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Thursday, 7 July 2011
Page: 8073


Mr HARTSUYKER (Cowper) (16:14): I welcome the opportunity to speak on this matter of public importance in the House today because we have a crisis of confidence in our local economy. We have a crisis in business confidence and we have a crisis in consumer confidence. In the small business sector we are seeing sales collapse, we are seeing businesses closing, we are seeing people walking out on their life's work, we are seeing buildings left vacant and we have got the carbon tax driving this uncertainty. We have got business people saying that these are the worst business conditions in living memory.

I would like to bring to the attention of the House the words of Howard Morrison, a very competent business man who runs a shop called Morrisons Electrical Mega Store in Coffs Harbour in my electorate. The Morrisons have been in retailing for three generations and operate a very good outlet. Howard and his son Garth run a very good operation. Howard said: 'On the home front, interest rates, fuel, food and electricity are all up about 30 per cent. If you are still on your feet, the knockout blow in the form of the carbon tax is on the way.' I think that is what a lot of small business people are thinking: the knockout blow is on the way. They are hanging on by their fingernails. They are facing rising costs of business operation at the same time their sales are falling and this government, because it does not understand business, particularly small business, is ignorant of that fact and is introducing a carbon tax at a time when the small business sector can least afford it.

I was interested to see the member for Lyne out in the media on 1 July after we saw an 18 per cent increase in electricity prices being levied by the local electricity distrib­uter on the North Coast. It is not a small price rise by any stretch of the imagination and the pizza shop to which the previous member referred would certainly be reeling from an 18 per cent increase in their electricity bill. The member for Lyne was letting the electorate know how outrageous this 18 per cent increase in electricity is—quite rightly so, it is an outrageous increase. But I ask the member for Lyne: if you have just highlighted to your electorate the difficulties they face as a result of an 18 per cent increase in electricity prices, why would you make the situation worse? Why would you add to that difficulty?

We have a situation in his electorate on the North Coast where we have seen tourism slow because of the high Aussie dollar, we have seen rapid increases in the cost of living eroding the spending power of local families, and we see the property sector is very slow at this time. The member for Lyne is going to be effectively legislating to put greater cost imposts on the small businesses he is representing. Businesses in his electorate are suffering and households are suffering, yet he is prepared to come into this House and advocate against the interests of those households and against the interests of those businesses.

When I speak to national chains they actually tell me that business conditions are difficult out there, but they are particularly difficult on the North Coast. Their North Coast outlets are underperforming some of their other national outlets. We do not have a mining industry driving our economy. We depend on small business. We depend on the property sector. We depend on the health and education sectors. We have an economy that is very much locally focussed without many large employers and we need to support our small business sector. This carbon tax is going to hit our small business sector very hard indeed.

I think the very simple action that the people of Lyne are asking for, as they are in the electorate of Cowper and as they are in the electorate of Page, is to oppose this tax. They are saying: 'We are struggling. As business people we are barely hanging on. Don't give us another impost at this time.' You can have all the arguments you like about the environmental benefits of one approach or another to the issue of carbon pollution, or the increase in carbon dioxide levels, but the bottom line is that small business cannot take any more pain.

I do not know what the member for Lyne is going to say to the people who have been forced to walk out of their business as a result of the new carbon tax coming in. I do not know what he is going to say to the people who cannot afford to turn their lights on at night because of the carbon tax. I do not know what he is going to say to the young job seeker for whom employment opportunities are extremely limited and who walks around the streets of Port Macquarie or Taree handing resumes over the counter to local businesses only to hear that they are actually putting off staff and cannot afford to hire any more staff. What is the member for Lyne going to say to those people? They need his help to stand up for them in this place and ensure that small businesses, a major generator of employment in his electorate, is not further burdened by price rises. They are looking to their local member to protect them from this tax. They are looking to their local member to support them. Local businessmen are looking for help from their local member and they have enunciated to me that they are not getting that help. As a result of that, the state member for Port Macquarie has actually invited the Nationals to Port Macquarie to talk with local businesses who feel let down by their federal member.

Mr McCormack: She's a very good member.

Mr HARTSUYKER: Leslie Williams, the member for Port Macquarie, is a very good member. It is interesting to note that the New South Wales Business Chamber put out a press release on 5 July entitled 'NSW Business Chamber launches carbon tax campaign in Oakeshott and Windsor electorates.' This is not a personal campaign. It goes on to say:

This is a campaign about an issue that will impact the competitive position of most small business.

It goes on further to say:

Australia’s capacity to compete internationally is currently impacted by a very high Australian dollar, relatively high interest rates, relatively high fixed wages, relatively high taxes and by our geographic isolation leading to relatively higher transport costs.

… the NSW Business Chamber would continue to consult its members in New England and the Mid North Coast to see what form the campaign will take in the coming weeks and months.

They are very concerned. They do not undertake a campaign like this lightly. They undertake this campaign because they feel that their voice is not being heard and that their members' voices have not been heard by the local federal representative. So I hope the member for Lyne will heed the words of the New South Wales Business Chamber. I hope he will heed the words of small business, who are saying: 'I've got a life's work here swinging in the balance. I've mortgaged my house to capitalise my business, and I can't pay the rent at the moment. My costs are going up, and I don't want to see my electricity prices go up at a time when my turnover is falling, at a time when my motel units are empty,' or 'when there is no-one coming into my shop.' It is a real problem, and it is not one that is going to go away any time soon. For all of us in the House, it is a problem about which our constituents are looking to us for support.

There are two options here. We can continue with this misguided strategy of driving up business costs, driving down confidence and driving away opportunities for young people, or we can do the right thing—and that is to abandon this tax, abandon a tax that has destroyed confidence, abandon a tax that is going to make our businesses less competitive internationally, abandon a tax that is going to make it more difficult for small business to survive. It is a very stark choice.

I hope that the member for Lyne will see the light. I hope that he will listen to his small businesses. I ask him to walk down the main street of Port Macquarie, go into businesses and ask them how they are travelling, ask them how they are dealing with increases in costs, ask them what their strategy is for the future, ask them what they are going to do when they lose their house as a result of the business failing and ask them what it is like to be operating a business surrounded by vacant shops. It is an incred­ible problem that small business is facing at the moment. It is a problem that is getting worse and worse. People out there in our electorates are looking to us in this place to do the best we can to support them and to make business conditions just as strong as they can be from a federal perspective, but unfortunately it is a call for help that is falling on deaf ears amongst the members opposite and amongst the Independents. So I call on the member for Lyne and the member for New England to do the right thing and support their electorates, support small business and abandon this carbon tax. (Time expired)

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Hon. Peter Slipper ): Order! The discussion is now concluded.