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Tuesday, 24 June 2008
Page: 3174

Senator BARNETT (3:22 PM) —I stand to take note of the answer from Minister Carr, and specifically to say that the scrapping of the Commercial Ready program is one of the worst decisions that this government has made. I think the underlying reason for the government’s decision is its inclination—I will not call it a hatred—towards not supporting, helping and encouraging small business and entrepreneurs in this country. The fact is that the coalition has been a friend of small business. We have been a friend and supporter and encourager of entrepreneurs throughout Australia in each state and territory of this great country. They are the backbone of our country, particularly in the rural and regional parts of this nation, and they need and deserve our support.

The Commercial Ready program was working. It had the runs on the board. It started in 2004 and has provided about $200 million per year in individual grants, from $250,000 to $5 million, to small companies, small businesses and entrepreneurs to assist them to bring new and innovative products to the market. It is not easy. This is a tough part of the business cycle. You get your plans ready and you do the research. Getting it to market is another matter. What this program has done is to get those products to market. It has worked. Since the program began there have been hundreds of successful businesses getting these products to market. It helps them to leverage extra venture capital, so for every dollar that goes in they get further funds invested by venture capital outfits and support for these private sector initiatives.

In fact, 20 per cent of the Commercial Ready grants went to the often high-risk biotech sector, where it is harder to get private venture capital. Insulin infusion products are very important for people with type 1 diabetes. It is hard, particularly for families with young kids who have type 1 diabetes, to get those injections and inject each day—up to five times per day in some instances. I had five injections per day for many years. Through medical technology I am now using an insulin pump, but I think of so many young Australians who potentially are missing out on this new intervention as a result of this mean-spirited approach by the Rudd Labor government.

The minister did acknowledge that there were many Australians who were very disappointed by his decision, and I am pleased he acknowledged that. What he did not do was apologise to them for the decision. In particular, he has not apologised to Mr Jimmy Seervai, who is an award-winning inventor, is financially supported by others and is working on solutions to Australia’s obesity epidemic. He is coming up with solutions; he is an innovator; he has won awards for this. Sadly, he, together with others, was described by the minister as ‘a millionaire’. Earlier I quoted from the Hansard, and the minister did not seem to recall what he said on 14 May—

Senator O’Brien —He didn’t say it.

Senator BARNETT —I will quote it again, because Senator O’Brien is querying it. He said:

We had this expectation that we should go on providing assistance and various other measures to millionaires ...

We can place on the record for the Senate today that Jimmy Seervai is not a millionaire. Nothing is further from the truth. I think the minister should come back into the chamber and apologise to all those small business owners and operators and those entrepreneurs who, as a result of this misinterpretation—that is the best way I can put it—from Senator Carr, have been maligned in that way.

Underneath all this, you can see that this is a government with no theme, no rationale, no narrative behind its programs and actions. Yes, it might be implementing some of its government measures but, in this case, it said before the election there was no promise to scrap this program, so in that sense it has broken an election promise as well. There is no heart in it from the government, no heart in what it is doing. There is no rationale to it and it does not, in my view, support the small business sector. (Time expired)

Question agreed to.