Senator the Hon Amanda Stoker, Assistant Minister to the Attorney-General, Assistant Minister for Women and Assistant Minister for Industrial Relations, opened the Small Business Association of Australia’s (SBAA) biannual International Small Business Summit at Sea World Resort and Conference Centre on Thursday, 10 June.
The Minister, who was introduced by the Member for Moncrief, Ms Angie Bell MP, told delegates the Federal Government was doubling down on support for the Australian small business sector. “Can I start by emphasising how important small business is for the Australian economy, and how important small business is to this government.”
The Minister highlighted the mettle of those small business owners who take the courageous step to leave paid employment behind in order to chase their dreams. “In doing so, they support other people and their families.
“You don’t need me to tell you that small business accounts for almost 98% of Australian businesses. They operate in all sectors of the economy and in all regions across this county.
“Small business employs 44% of the Australian workforce and contributes to almost one-third of gross domestic product.”
She continued, “That’s what politicians mean when they say small is the backbone of our economy. The goods and services you provide are vital to our way of life.”
A challenging year
The Minister acknowledged that small business was far more exposed to the challenges of COVID than larger commercial organisations, citing the example of the bar and restaurant sectors on the Gold Coast, which were impacted by international travel restrictions.
However, Minister Stoker said that thanks to government assistance programs such as JobKeeper, Australia was a better place to emerge from COVID than many other countries. “There’s nowhere else you would want to be as a business or as an individual.”
The Minister said this would create opportunities for small business and that the Federal Government would back them to the hilt. “We are committed to helping small businesses grow and prosper, to continue to create jobs and to provide innovative products and services to our own communities and the rest of the world.
The Minister also acknowledge that compliance remains an issue for small business. “We all accept that some regulation is necessary. But too often, Australian businesses in the past had to deal with outdated or duplicative arrangements.”
Reducing red tape for small business
The Minister said the red tape compliance burden could hamper small businesses that don’t have the same financial resources as larger businesses. “So, reducing that red tape burden is a real priority for our governments. The deregulation task force that we have established consults closely with businesses and works with Commonwealth agencies as well as the states and territories to identify where we cab streamline regulatory arrangements and processes and address overlap and duplication.”
“We have really committed to simplifying the way [small businesses] deal with government.”
Some measures aimed at streamlining red tape include looking at ways to reduce compliance costs by promoting better information sharing between agencies and regulators. The government is also seeking to modernise laws that fit within the Treasury portfolio. This will include increased use of electronic signature technologies for document lodgement bringing it in line with commercial practices. Other measures include expanding the use of the electronic document technologies, more flexibility for SMEs when changing addresses, and enabling professional qualifications to be recognised between jurisdictions.
The Minister also revealed that as part of the deregulation agenda, her department is finalising work on proposed reforms to the personal property securities framework, which will reduce the regulatory burden for businesses that use the framework. “This will be particularly important for small business. It will also make it easier to use so it maximises the protection and benefits it can provide for people who need to take security for personal property.”
The Minister added that the reduction in red tape measures would “boost productivity, boost competitiveness both at home and internationally and support business investment and job creation and growth.
“The more time we can get you away from the books and back into the business, the better off you will do.”
Reducing industrial relations complexity
In March, the Federal Government passed The Fair Work Amendment (Supporting Australia’s Jobs and Economic Recovery) Bill 2021. The Bill includes a definition of ‘casual employee’ and provides that after 12 months of employment, casual employees who have worked a regular pattern of hours in the last 6 months, except for those employed by a small business, will either receive an offer of full-time or part-time employment or a notice with reasons why they have not received an offer.
Employees who work for a small business will be able to request conversion after 12 months of employment if they satisfy the same pattern of hours requirement.
Employers will only be able to refuse a request or not offer conversion to eligible employees if they have reasonable grounds based on known or reasonably foreseeable facts.
The Bill also provides a statutory offset rule that requires a court to reduce amounts for any entitlements found owing to the employee by an amount equal to any identifiable casual loading already paid to the employee. This will ensure that where an employee is found by a court not to be a casual employee under the statutory definition, employers will not have to pay the same entitlements twice.
Minister Stoker said, “The Government delivered reforms to assist small businesses to understand their obligations,” and in providing that clarity, “empower [them] to employ more employees.
“Employers are now protected from a potential backpay liability of up to $39 billion across the economy that may have arose as a consequence of an unexpected Federal Court decision.”
Navigating the awards maze
The Minister also addressed the central issue of awards complexity. “There are more than 2.1 million Australians currently employed under 121 different awards. Some employers have to deal with staff who are covered by one or more of these awards at the same time.
To acknowledge the challenges and stress the award maze creates for SME owners, the government is investing $10 million in providing technological solutions that will help employers navigate the industrial relations puzzle and comply with modern awards.
To watch Minister Stokers speech at the International Small Business Summit, visit the SBAA’s Facebook page here.
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