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Wednesday, 18 October 2006
Page: 53

Mr CIOBO (12:39 PM) —I am pleased to also be in support of government moves with respect to these changes to the Trade Practices Act, which incorporate and build on the recommendations from the Dawson review. The point I would like to stress most effectively—and this point is especially pronounced for me as a representative from the Gold Coast, which is Australia’s small business capital—is that these changes enhance the Trade Practices Act for the benefit, predominantly, of small businesses. There can be no doubt that small businesses around Australia are welcoming very loudly these changes and are very grateful that we have been able to bring forward the Trade Practices Legislation Amendment Bill (No. 1) 2005 and these changes.

Do not just take my word on it, Mr Deputy Speaker. A number of small business groups, such as the National Farmers Federation, the Council of Small Business Organisations of Australia, the National Association of Retail Grocers of Australia and the Fair Trading Coalition, have put out press releases and highlighted their gratitude that the government is listening to small business, is acting on the recommendations of small business and is consulting with small business to introduce these changes.

In particular I highlight the comments from the National Farmers Federation, who said:

We certainly hope now that the small business community has given the tick to the Bill, that Senators will reconsider their previous opposition and allow it to pass …

NFF has taken an active interest in the reform to the Trade Practices Act because farmers have so much to gain, particularly through the collective bargaining provisions, which will make it easier, quicker and cheaper for farmers to collectively negotiate with large businesses.

…     …         …

NFF has carefully considered claims that the merger and acquisition component of the reforms may be ‘anti-small business’. NFF sees no danger that the proposed changes will weaken the existing test to determine whether a merger will adversely impact on competition and is therefore comfortable on this matter.

We also note that the recent modifications to the Bill will further strengthen the role of the ACCC within the mergers and acquisitions authorisation process, giving it full powers to assist the Australian Competition Tribunal.

I wanted to specifically read into the Hansard those comments from the National Farmers Federation because they are totemic comments that underscore the reason why the government can be immensely proud of the hard work that the Treasurer and the Minister for Small Business and Tourism have put into bringing this bill forward, a bill which appropriately balances the demands of small business and the demands of parallel businesses, principally farmers.

This bill provides great benefits to small business in particular, and not only small business will benefit from an efficient and effective economy. Our competition policy going forward ensures that the years of responsible and careful economic management of the Howard government and the Treasurer, Peter Costello, will be able to continue. It ensures that a competitive marketplace for small businesses will continue.

I am immensely proud of the collective bargaining amendments which arose out of the Dawson review and are incorporated into this bill. These collective bargaining arrangements will make a very meaningful and significant difference to small businesses when it comes to using the collective market power that they will have in any negotiations and bargaining that they undertake.

The final point I would like to touch upon is the mergers and acquisitions process. I have heard it said in other places that there should be some concern because the amendments that the Treasurer has put forward provide a finite time line on dealings when it comes to mergers and acquisitions. From my perspective, I believe such a finite time frame is a very significant step forward. There can be no doubt that one of the worst situations that can be allowed to occur is for regulatory uncertainty to paralyse, in some respects, actions that businesses would like to take. Finite time lines introduced through these amendments and through this bill will mean that, going forward, businesses can have the certainty that they require to undertake commercially expedient and commercially sensible decisions when it comes to mergers and acquisitions. I have considered the comments that have come forward, particularly from rural representatives such as the NFF, and I commend this bill to the House. (Time expired)