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New South Wales
Macdonald, Sen Ian
McLucas, Jan (The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT)
ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT, The
- Question No.
Campbell, Sen George
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- Start of Business
- DEFENCE: CLUSTER BOMBS
- ENVIRONMENT: WATER MANAGEMENT
- HEALTH: WATER AND SANITATION
- ENVIRONMENT: MURRAY-DARLING RIVER SYSTEM
- CORRIE, MS RACHEL
- FAMILY AND COMMUNITY SERVICES LEGISLATION AMENDMENT BILL 2000
- AGRICULTURAL AND VETERINARY CHEMICALS LEGISLATION AMENDMENT BILL 2002
QUESTIONS WITHOUT NOTICE
(Carr, Sen Kim, Hill, Sen Robert)
(Macdonald, Sen Sandy, Hill, Sen Robert)
Veterans: Gulf War
(Bishop, Sen Mark, Hill, Sen Robert)
(Mason, Sen Brett, Vanstone, Sen Amanda)
(Hogg, Sen John, Hill, Sen Robert)
(Bartlett, Sen Andrew, Hill, Sen Robert)
Trade: Free Trade Agreement
(O'Brien, Sen Kerry, Hill, Sen Robert)
Trade: Automotive Industry
(Harris, Sen Len, Ellison, Sen Chris)
(Lundy, Sen Kate, Hill, Sen Robert)
Health: General Practitioners
(Barnett, Sen Guy, Patterson, Sen Kay)
(Ray, Sen Robert, Hill, Sen Robert)
(Brown, Sen Bob, Hill, Sen Robert)
(Ludwig, Sen Joe, Hill, Sen Robert)
Forestry: Regional Forest Agreements
(Payne, Sen Marise, Macdonald, Sen Ian)
(Bolkus, Sen Nick, Hill, Sen Robert)
(Tierney, Sen John, Alston, Sen Richard)
- QUESTIONS WITHOUT NOTICE: ADDITIONAL ANSWERS
- QUESTIONS WITHOUT NOTICE: TAKE NOTE OF ANSWERS
- IRAQTOBACCO SPONSORSHIP
- SMALL BUSINESS
Thursday, 20 March 2003
Senator GEORGE CAMPBELL (5:22 PM) —I am very happy today to support the general business motion moved by Senator Conroy and to refute some of the points made by speakers from the government side in this debate. It strikes me as interesting that every time we have a debate in this chamber we get used to hearing government senators use doublespeak. They do it whether it is in respect of industrial relations laws, where we have gone from unfair dismissals to fair dismissals; whether it is in respect of the low paid and the bills that have been introduced in that area; or whether it is in respect of a whole range of issues. We have a government that has become very accustomed to saying one thing and meaning the other.
I was in the chamber and I heard Senator Santoro say that we ought to get out and talk to small business and he is happy to take us out. Well, I know Senator Santoro has only been here for five minutes, but he should be aware that we did have a small business inquiry in this chamber. It was conducted by the Senate Employment, Workplace Relations and Education References Committee. It spent some six months last year travelling around the country talking not just to small business representatives or to small business unions but to small businesses themselves. We had a series of roundtables in Perth, Albany, Brisbane and all around the country where we sat down and talked to small business people about the issues with which they were confronted on a daily basis. We attempted to try and address some of the myths that have been perpetrated and are still being perpetrated by Senator Barnett and others about unfair dismissals being the major issue of concern to small businesses. We tried to deal with some of these myths to see whether they were myths or reality.
Senator Barnett says that the coalition are the champions of small business. It will be interesting to see how many of the 29 recommendations from that committee your small business minister is prepared to support. It will be very interesting to see the government's response to those 29 recommendations. Let me tell you, Senator Barnett, I have had a lot of correspondence from small business organisations—from organisations like the Redland Shire Council in Queensland—saying, `This is a terrific report. These are terrific recommendations.' And I have said to them, `Don't hold your breath waiting on the government to implement them. Don't hold your breath, because this is a government that has a different view about taking action than it has in terms of the rhetoric it uses to express its position.' But we will wait and see what the response of Minister Hockey is to those 29 recommendations and how many of them he is prepared to put in place.
I was here when Minister Reith was the small business minister. Remember Minister Peter Reith? He was the famous champion of small business; he looked after Chris Corrigan. He made a commitment on behalf of the government, `We will reduce red tape for small business by 50 per cent.' I asked a small business representative from the government at estimates back in 1997, `How are you going to do that?' I am still waiting on an answer. But you go around this country and talk to small business people and ask them what their view is of the reduction in red tape since 1996. Ask them if red tape has been reduced by 50 per cent and they look at you as if you are mad—because, in fact, it has increased, and increased substantially.
