Address to Fair Work Ombudsman Small Business Forum, RACV Club, Melbourne

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Thank you for your warm welcome today, and thank you to the Fair Work Ombudsman for hosting and organising this roundtable.

Small business and family enterprises are fundamental drivers of jobs, innovation and growth in Australia. We need to make sure that our workplace relations laws and regulations are meeting the needs of both employees and employers.

As at 30 June 2012, small businesses employed around 4.6 million Australians – this represents about 43 per cent of private sector employment.

We see small business as the future of the over the horizon economy. We believe there is huge potential for small business to contribute to the growth of the economy and boost employment

But we have to make it easier for small business to employ people.

We need to make sure that we are providing employers with information through the right channels to make sure they know their obligations.

As part of the broader small business policy platform, the Government is on track to deliver on its promise to give small business better access to employment information that is simple and easily accessible.

We recently established a dedicated small business helpline within the Office of the Fair Work Ombudsman.

And we’re developing a mobile-friendly wages tool to be completed around the end of April.

But it’s not just about information. We will also make sure that our workplace relations framework is fair, sensible and is meeting the needs of today’s economy. To do this, we have to take an economy wide look at the current landscape which not only looks at wages but also barriers to employment and investment by business.

We have asked the Productivity Commission to conduct a review into Australia’s Fair Work laws, to make sure Australians have the benefit of an objective, comprehensive and factual assessment of the operation and impact of these laws.

As you are all aware, the Modern Awards review is well underway and is expected to be completed by mid-2015. We will ensure the Modern Awards system supports job creation and that the Awards are simple and easy to understand.

The National Minimum Wage Review is also underway, with submissions to the Fair Work Commission due on 28th March. I encourage all interested parties to make a submission.

We have begun a Review of the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal and the need for further regulation or deregulation. This is due to be completed in the first half of the year.

We will re-establish the Australian Building and Construction Commission so that it maintains the rule of law and drives productivity on commercial building sites and construction projects whether on-shore or off-shore.

We will also create a Registered Organisations Commission watchdog to stamp out the corruption inside unions.

The Government has introduced amendments to the Fair Work Amendment Bill 2014 to enact many of its policy commitments, including:
•making union right of entry provisions sensible and fair. We will repeal the former government’s amendments that require employers to provide access to transport and accommodation for visits to remote worksites;
•making sure enterprise agreements for new projects can be negotiated quickly so that infrastructure projects are not delayed, and investment is not discouraged;
•guaranteeing workers have the right to access fair and protected flexibility enterprise bargaining;
•comprehensively addressing workplace bullying; and
•promoting harmonious, sensible, and productive enterprise bargaining. This means ensuring protected industrial action can only happen if the Fair Work Commission is satisfied that there have been genuine and meaningful talks between workers and business at the workplace.

The Government will continue to protect those who depend on independent contracting and self-employment for their livelihoods.

The Government will support Australian independent contractors and will not change current laws relating to the treatment of personal services income.

We have a number of new initiatives that we are working on delivering can help small business owners train and hire people.

One such program is the Seniors Incentive Program, which offers a payment to business owners to encourage employers to take on mature job seekers aged 50 and over.

Another is the Tasmanian Jobs Program, whereby small businesses in Tasmania are eligible for a one-off payment when they hire an unemployed jobseeker.

The Government also wants to help people balance work and family, and make sure working men and women are not penalised for deciding to have a child.

The Government’s paid parental leave scheme will allow all workers, including the self-employed, to access paid parental leave to take time off to look after their newborn.

We will compel the Australian Accounting Standards Board to justify any red tape burdens that go further than those set by the International Financial Reporting Standard for Small/Medium Enterprises.

We will extend and enhance the role of the Australian Small Business Commissioner by transforming it into the Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman.

We will streamline access to federal programmes, and engage more effectively with small business.

Already we have moved through the house legislation to save business $44m a year so they don’t have to act as the ‘pay clerk’ for the paid parental leave scheme

We’ve also moved the Super Clearing house to the ATO to lift its uptake

We are serious about deregulation and we will implement real measures to reduce red and green tape by $1 billion a year. Removing red tape on employers gives them more time and energy to do what they do best—which is to grow their business and employ more people.

And finally, we will ensure small business interests are reflected in government decision-making.

Not only will there be small business representatives on key economic bodies such as the Board of Taxation and the ACCC, we will also ensure future appointments to the Fair Work Commission take into account small business interests.

As a Cabinet Minister, I will personally make sure that Cabinet takes into account small business impacts in policy making. I will make sure small business interests are promoted across the whole-of-government policy agenda.

I am also in the process of establishing a Small Business Ministerial Advisory Council that will provide advice to Government on priorities in the areas of small business, competition and consumer policies.

We don’t believe Government holds all the levers, but when the policy settings are right, businesses large and small have the best chance of success.

By cutting red tape and costs, delivering tailored support, and ensuring the macroeconomic settings are right, the Government can help provide the environment to allow entrepreneurs and small businesses to prosper. And when small businesses and entrepreneurs prosper, so does the rest of the country.

Thank you again for allowing me to speak to you all.