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Thursday, 19 June 2014
Page: 6785

Mr BILLSON (DunkleyMinister for Small Business) (10:13): I thank the member for Eden-Monaro for his ongoing interest and commitment to small businesses and family enterprises that are the engine room of our economy. I joined the member at a small business forum in Batemans Bay. It was fabulously well attended. The message was clear: 'We understand the need for the Economic Action Strategy, so get on with it.' 'Get on with it' was the clear message that was coming through, as people were looking for a predictable, stable and dependable economic setting and conduct by the Commonwealth government. They want stability, predictability and certainty in the environment in which they are making decisions to mortgage their house, to take risk, to employ and to grow and develop their business. This is what, I am pleased to say, our economic action strategy in the budget seeks to deliver. We are keen not to have that strategy impeded. That is why getting the carbon tax through is so crucial to ensuring that that improved economic environment is available for our creators of wealth and opportunity, the small business people.

The member talked about the 519,000 jobs in small business—an awfully large number—that were lost under the previous Labor government. They seem not to want to talk about or recognise that. Maybe it is because they might not be union jobs or they are not all in one location. This represents a real hit to the wealth creators, those courageous men and women who mortgage their house and sometimes place their sanity and personal wellbeing at risk as they toil in a difficult economic climate to create a livelihood for themselves, for others and for their community.

We are seeking to arrest that decline in small business employment. It accounted for 53 per cent of the private-sector workforce when the Howard government left office. But after Labor was recently tossed out, and a change was called for Australian small business men and women, it is down to 42 per cent of the private-sector workforce. Those are the circumstances we have inherited. The clear message from my travels around the country and in my own community is, 'Please, no more of the same.' The last thing they want from an incoming government is more of what they had under Labor.

In the budget there are a range of measures. The member for Eden-Monaro, who is very alert and attuned to these issues, went to the issue of the carbon tax. The carbon tax hurts and punishes small business in a very particular and pernicious way. With all the carve-outs and hush money—the compensation that was made available by the previous government to abate the harm and the hurt of the carbon tax—small business got no direct compensation. In this chamber, they were told to 'suck it up or pass it on'—I think that was the term used. There was not a moment of appreciation from the previous Labor government of just how difficult the economic climate was, of how hard it is to simply pass on costs in a marketplace where we need to be world class, where there are cost-conscious consumers, where we need to build confidence, build spending power, remove cost-of-living pressures and reduce the costs of doing business.

The member for Eden-Monaro also touched on florists, which is a very good example. The carbon tax plays its evil impact through the florists. Those opposite think florists do not need to worry about the carbon tax. But florists have refrigeration costs. Who can forget R404 gas, which, because of its CO2 equivalence, went up in price by some 400 per cent? Small businesses have shown me fridges that they used to operate that needed to be repaired. Because of the cost impact of the carbon tax, they choose not to repair those fridges. And then there are energy costs—the costs of keeping the lights on. You see this right across the economy—and it compounds. Labor said they did not want a carbon tax. They promised they would not implement it—but they did. And now they want to terminate it—but they will not. This tax just builds and builds all the way through the supply chain. In regional communities such as Eden-Monaro, if Labor had their way, the carbon tax would be extended to heavy road transport.

As a legacy of Labor, the carbon tax is currently legislated to go up again on 1 July. My advice would be to speak with your local small businesses, as I do, and remind them that we are doing our utmost to get rid of the carbon tax, to energise enterprise in this economy and to get rid of those headwinds and burdens that are slowing the growth and potential of small business. Our work is to turn around the harm of six years of Labor. We are keeping at that. We can say to our constituents: 'We know what our plan is and we want to get on with it. Labor are not only the cause of the harm but are now standing in the road of the remedies as well.'