A burden of regulation continues to increase on small businesses. Some state governments have done something about it— state Labor governments, I might add, have done something about it. The Queensland government, to their credit, have introduced a red tape reduction task force that is working with small business people, looking at the implications of regulation and seeking ways and means to reduce the impact of regulation on small business. That is proving to be very successful, Senator Macdonald. Of course, you would not know. You are not interested in what happens in Queensland. You are more interested in what happens in New South Wales at the moment. You will probably forget about that on Sunday after the election is over and the result is on the board.
Senator Ian Macdonald —Small business hate Beattie.
Senator GEORGE CAMPBELL —Well, I am sure he will be pleased to hear that, because—
Senator Ian Macdonald —Ask about the ambulance charge.
Senator GEORGE CAMPBELL — Senator Macdonald—
The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator McLucas)—Order! Direct your comments through the chair, please.
Senator GEORGE CAMPBELL —that is not what small business people said to us in Brisbane.
Senator Ian Macdonald —When?
Senator GEORGE CAMPBELL — When we had the inquiry.
The ACTING DEPUTY PRESI-DENT —Order! I will not have conversation conducted across the chamber.
Senator GEORGE CAMPBELL — When we had the inquiry there was no small business person who came to any of those roundtables who put a negative view to us about the Beattie government. They were confused about the interrelationship between the three tiers of government, and that is something of some concern. That is an issue that is addressed in the 29 recommendations of our report. It is specifically addressed to try and remove the complexity that exists between the three tiers of government.
Senator Barnett raised the issue of industrial relations and unfair dismissals. He said that Minister Abbott is out there championing the cause of small business by bringing forward all this industrial legislation. The reality is that there could have been improvements on the unfair dismissal laws. There was a series of amendments proposed by the Labor opposition and the Democrats to improve the existing bills. But did Minister Abbott pick up those proposals to improve it? Of course not. He did not adopt any of them, because he is not interested in reform. He is not interested in reforming the system and making it easier. He was interested in getting a double dissolution trigger. He was interested in playing the politics of the proposal rather than looking at the issue of fundamental reform in that area.
The reality is that, when you talk about unfair dismissals, when you actually go out and talk to small business people, it pales in comparison to issues such as the one raised by Senator Conroy in his general business motion today. It is a major issue. A series of small business people told us at the roundtable hearings how they were being exploited by big business in terms of the late payments and how they were being forced to carry the burden of the GST payments. At the same time, they had not been receiving payment from big business or the people that they were contracted to. I want to quote from some of the findings of the small business inquiry. The committee found:
Many small businesses operate on small margins, with highly variable cash flow, particularly in their early years. As a result they have little capacity to absorb delays in payments. Late payments were raised as a problem by several witnesses, including Family Business Australia and small business participants at a roundtable in Brisbane, who reported that the problem is particularly acute when the GST remittances are due.
In other words, not only do the GST remittances have an impact on their cash flow, but in many respects they are carrying the GST burden for large businesses which do not make the payments to them. This is an important issue for small business. Labor has said that it is committed to helping small business in this area. Small business groups, including the Motor Trades Association and the Council of Small Business Organisations, have supported our actions to crack down on late payments. But it is interesting that our actions also coincided with an Australian Financial Review article which highlighted warnings by accountants that small businesses could face cash flow problems if the ATO intensified its efforts to recover outstanding GST payments. The introduction of the GST has made late payments a much bigger impediment to business. In another Financial Review article, a small business operator, Paul Saunders, said:
Since the GST was introduced we spend twice as much time pursuing debts.
... large companies and government agencies were the biggest culprits.
Large companies had created complicated payment systems that required invoices to be presented in the correct format at the right time. If not, payment was delayed 30 days on top of the existing 90 days.
This is a set of circumstances that small business are confronting daily. It is having a major impact on their capacity to operate and function profitably. Yet what do we get? We get the Minister representing the Minister for Small Business and Tourism, Senator Abetz, saying that the issue of late payments is esoteric—in other words, it relates to only a small number of people. Quite frankly, this is an absolute insult to the small business sector. It is symptomatic of the lip-service that this government pays to small business. This is a party that claims to represent small business, yet in fact since 1996 it has done absolutely nothing to assist them.
The GST is a great example of this. It has immeasurably increased the strain on small business. A CPA Australia survey found that compliance costs, and in particular GST compliance costs, posed a grave risk to small business profitability. One small business operator, for example, complained:
... If you are constantly struggling with your cash flow, your ability to employ people is crippled because you think, `Sure, I've got the business, I've got enough work to take on an extra person but I'm not sure that I'm going to be able to pay them. My cash flow is on a roller-coaster because I have to pay out money I haven't collected.'
