Brendan O’Connor, the newly appointed Small Business Minister, says any Government worth its salt should be providing opportunities to small business, and has rejected the idea that his union background makes him unsuitable for the job.
Speaking after a remarkable fortnight for political attention on small business, in which the portfolio was placed in cabinet and a small business commissioner was announced, O’Connor pledged to work hard to “do what else we can to enable small business to have the conditions to succeed”.
“I’m certainly open to… ideas and suggestions about the best way forward,” O’Connor told SmartCompany, adding he rejected the idea that a minister needed to have run their own business in order to do a good job.
“That would be a foolish thing to think. You don’t place people into portfolios purely because of their personal history,” he said.
“I don’t remember too many medical doctors being minister for health, or soldiers being minster for defence or people necessarily having the direct experience.”
“Your job is to be a champion for that portfolio, and I can assure you I will advocate strongly for the small business community in Cabinet.”
“The test… I’ve put out to the sector is if you convince me of a good idea, I’ll seek to convince others within the government.”
“I think people in the end will judge me on the outcomes, as they should.”
O’Connor is Labor’s fourth small business minister since 2007, and was appointed after his predecessor Mark Arbib stood down from Parliament, just two months into the job. He says he’s likely to stay in the job until the next election, saying “you’d be confident believing that the Government has settled its portfolio in that regard”.
He also paid tribute to his successors – Arbib, along with Craig Emerson and Nick Sherry – for listening to the sector’s concerns, and providing tax relief in the form of instant asset tax write-offs and the coming cut in the company tax rate for small business to 29%.
But he was tight-lipped on the prospect of further tax reform, specifically the introduction of a loss carryback scheme or the establishment of a new small business entity, and did not rule out further cuts to small business in the May budget – saying the Government would not resile from its commitment to return the budget to surplus in 2012-13.
Before his appointment as Small Business Minister and Minister for Housing and Homelessness, O’Connor served as Minister for Human Services and Minister Assisting for School Education. He worked as a union official before entering parliament in 2001.