection of the Government’s priority for small business and I feel very honoured to be the first Cabinet minister dedicated to this sector.”
O’Connor also said that Australia’s two million-odd small businesses, which employ about five million Australians and add to more than 20% of gross domestic product, are facing “challenging times.”
The comments follow criticisms from shadow small business minister Bruce Billson that the elevation of the small business portfolio to Cabinet “will do nothing for small business if the Government doesn’t cut red tape and scrap the carbon tax.”
“You just have to look at Labor’s record on small business to know it has been dragged kicking and screaming by the sector to follow the Coalition’s lead on partnering with small business by giving the sector a Cabinet level minister,” Billson said.
“Having an ex-unionist representing the views of small businesses around the Cabinet table as a bolt-on role won’t exactly instil confidence in the sector while he has been party to the co-ordinated Government/union assault on independent contractors and the self-employed.”
“I feel for the small business community which will have to explain its concerns to yet another Labor Small Business Minister who will no doubt pay more lip service to the engine room of the economy which has been largely ignored by the Government.”
The promotion of the small business ministry to Cabinet has been welcomed by COSBOA and the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
Before his appointment as Small Business Minister and Minister for Housing and Homelessness on Friday, O’Connor served as Minister for Human Services and Minister Assisting for School Education.
Before entering Parliament in 2001, O’Connor was a union official for 15 years and served as the assistant national secretary of the Australian Services Union.
O’Connor’s appointment came as part of a Cabinet reshuffle sparked by former prime minister Kevin Rudd’s leadership challenge, and the surprise resignation of outgoing Small Business Minister Mark Arbib from Parliament.
Arbib, nicknamed a ‘faceless man’ for his role in the removal of Rudd from the prime ministership in 2010, had been small business minister for just two months. He succeeded Nick Sherry and Craig Emerson as small business ministers under Labor since 2007.
Arbib – who also served as Assistant Treasurer, Sports Minister and manager of Government business in the Senate – said he stood down because he wanted to spend more time with his young family and see the Labor Party heal after a tumultuous couple of years.
He had earlier told SmartCompany that payroll tax, rents and slashing red tape had emerged as key issues for small business during his consultations with stakeholders. Arbib also said that shoring up confidence and ensuring small business continues to employ people were his priorities for the ministry.
Other moves in Friday’s reshuffle included the appointment of former New South Wales Premier Bob Carr as foreign minister, and the promotion of David Bradbury as assistant treasurer.