The Abbott cabinet is unique

Tony Abbott’s new cabinet is about to unleash the pent-up political power of small business in Australia. Big business will have to make significant adjustments.

The ministry Tony Abbott has appointed for the 44th parliament is significantly different from almost all ministries in the past 43 parliaments – it includes a small business minister in the inner cabinet.

And that small business minister, Bruce Billson, is a firebrand for the cause. The influence of small business on the affairs of the Coalition cabinet will have some parallels to the influence of unions on ALP government cabinets. It is small business people who dominate Coalition membership and funding. There is considerable evidence they also delivered Abbott his big majority and played a key role in breaking the Greens-ALP control over the Senate.

Large companies and organisations (including the tax commissioner and other public servants) will need to take notice of the new cabinet structure because many will have to change the way they operate to conform to the new government emphasis on small business.

In most previous ministries from both sides, small business was attached to another portfolio and rarely in the inner cabinet.

The portfolio was often occupied by an inexperienced minister or one on the way out. The Rudd-Gillard governments had at least six small business ministers few of whom showed any real interest in the portfolio.

In the Abbott government four of the 12 points of business change a Coalition government will bring to Australia deeply involve Billson. His influence will extend into many other areas including access to broadband (Abbott's 12-point plan to transform Australia, September 9). 

Most of the one million jobs the Coalition has promised to create will be in small business so Billson’s strategies are pivotal to whether the government succeeds or fails in one if its key objectives.

There is going to be public fury from shopping centre owners, franchisers and many large organisations when Billson introduces a change number three from the 12 point Abbott plan – making contracts with small enterprises subject to the fair contract rules that currently apply to consumers.

Most big companies and government body lawyers routinely prepare contracts that protect the large organisation from almost all eventualities but in the process the agreements become totally unfair to small enterprises.

Encouraged by the previous government Billson believes that the tax commissioner has been using his own rules to determine when a person is legitimately an independent contractor rather than the law of the land. And often tax officials have been very threatening to independent contractors. That will stop and that means that a lot more people can now be independent contractors, which will greatly increase the flexibility and productivity of the Australian work force. But of course it does not mean that people who clearly have an employment relationship can be independent contractors. However, any independent contractor who is still being illegally persecuted by tax officials should go straight to Billson. It’s time for the tax officials to obey the law in this area.

Along with Tony Abbott and most other ministers, Billson believes that there is enormous scope for deregulation across the whole face of federal government administration. Deregulation will make it easier to operate a small business and employ people and/or enter into agreements with independent contractors – it’s key part of the one million job creation program.

Of course it’s one thing to be a small business firebrand in opposition and another to take up the cause in cabinet. But Billson has been waiting six long years for this chance and is unlikely to be backward, particularly as he has the support of Tony Abbott.

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