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O'Connor joins The Business -

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O'Connor joins The Business

Updated March 16, 2012 00:30:09

Small Business Minister Brendan O'Connor joins The Business to discuss what Australian businesses
can expect from his appointment to the portfolio.


TICKY FULLERTON, PRESENTER: New Small Business Minister Brendan O'Connor has been in the job for
just a week and what a week it's been. The on again, off again tax cut dominated the news and the
Government's time. Well Brendan O'Connor says he's been listening to small business, so what should
business expect from the man in the new seat at the cabinet table? I spoke to the minister a short
time ago.

Brendan O'Connor, welcome to the program.


TICKY FULLERTON: Now, four Small Business ministers in four years and I see COSBOA's Peter Strong
has said that 53 per cent of self-employed voters backed Mr Rudd in 2007 and only 38 per cent
backed Julia Gillard in 2010. Just how are you going to win small business back?

BRENDAN O'CONNOR: Well, it's not just about - it's not about winning them back, it's about
listening to their concerns and responding effectively. And so I'll be listening to Peter Strong
from COSBOA and others and small businesses directly about what else we can do to help. But in the
meantime, as you know, the announcement for me to be in cabinet as Minister for Small Business is
very recent and I think a very timely and good announcement because it allows me to be around the
table where the big decisions are made. And also ...

TICKY FULLERTON: Indeed it does, and many in small business would say that's a fantastic thing. But
it seems to me that there was something of an "Ah ha!" moment when government realised that it was
in real trouble with business quite recently, perhaps when Kevin Rudd was pushing business
relationships before the spill. And it seems to me again that we've had this, "Quick, let's get the
Prime Minister announcing a business forum with COAG and have a photo opp' with her and ACCI and
the BCA, and then oooh, quick, let's have a small business commissioner and then another photo opp'
with Peter Strong." This seems to me to be more crisis management.

BRENDAN O'CONNOR: Well I think that's unfair a depiction of the Government's decisions. In fact,
for example, the decision to provide a tax cut to incorporated companies from 1st July and tax
relief for literally millions of small businesses didn't arise just recently, it was something that
was in the pipeline as a result of the initiative to enact the Mineral Resources Rent Tax so that
we could spread the mineral wealth across the country in areas which are really confronted with
some significant challenges.

TICKY FULLERTON: With respect, you've got yourself into a bit of a pickle there too, I think,
because it looks as though you might end up with a two-tiered tax system. And we've got in the
Financial Review this morning businessmen like NAB chair Michael Chaney saying a two-tiered system
would lead to rorting. Another eminent businessman, Dick Warburton, coming out and saying that the
split is silly. I mean, these are very serious voices.

BRENDAN O'CONNOR: Well as I've said, we listen to the business community generally and they've got
- they're entitled to their view and we take their view seriously, but in the end the Government
will make decisions about what's in the interests of business generally and what's in the interests
of small business in the case of myself. And I know that there are some real issues because of the
high Australian dollar and because there's been some issues around consumer confidence coming out
of the Global Financial Crisis and we need to respond to that. And I think the decisions to provide
support to small business are the correct ones. What I find quite frankly extraordinary is the
Liberal Party opposing these tax cuts.

TICKY FULLERTON: Alright. Let's move on to some of the issues that small business is concerned
about. Unfair dismissal really high on the list. There's a tremendous amount of confusion over wage
rates and the lack of support for small business employers. Peter Strong said, "Our biggest problem
is when we ring Fair Work out - we find out - to find out a wage rate, they say, 'Everything you
say can be used against you,' and then at the end they say, 'You need to get external advice.'"
What kind of system can't tell you how much to pay people?

BRENDAN O'CONNOR: Well I think we've done lot of work in this area. Firstly, it's fair to say that
the efforts by the Opposition when in Government to rationalise awards was a complete and utter
failure. And I've said to Peter Strong and I've said to other small business advocates that if they
seek to improve an area of public policy or application of policy, then they should come to me, and
if they convince me, I'll seek to convince others. That's the test I put: that if it's in the
interests of the country and of course the interests of small business and it's doable, then
certainly I'll prosecute that argument within government.

TICKY FULLERTON: Another case you'll hear being put very strongly is penalty rates and how penalty
rates are crippling small business.

BRENDAN O'CONNOR: Well, again, I mean, primarily their responsibility will be to talk directly to
the Workplace Relations Minister, but I will listen to them about what they say are adverse impacts
and I again want to hear the case and the arguments from them. I've only been in this role now for
just over a week. I have had the good fortune of meeting ACCI and meeting COSBOA.

TICKY FULLERTON: It hasn't been lost on business large and small that you've come from a background
on the union side and so these issues of industrial relations, penalty rates and that sort of thing
are very important. It'd be very interesting to see what your views will be at a time when areas
like manufacturing and services are really struggling and flexibility is key.

BRENDAN O'CONNOR: Yeah, sure, and I understand people have looked at my background and said, "What
will I bring to the role?" Well what I'll bring to this role is my absolute desire to assist small
business. Small business people - that's what they are, they're people, their hard-working
Australians. They deserve advocacy. They deserve a champion within government and I believe they
deserve one around the cabinet table and they've got one in me. And I'd rather people assess my
role and my performance on outcomes not where I once worked or whatever.

TICKY FULLERTON: Finally, Minister, can I ask you one last one on the carbon tax? Recently the
Shopping Centre Council of Australia admitted that business costs will rise for tenants as a result
of a carbon tax, including electricity costs. Do you accept that the carbon tax will bring yet
another layer of cost and red tape for small business?

BRENDAN O'CONNOR: The cost in fact of - or the proportion of small businesses costs in the area of
electricity is two per cent. We think there'll be a 10 per cent increase on that so it is 0.2 per
cent for that business. And we expect them to pass that 0.2 per cent on to the consumer and the
consumer is provided support through tax cuts and pension payments. This is, I think, a much better
approach than imposing a $1,300 impost upon households, which of course is Tony Abbott's scheme.

TICKY FULLERTON: Minister, I do acknowledge that you are one week into the job and I hope the
changes that you and the Government have made will actually be better for small business. Thank you
so much. We look forward to talking to you again through the year.

BRENDAN O'CONNOR: Yeah, thank you very much, Ticky.