Business groups have welcomed Brendan O’Connor’s appointment as Small Business Minister, but expect the former union official to quickly get to work on meaningful reforms in the sector, especially when it comes to cutting red tape.
Last week, Prime Minister Julia Gillard confirmed O’Connor has moved into Cabinet to take the position of Minister for Small Business, in addition to Minister for Housing and Homelessness.
O’Connor replaces former Small Business Minister Mark Arbib – who held the title for just two months – and is the fourth minister to assume the role in four years.
The Council of Small Business Australia executive director Peter Strong said the focus on the sector “can now come from within Australian Cabinet and not from a junior portfolio”.
Similarly, the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry is “particularly pleased” the small business portfolio is now included in Cabinet, and spoke highly of O’Connor.
“Brendan O’Connor is well known to ACCI in his former roles in the employment participation and schools ministries,” ACCI chief executive Peter Anderson said in a statement.
According to the Institute of Public Accountants, O’Connor’s appointment will provide “more certainty” and an opportunity to address small business issues, including the compliance burden.
“Australia’s two million small businesses have experienced a turbulent few years and now is the time for meaningful reform,” IPA chief executive Andrew Conway says.
“We look forward to working closely with Minister O’Connor to bring small business to the forefront of government policy.”
The Australian Retailers Association also highlighted its expectations for O’Connor.
ARA executive director Russell Zimmerman says he looks forward to seeing O’Connor continue the work of the Retail Council of Australia, which was founded by Arbib.
“Retailers do fear some backlash from the recent leadership challenge and resulting Cabinet reshuffle,” Zimmerman says.
“However, we are confident the new ministry will ensure swift and acute focus on the task of governance.”
“The ARA would ultimately like to see the retail sector, incorporating services and tourism, elevated to Cabinet.”
Shadow small minister Bruce Billson said the elevation of the small business portfolio to Cabinet will do nothing for the sector unless red tape is reduced and the carbon tax is scrapped.
“Labor is desperately trying to catch up to the Coalition’s lead on cutting red tape or showing interest in a small business and family enterprise ombudsman,” Billson said in a statement.
“The best thing a Labor small business minister can do is see that the carbon tax is dumped to restore confidence in the sector and the wider economy.”
“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.”
“[O’Connor] has been party to the coordinated government-union assault on independent contractors and the self-employed.”
O’Connor has been a Labor Party member of the House of Representatives since 2001, representing the division of Burke from 2001 to 2004, and the division of Gorton since 2004.
He began his career with the now defunct Municipal Employees Union of Victoria. He was then assistant national secretary with the Australian Services Union before entering politics.
O’Connor is a member of the Independent Left faction of the Victorian branch of the Labor party, more commonly known as ‘Ferguson Left’.
In December 2005, he was elected to the position of chair of Labor’s Industrial Relations Taskforce, which investigated the effects of the Howard Government’s WorkChoices legislation.
After Kevin Rudd’s election to federal Labor leader in late 2006, O’Connor was appointed shadow parliamentary secretary for Industrial Relations.
Following Labor’s victory at the 2007 Federal Election, O’Connor became Minister for Employment Participation. In 2009, O’Connor was announced as the Minister for Home Affairs.
Then in 2010, Gillard allocated increased responsibilities to O’Connor. He became Minister for Home Affairs, Minister for Justice, and Minister for Privacy and Freedom of Information.