Quite frankly, that does not sound to me like an esoteric issue. It is an issue that affects a lot of small businesses, and the GST, in fact, has had a very significant impact on their capacity to operate. What do we have? We have people like the minister, Senator Abetz, saying, `Don't worry about it. It doesn't affect small business.' The reality is that this government is too busy pursuing its own narrow ideological issues and crusading against unfair dismissal laws to worry about the real myriad complex issues that are confronting small business. It ranks that as a No. 1 issue, primarily because it sees it in ideological terms. Minister Abbott and other ministers of this government would rather go around like Don Quixote, tilting at ideological windmills, than actually getting down to do the hard work of resolving the complex issues that confront small business.
I will make one point in relation to that. Let us contrast what this government and its ministers are saying with what the government's own Office of Small Business is saying—which admitted during questioning in the February estimates that it has had discussions with the ACCC on provisions to deter late payments to small business—that is, while Minister Abetz thinks that this is an unimportant issue, the agency tasked to support small business considers it to be extremely important. Again, we should be well and truly used to this government's rhetoric: it says one thing and in practice does another.
One other issue that has been raised which I think needs to be addressed by speakers on the government side is the issue of the 70,000 jobs. It started off as 50,000, which was a throwaway claim made by COSBOA. I think Mr Abbott, when he became the minister, indexed it and took it up to 53,600. They have now paid a very expensive consultant to do a report and he has actually managed to get it up to 77,000—I think that is the latest bid. I presume that if they go out and get some other consultant to do a report they might be able to push it up to 100,000. But the reality is, when you go out and talk to the small business community and say, `Is this real? Is this true? Are unfair dismissal laws stopping the employment of 70,000 or 50,000 people?' they say, `Nonsense. What stops us employing people is demand for our goods and services. If the demand is there, we'll employ them.' It has absolutely nothing to do with unfair dismissal laws. It is all to do with their capacity to grow their businesses, and the demand that they get for their goods and services. Even COSBOA, who started this hare running, admitted that to us in the inquiry.
There is a lot in the small business inquiry. There is a lot in it that sustains the position that is being put by Senator Conroy in this motion. I recommend to the senators on the other side that they actually pick it up and read it, because it is a very well thought out report. It does represent substantially the views of the small business community and it does reflect in the recommendations the issues that they believe are priority issues that need dealing with and need to be treated by governments in order to reduce the pressures that are on small business to operate on a daily basis.
There is one other issue that I want to address with respect to this position of the government and its members in relation to small business. I thought it was amusing when I picked up the Herald Sun today and saw an article entitled `Senator brands himself as anti-consumer'. The article starts off with this statement:
Queensland Liberal Senator George Brandis managed to say some extraordinarily stupid things in his 90 seconds of fame on the ABC's Insiders program last Sunday.
The journalist obviously agrees with me that Senator Brandis has had all the fame he can handle and is definitely overexposed. The article goes on to say:
Now stupidity from yet another Queensland coalition politician, albeit this time, a Liberal, is one thing.
What was extremely disturbing was the implied suggestion that his stupidity could be turned into policy and enshrined in law.
Too late, I say. This government has already enshrined in law some very stupid policies— the GST amongst them. Continuing with its freakishly accurate assessment of Senator Brandis's abilities, the article goes on to say:
Choosing to discuss the recent competition case won by building products group Boral, Brandis managed quite impressively to compress stupidity on two levels into his short time—
not short enough, I might add—
before the camera. First, and you'd have to say, rather surprisingly and even shockingly for a lawyer, in getting exactly wrong what the case proved.
And throwing a tasty little defamation at Boral, in the process.
Brandis said bluntly and without qualification that: “Boral decided to drive the small firm out of the market by the practice known as predatory pricing.”
Followed by a statement of truly breathtaking stupidity from a lawyer: “Surprisingly the High Court decided that didn't contravene the Trade Practices Act (TPA).”
Maybe Senator Brandis was in a hurry to do the program and did not have the opportunity to talk to his tipstaff, Senator Mason, and get a bit of advice from him about how he should respond to this decision. The article continues:
The second, more important, and very disturbing level of stupidity, was Brandis's call for the predatory pricing Section 46 of the TPA to be `reformed'. That's to say, he's in favour of cosy featherbedding for `small firms' and higher prices for his constituents as consumers.
The article then concludes on Senator Brandis's capabilities. (Time expired)