Small business survives Morrison’s cabinet reshuffle and Michaelia Cash emerges with additional sway

Acting Minister for Industrial Relations Michaelia Cash. Source: AAP Image/Lukas Coch.

Small-business advocates are responding positively to news of Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s new cabinet as the sector waits to see how the Coalition will implement its business reform agenda.

Unveiled on Sunday afternoon, Morrison has, as expected, kept small business in cabinet by handing the portfolio back to West Australian Senator Michaelia Cash.

Cash has also been promoted to Minister for Employment and will now serve under the new title of Minister for Employment, Skills, Small and Family Business, which will see her oversee the Department of Jobs and Small Business.

Previously the department worked with both Cash and now retired Liberal frontbencher Kelly O’Dwyer, but in the new cabinet, employment (jobs) and industrial relations have been split up, with the latter handed to Attorney General Christian Porter.

Cash was Employment Minister under the Turnbull government but was demoted last August amid controversy over her alleged role in giving advance notice to journalists about a police raid on the Australian Workers’ Union (AWU).

The allegations have dominated small-business Senate estimates for the better part of a year, with Labor politicians opting to ask questions about the scandal over matters more relevant to the portfolio.

Helping Cash in her new role will be former assistant minister to the prime minister Steve Irons, who appears to be taking on several aspects of Cash’s old role as Assistant Minister for Vocational Education, Training and Apprenticeships.

Cash and Irons will be responsible for overseeing progress on three of the Coalition’s most quantifiable election promises: a pledge to create 1.25 million jobs, 250,000 new small businesses and 80,000 apprenticeships over five years.

Both will need to work through the implications of $525 million in planned funding for an overhaul of vocational education and training, as well as ongoing efforts to set up the Australian Business Growth Fund and Business Securitisation Fund.

Under the Turnbull government, Cash was responsible for the maligned PaTH internship scheme, which has received criticism from both employer and worker advocates for being poorly thought out and implemented.

More recently she has worked closely with then assistant treasurer Stuart Robert on a myriad of small-business reforms, including tax office dispute resolution and improving payment times.

Cash is well regarded by small-business advocates who work with the department and her re-appointment was welcomed on Monday morning.

“Very pleased to see Senator Cash back. The Senator was doing a very good job and now with the consistency of having the same minister we can achieve more,” Council of Small Business Organisations Australia (COSBOA) chief executive Peter Strong tells SmartCompany.

Strong says the decision to include employment is an opportunity to improve the advice and support small businesses are receiving in the vocational training and jobs space.

“Good to see Steve Irons pick up VET as the Assistant Minister. My dealings with him have been good and he comes from a business background,” Strong says.

Michael Sukkar will replace Stuart Robert as Assistant Treasurer, an important role for the small-business sector, as it deals closely with the tax office and other red tape matters.

Full plate for industrial relations minister 

The new government is under pressure to deliver on its small-business policy agenda following its election victory earlier this month, with industrial relations reform, unfair contract terms and power prices front of mind.

With the role of Attorney General carrying a significant workload, Porter has a busy three years ahead dealing with various pitches for overhauling Australia’s workplace law regime.

Uncertainty over the entitlements of casual workers is still swirling in the wake of pre-election concern about double-dipping on entitlements, while small business ombudsman Kate Carnell is preparing to run the case for unfair dismissal reform up the flag pole in the coming weeks.

Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (ACCI) boss James Pearson says the task ahead of the re-elected Morrison government will be challenging.

“The stage is set for sensible, practical improvements in industrial relations that will help employers and employees cooperate in organising their work,” Pearson said in a statement.

On the energy front, Angus Taylor, who in the lead up to the election was promising small business a material improvement in power prices, will oversee the rejoined energy and emissions reduction portfolio.

It will be a big job, with plans already in the works to underwrite new energy supply and soon-to-be-implemented reforms aimed at making the retail market work better for SMEs.

Meanwhile, Queensland MP Karen Andrews will be given another shot at innovation in her continued role as Minister for Industry, Science and Technology.

Andrews last week said she prefers to see startups as “young small businesses” in an interview with StartupSmart.

Fintech businesses have won another ear in Canberra though, with Victorian Senator Jane Hume stepping up to Assistant Minister for Superannuation, Financial Services and Financial Technology.

While Stuart Robert has lost his job as Assistant Treasurer he will move into a new role as Minister for Government Services.

MYOB chief executive Tim Reed welcomed that move, saying a particular focus on improving government service delivery will be welcomed by small business.

“[Small businesses] want the government to simplify – removing red tape, streamlining the BAS and GST reporting processes and increasing their digital service offering,” he said on Monday morning.

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