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Wednesday, 6 February 2013
Page: 246

Ms GAMBARO (Brisbane) (16:04): I am absolutely bemused by the contribution of the member for Hunter, but I have to say one thing: he knows more about small business than some of his colleagues. His speech made it all sound so simple—grow the economy, keep interest rates low, get out of the way of small business. We have a small business shadow minister who has been working consistently over the last couple of years, travelling around the countryside. I do need to correct the member for Hunter—it is a two-page document, not a one-page document. No wonder they do not understand the numbers!

I am pleased to speak on this matter of public importance about small businesses. I have had the wonderful privilege of representing small businesses in my electorate, and I have been a small business owner-operator. There are a few such small business people on the other side of the chamber, but not too many. It is worth reminding the House how important small business is to the Australian economy. Small- to medium-sized enterprises, employing fewer than 200 people, comprise around 99 per cent of all businesses in Australia. They also employ around 65 per cent of the workforce, or about 2.8 million people. Small business is the largest employer in Australia—something that those opposite do not recognise enough.

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics there are just over two million small businesses in Australia with fewer than 20 employees. Of these, 1.3 million, or 64 per cent, are non-employing firms that comprise only the owner-manager. In terms of economic contribution, Australia's small businesses contribute around 20 per cent of GDP and 34 per cent of the value added within our private sector. Around 40 per cent are actively engaged in some form of innovation. Unlike many of our larger firms, 97 per cent of our SMEs are wholly Australian owned, and only 15 per cent have sought assistance from the government. Yet 35 per cent have reported a decrease in their profitability in recent years. In my electorate of Brisbane we have over 30,000 small businesses made up of a range of sectors including retail trade, manufacturing and accommodation.

Small business in my electorate and around the nation is really doing it tough at the moment. Unfortunately, much of the pain being felt by small business owners at the moment is due to the current policies of the Gillard government. Of course, the biggest cost pressure, the mother of all cost pressures, that has been lumped onto small business is the carbon tax. This is the tax that is adding to the cost of electricity every single moment of every single day for every single small business in Brisbane, in Queensland and all across Australia.

It is not just electricity. We have seen the cost of refrigerant gases increase by up to 300 per cent. I was at a small supermarket the other day in Ascot which will have to pay triple the amount for their coolant if there is a breakdown. This is the same story that I hear when I go around and visit businesses that rely on refrigeration and have refrigerated products. Standard economic principles dictate that the increased cost to small business will be passed on to consumers in the form of increased prices. Then we have the mining tax—

An opposition member: Is there any compensation?

Ms GAMBARO: Of course there is no compensation.

An opposition member: You are joking.

Ms GAMBARO: There is no compensation whatsoever for small business. The mining tax is the tax that does not raise any money, but there is a sweetener. It has an adverse impact on business and investor confidence. Can you explain how this works,—and I do have our shadow minister here—how you can collect a mining tax that will raise no tax but will hurt business and investment confidence? It is not just the Liberal Party and the coalition saying this. The Chamber of Commerce and Industry in Queensland recently released its pulse survey of business conditions for the December quarter of 2012. The report states:

Queensland businesses are also conscious that the state and national economies are significantly influenced by international stability and its implications for resources demand and the value of the Australian dollar. Rightly or wrongly, the Queensland business community believe that the mining tax is currently affecting forward investment strategies across the resources sector. Equally Queensland businesses have expressed frustration over increasing business operating costs, in particular, the impact on supply costs and prices from the Carbon Tax.

There is not a day in Queensland when mining companies are not letting staff go, and it is going to get worse. One of the survey respondents from Brisbane stated:

The government has displayed greed and desperation on taxing state and federal mining companies. All this has done has halted exploration growth and development of new mining ventures. Seems crazy when the mining sector is propping the rest of the economy up.

I will move onto the issue of regulation. Big business can afford to employ administrative staff to deal with pages and pages of regulations that exist in legislation, however, small businesses cannot. Since this government came to power it has introduced over 20,000 new regulations, so it was quite interesting to listen to the member for Hunter saying, 'Just get out of the way.' It has only repealed 100. We will have a one-stop shop environmental approval process. I was very privileged to see the deregulation taskforce when they came to my electorate and talked to a number of businesses. They have been travelling around the countryside. This action is despite the Rudd government committing to a one-in one-out policy when it came to power in 2007.

I want to refer to a business in my electorate called Quality Foods. This business sells food products to tuckshops in schools across Brisbane and throughout Queensland. The business is being forced to pass on ever-increasing costs to its customers. This is resulting in schools and parents paying more for tuckshop goods. These are the practical effects of increasing costs on small business and consumers suffer. Quality Foods is lucky that they have some capacity to pass on those costs to the suffering consumers, but not every business has that option. Some businesses end up scaling back operations or closing down, causing jobs to be lost and families to be devastated.

We have the Fair Work Act which should be renamed the 'Bible of red tape' because the amount of regulation it imposes on small business is absolutely phenomenal. Recently a little cafe in my electorate close to my office closed down because the owners could not handle the burden of the red tape. They could not handle the increasing burdens—

An opposition member: And the green tape.

Ms GAMBARO: and the green tape—and all the other bits of tape being put on them, including their ability to stay open on the weekend. They just did not have the capacity to employ staff. So we have seen a valuable little business down the road—a wonderful little coffee and gift shop—close down.

We saw this morning ABS retail trade data for December record a seasonally adjusted 0.2 per cent fall in retail sales, the third successive monthly decline. This follows a 0.2 per cent fall in November and a 0.1 per cent fall in October. The trend data, which smooths the monthly volatility, shows that there was no growth in retail spending for the last five months of 2012. This is very concerning data. My electorate contains many retail hubs including the Queen Street Mall and the CBD. The retail sector accounts for tens of thousands of jobs around this nation. In places like Fortitude Valley, New Farm and along James Street there are a number of retail stores, cafes, coffee shops and restaurants. This is what is happening around the country: they have to bear the burden of unfair regulation—they and thousands of businesses around Australia.

I now want to turn to a local issue in my electorate that is causing much angst and inconvenience for local businesses. Australia Post has yet again decided that it is going to close another post office, this time at Albion. This is being repeated all over Australia. When we talk about increasing costs to small businesses, many small businesses around Australia will have to travel further to conduct their Australia Post business, adding, again, another impost. This government, because they are bereft of money, is closing Australia Post offices all over Australia and adding to the cost of staff being away, driving further distances and adding to their overall cost of running their small business.

I will continue to fight in this place for small business. We do have a number of plans. We have a range of plans for small business and a range of policies that will be released in the lead-up to the election. We have a very active shadow minister for small business who is working very hard to ensure that small businesses in this country have a fair go. The coalition will cut $1 billion in red tape out of the economy as part of our plan to double the rate of small business growth and to create one million new jobs over five years. We will continue to fight for small business. We will continue to make sure that they are not penalised at every turn by this Gillard government which seeks to impose unfair regulation and red tape at every single turn. (Time expired)