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Monday, 14 March 2005
Page: 26


Senator TCHEN (2:16 PM) —My question is to the Special Minister of State, Senator Abetz, in his capacity as the Minister representing the Minister for Small Business and Tourism. Would the minister inform the Senate how the Howard government is assisting small businesses? Is the minister aware of any alternative policies?


Senator ABETZ (Special Minister of State) —I thank Senator Tchen for his question and his ongoing interest in small business. The Howard Liberal government are unashamedly proud of their pro small business stance. We recognise that small business is the engine room for economic growth. That is why, since being elected to government, we have introduced a range of policies which have assisted this country’s small business people which, in turn, has delivered such strong employment growth. Chief among our policies has been our determination to produce strong economic growth, which has allowed small businesses to grow. At the same time, our sound economic policies have seen business interest rates tumble from 20-plus per cent under Labor to single digits today. As a result, small businesses, relieved of the crippling interest rate burden, have had the confidence to expand—an expansion which has created jobs for our fellow Australians.

Let us not forget another important measure that the Howard government have undertaken to help small businesses. That is the reduction of red tape. Since the last election, we have passed legislation to implement several key initiatives to reduce the compliance burden on Australian small businesses—


Senator Brown —The GST.


Senator ABETZ —including annual GST reporting and payment for very small businesses—and Senator Brown is on the money for once; it is a rare occasion, so it should be recorded—simplified quarterly PAYG instalments, annual private use of apportionment for GST and the removal of the requirement for superannuation reporting.

Unfortunately, other commitments that we took to the last election which would assist small business have yet to pass the Senate. Unlike those on the other side, we do recognise the importance of small business but those opposite actively seek to frustrate our policy implementation. Indeed, it should not come as a surprise to the Australian people that the Labor Party are deliberately frustrating our policies in this important small business sector. They went to the last election with one of their key policies for small business being a new payroll tax. Indeed, Mr Beazley, in his first stint as leader, proudly told 6PR that the Australian Labor Party never pretended to be the party for small business. Of course, that prophecy remains true under his recycled leadership today.

What are the policies that the Labor Party are still frustrating? The most important one is the unfair dismissal laws which, if they were to be reformed, could create up to 75,000 new jobs in this country overnight.


Senator Chris Evans —Why don’t you say one million?


Senator ABETZ —Senator Evans asks why we do not say one million. It is simply because, unlike Labor, we do not exaggerate and we do use university studies to support our assertions. That is why I said up to 75,000 fellow Australians could be taken off the unemployment—


Senator Robert Ray —Could, might or possibly!


Senator ABETZ —If Senator Ray wants to make a contribution to positive policies, I invite him to do so. I think the bitterness of nine years in opposition is finally catching up with him.


The PRESIDENT —Senator, ignore the interjections and address your remarks through the chair.


Senator ABETZ —There are other aspects of our policies as well, like not allowing trade union officials to barge into small businesses, including home based small businesses. (Time expired)


Senator TCHEN —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. I draw the minister’s attention to the fact that I also asked him whether he was aware of any alternative policies.


Senator ABETZ (Special Minister of State) —I am aware of alternative policies. Those alternative policies are those which the Australian Labor Party took to the people of Australia and which were quite rightly and resoundingly rejected. These include things such as allowing the unfair dismissal laws to remain in place, introducing a payroll tax for small businesses and allowing trade union officials to barge into small businesses unannounced, including home based small businesses. Labor might have a new leader but, unfortunately, what it desperately needs is a new policy in this area. Since 9 October, Labor has failed to ask a single question dealing with small business in this place. The reason is that, as Mr Beazley said himself previously, Labor is simply not a party that pretends to champion small business. It never has and it never will. (Time expired)