Newfound Labor cabinet clout

Julia Gillard's cabinet reshuffle has given Brendan O’Connor the opportunity to significantly shift Labor's fortunes at the next election, while Stephen Smith now faces a hefty decision.

All weekend all focus was on the appointment of Bob Carr as Foreign Minister. Yet as defence minister Stephen Smith will have a much bigger role in determining the future of the Australian nation. And, although he may not realise it yet, the new small business minister, Brendan O’Connor, has the opportunity as a cabinet minister to make the next election much closer than currently appears likely from the opinion polls.

Just as John Faulkner before him desperately wanted an exit from the defence minister post, so Stephen Smith really worked hard to gain foreign affairs and leave defence. Faulkner had grave suspicions that the Joint Strike Fighter was a lemon and did not want to be the Australian who signed us into this disaster.

Stephen Smith must have similar suspicions. The material which was presented to the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade means that a large number of Smith’s colleagues now know there is grave danger that the Department of Defence has been misleading successive defence ministers under John Howard, Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard (Five thorny issues for Gillard, February 29).

The key decisions about the JSF will now be made on the watch of Stephen Smith and if he gets it wrong that mistake will be with him for the rest of his life.

Brendan O’Connor‘s seat of Gorton is in between the seats held by Julia Gillard and Industrial Relations Minister Bill Shorten. The seat held by Attorney-General Nicola Roxon abuts that of Brendan O’Connor and Bill Shorten.

Western Melbourne is now the political powerhouse of Australia. Brendan O’Connor has followed a string of small business ministers who were either not interested in the portfolio or did not have the clout to stop other departments from attacking small enterprise Australia.

As a result, small enterprises of Australia have been shown very little mercy by the Rudd and Gillard governments. Wayne Swan declares that Australia is being dominated by vested interests. Swan has played a significant role in bringing that about by his unrestrained attacks on small business.

Julia Gillard was lucky. At the last election, Tony Abbott never understood small business and did not pursue the issues. Had he done so I have no doubt be he would now be prime minister.

Abbott now understands that small business is a soft underbelly for Julia Gillard and will really pursue it at the next election. It is easy to say that Brendan O’Connor was given the small business portfolio and a cabinet seat because he and Julia Gillard are neighbours (in a seat sense) and mates.

But the western suburbs of Melbourne where Gillard and O’Connor live are full of small enterprises that have been ravaged by the misguided policies of the Rudd and Gillard governments. Brendan O’Connor is a former union official but he would have to be plain stupid not to pick up the bad vibes (and that is not the case). His appointment has the potential to win a lot more votes for Labor at the next election than Bob Carr ever will.

O’Connor will know the carbon tax is hated by small enterprises but there is nothing he can do about that. The first thing he can do is re-instate the old ALP promise to introduce fair contract rules for small enterprises. Smaller enterprises are really being minced at the moment and Tony Abbott has excellent policies in this area. O’Connor should simply copy them.

The Australian Tax Office has been merciless in sending small enterprises to the wall. There is almost fiendish Canberra joy in driving them into the dirt. It's true that the tax people were too lax in previous years but under Rudd and Gillard the tax office has gone too far the other way because there has been no worthwhile minister for small enterprise to help.

Western Australia, Victoria, South Australia and Queensland (assuming the Coalition wins) are acting in the national interest and opposing the Commonwealth’s badly drafted Occupation Health and safety rules which it wants across the nation. It’s relatively easy problem to fix and Brendan should bang a few wooden cabinet heads together and fix it. Big companies have the power fight badly drafted legislation but small enterprises will just be minced.

Treasury wants to quadruple the paperwork for small enterprises, starting with the home building industry. Many in O’Connor’s electorate are builders who really do not need a whole lot of bureaucratic paper work that will raise only token sums because it will simply boost the cash economy. Again, bash those silly cabinet heads together Brendan.

There are few other things he can do but that’s are enough to start with. If he does the right thing in those areas then there will be a lot of votes going Julia’s way at the next election.