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Wednesday, 1 June 2005
Page: 4


Ms ANNETTE ELLIS (9:17 AM) —I am pleased to have the opportunity today to speak on the Superannuation Legislation Amendment (Choice of Superannuation Funds) Bill 2005. In my electorate of Canberra I have many opportunities to meet with small business owners throughout my community. I find they are unique. They run businesses of very different strengths and sizes and they are all very hard-working men and women who have taken the risk of setting out on their own to start and continue with their own enterprises. I have a great amount of admiration and respect for those Canberrans that take this step. They are the powerhouse of our local economy and I believe that they deserve our support and our encouragement. I am aware that many small businesses, begun in Canberra over the years and decades in the past, have grown and prospered and led Canberra to the developed stage it is today. I pay absolute respect to the background of that business economy in my community.

It is for all these reasons and for all of that local history and local commitment from the small business people that I was horrified to learn of the extraordinary burden that is about to be placed on all of those small businesses by this government. The compliance burden that the government wishes to place on small business through its super choice regulations is as astonishing as it is complex. The government has turned a simple three-step system for superannuation into a complex maze of 34 steps. And if Canberra small business owners take a wrong turn in the government’s superannuation maze, there are unbelievable penalties.

One of the pitfalls in the superannuation maze could see employers pay multiple fines of up to $500 per employee if they simply fail to navigate this government maze. Also, small business owners could face significant legal liabilities for just giving advice to employees even if they are asked by employees to give a view. This could see Canberra small business owners face two years in jail or fines up to $22,000 if they advise employees outside the terms of the choice of super law. On top of the prospects of facing massive fines and possible jail terms, Canberra employers must now cop an extra layer of Howard government inspired red tape.

Does this government have form on creating more red tape for small business? For employers Australia wide there are now an extra five million forms to be handed out to existing employees and over one million each year thereafter, thanks to this amazing piece of policy. Ongoing records will have to be kept and made available to the tax office for inspection and enforcement. We all remember very clearly the Prime Minister’s laudable boast in 1996 that his government would commit itself to reducing red tape for small business by 50 per cent. In a media release in July 2004 the then minister for small business made the following statement:

In addition to cutting red tape the Federal Government is also working to help empower small businesses.

Then the current Minister for Small Business and Tourism, who constantly claims in this House that the government has reduced red tape, had the audacity recently to make this claim:

Australia’s 1.2 million small businesses continue to benefit from this Government’s very strong economic management and we are committed to reducing red tape.

It becomes a bit repetitive when you look over the history of this government in relation to red tape and small business. First there was the GST and now there is super choice. We can see that these promises on red tape and helping small business were just another example of non-core commitment from a government that in fact seems to be obsessed with regulation and therefore the creation of red tape.

I was so concerned by this change in policy in relation to super choice and the effect it would have on Canberra’s small businesses that I, along with my colleague Senator Lundy, recently wrote to small businesses in my electorate making sure they were aware of and prepared for the government’s plans. We included in this letter a petition for small businesses to sign and send in. The petition urges the government to exempt small business from the nightmare compliance regimes of these super choice laws. The response from small business in my electorate reflects their concern. The petitions continue to flow into my office from very concerned and very worried small business owners in Canberra. This is because Canberra’s small business owners understand these plans and they are concerned. They are also disappointed at the hypocrisy of this government. They are disappointed by the constant promises made, such as the promise to cut the mountain of red tape they face each day, and they are disappointed that the government continues to disregard and even break those commitments. This can be clearly shown in the response to that petition that I am receiving from small business in my community.

That is interesting, because in the world of politics it is very easy for people to take up the mantra that small business and Labor do not have much in common, that small business is not Labor’s natural constituency. That is said often. I dispute that; I always have. I do not believe in the claim of natural constituencies. I believe that you win constituencies by what you do with and for them. I understand very clearly how the small business community in my electorate are feeling about the impost that this ridiculous policy is going to place upon them.

We on this side of the House understand those problems—I know I do. My community are talking with me and telling me what they think of it. We care enough to try and implement considered and practical policies and legislation that will help make small business flourish. We are not interested in ideologically driven policies based on division. We are interested in trying to do the right thing to encourage and see bloom even more the small business economy in this country. We do not believe that the introduction of more red tape is going to benefit anybody. In fact, we believe the opposite.

I am interested in supporting policies that are going to see the Australian economy grow. I am interested in seeing policy that is going to encourage and support the powerhouse of our economic base and my economic base in my electorate of Canberra, and that is small business. As I said earlier, the whole of the Canberra economy has grown from a very small beginning with a lot of dedicated people putting money, effort and hard work into developing businesses that began small. They have invested back into this community; they have not been enticed to go elsewhere. Some of these people have been working in this community for decades. They have built themselves into a viable economic community in my electorate and I do not want to see that damaged.

The government constantly claim that they are the best friend that small business has ever had and that they have nothing but the small businesses’ interests at heart. I cannot see how this super choice law and the implications of it for small business can sit beside those statements. I believe that it is a bit of a sad joke. The government are failing small business if they think that they can get away with putting this amazing set of regulations onto the small business in this community through the super choice laws. I am speaking in this debate because I think this is wrong. I think this is bad policy. There are simpler ways for it to be done. I implore the government to look at it very carefully. Putting this sort of regime onto small business while boasting of cutting red tape proves that that is a fallacy. It is just so illogical that I become almost wordless. I cannot understand how they can possibly boast that their policies in this regard are going to help small business. All I can see is small business in my community drowning in the red tape of the super choice regime. I speak very strongly against it and I will continue to represent the small businesses in my community who are telling me how they feel about it until it is changed.