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Monday, 18 March 2013
Page: 2556


Mr VAN MANEN (Forde) (21:31): I would like tonight to take the opportunity to touch on the lack of confidence in the small-business sector as a result of this government's policies. A recent Sensis Business Index survey of small and medium enterprises showed that only six per cent of small business people believe that the Gillard government's policies support the sector. Tonight I wish to speak on behalf of the 94 per cent of small businesses who are dissatisfied with the government's policies on small business.

It is instructive to just have a look at some of the facts that underpin our small to medium business sector. Some 99.7 per cent of all actively-traded businesses in Australia are SMEs—businesses that employ between five and 200 employees. They employ some 70 per cent of the Australian workforce and, on the latest figures, from 2008-09, they invested some $5 billion in research and development. Those facts quite clearly point to what an important sector this is in our economy.

As a result of Labor's policies, the small business sector's share of the private sector workforce has contracted from 51.3 per cent to 45.7 per cent. Small business confidence, conditions, profitability, cash flows and employment are all in negative territory, according to the latest NAB quarterly SME survey. Furthermore, the number of people employed in small business has declined under Labor from some 5,061,000 to 4,800,000—a loss of some 243,000 jobs. And the number of employing small businesses has also declined under Labor, from 749,000 to 739,000, a loss of some 10,000 employing small businesses.

These findings speak directly to the negative effect of the government's policies on the small-business sector—disastrous policies such as the introduction of the carbon tax, leaving small business exposed to the world's greatest carbon tax with no direct compensation and no analysis of how the tax would impact these small businesses. According to an article in the Daily Telegraph, the carbon tax is contributing to a record number of firms going to the wall, with thousands of employees being laid off and companies forced to close factories that have stood for generations. Soaring energy bills caused by the government's climate change schemes have been called the straw that broke the camel's back by company executives and corporate rescue doctors who are trying to save these ailing firms. New data from the corporate regulator reveals that insolvencies have hit a record high in the past 12 months, led by widespread failures in manufacturing and construction, which account for almost one-fifth of all collapses. The article goes on to say:

The Australian Securities and Investment Commission is reporting there are some 10,600 company collapses for the 12 months to 1 March, averaging 886 per month, with the number of firms being placed in administration more than 12 per cent higher than during the global financial crisis.

There is more. There is the Prime Minister's job plan, the Australian industry participation plan, a plan which, according to the IPA, seeks to suffocate small businesses with more red tape. It is almost like a scene out of War of the Worlds. It is like the tentacles of the red Martian weed creeping through the Australian economy as this government envelops small business and the broader community in an endless array of red tape and bureaucracy. To date, over 20,000 new regulations have been enacted but only 104 have been repealed. This is a far cry from the one-in, one-out policy promised by Labor at the 2007 election. A recent article featured on the IPA website notes that the Australian industry participation plan is a recipe for increased red tape. Rather than making it easier for foreign businesses to operate in Australia, this plan will punish those who do business here. It will create public service jobs in Canberra. The bureaucrats will be allowed to second-guess business choices. This government has never understood that make-work schemes detract from profit-making and so deter business.

Small business is the workhorse of the economy but what can the Prime Minister promise? She wants to make it easy for small business to raise finance. However, as with many things we see with this government, she has provided no detail but hinted, merely hinted, at a grant system. This is just picking winners. In my electorate of Forde there are around 11,400 small businesses. I recently invited these businesses along to a forum to address and speak about the challenges businesses are facing in our own backyard. I can tell you now that the lack of consideration and care from policymakers in regard to Australia's small-business sector rated high on the complaint list during the business forum which I hosted with the shadow minister for small business, the honourable member for Dunkley.

I would like to digress here for a moment to compare and contrast our dedication to the small-business sector. For starters, our shadow minister for small business has been meeting with small-business people across Australia since 2007 developing considered plans that will take the burden off and support the success of small business. We compare this to the government's efforts and see that they have had the fourth labour minister in 14 months with little interest or background in the sector that employs almost half the private sector workforce. It is interesting to note that when the government's small business minister appeared on ABC Lateline recently during the Prime Minister's visit to Western Sydney he did not even mention once small business despite the fact that there are some 160,000 small businesses located in Western Sydney.

It is no surprise that the small-business sector continues to be treated this way under Labor, especially when the Prime Minister's own department has revealed that she rarely concerns itself with small-business issues. This further demonstrates the Gillard government's neglect of the sector. Asked whether the Prime Minister has met with the inaugural Small Business Commissioner, Mark Brennan, a representative from the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet retorted that the Prime Minister's focus is on the priority issues of today. 'Small-business issues do not often come up in terms of issues that are before the Prime Minister or before the cabinet. I guess our focus of resource tends to focus on those issues that are before the PM or the cabinet. So I guess we would have to move our resources in accordance with the priorities.' That was what Marie Taylor, first assistant secretary for the industry, infrastructure and environment division, told the Senate Finance and Public Administration Committee.

The government cannot even properly report on the effectiveness of its own dealings with small business. The 2012 Australian government payments to small business report remains outstanding nine months after the end of the financial year.

This is a report which documents how effective the government is in meeting the 30-day payment threshold for goods and services received from small business. As I was explaining earlier, during the small business forum, we had businesses in the room that have suffered too long under this government. Even long-serving Labor voters who have been trying to keep their business afloat and employing some 80 people under these conditions have said they will never vote Labor again—and rightly so. That particular business has since gone into liquidation with those staff now looking for work.

This sadly is not an uncommon turn of events for many small business operators around the country when the small business sector's share of private sector workforce has contracted from 51.3 per cent to 45.7 per cent of the workforce under the five years of this Labor government.

The coalition has real solutions and will seek to double the rate of small business growth by scrapping the carbon tax and cutting $1 billion worth of red tape. I can say to the small business community: small business is a central part of the coalition's real solutions plan to create one million new jobs in five years and two million jobs within a decade.

Our plan, which includes abolishing the carbon tax, reducing compliance costs and making sure small business is represented on key economic and regulatory bodies, is envisaged to create the framework to increase productivity and double the rate of small business growth for the future wealth of our country.