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Tuesday, 10 May 2011
Page: 2077


Senator BILYK (Tasmania) (15:00): My question is to the Minister for Small Business, Senator Sherry. Can the minister outline to the Senate how the Gillard government is meeting its commitment to providing ongoing support for small businesses affected by last summer's natural disasters? How is the Gillard government making it easier for small business to access the right assistance and advice during the difficult recovery process?

Senator SHERRY (TasmaniaMinister Assisting on Deregulation and Public Sector Superannuation, Minister for Small Business and Minister Assisting the Minister for Tourism) (15:01): I thank my colleague, Senator Bilyk, for the question. I do have some additional news about new support for small business in the areas of Australia that have been devastated by the recent natural disasters, floods and Cyclone Yasi. Of course, the Gillard government remains focused, as an ongoing priority, on the recovery of these regions and the businesses and individuals that have been affected. The government is providing an additional $3.3 million funding boost to small business support groups to help them deliver additional services to assist Australia's disaster-affected small business.

Senator Ian Macdonald: Who's that—the ACTU?

Senator SHERRY: No, it is not the ACTU, Senator Macdonald. You trivialise the very important work of the BECs, the business enterprise centres. They are dedicated, hardworking and committed. They worked, and are still working, enormously long hours to assist in the disaster-affected areas to provide additional assistance, ongoing support, counselling, business recovery and advice to the many small businesses affected. For Senator Macdonald to trivialise with that sort of silly interjection the enormous commitment and hard work that the BECs are doing on behalf of small businesses in these disaster areas is a reflection on Senator Macdonald.

Senator Ian Macdonald: Why are you shutting them down if they are doing such a good job?

Senator SHERRY: Again, a trivial interjection. We are not shutting them down. There might be some state governments shutting them down, but we have expanded the funding. I am very proud that it is this government that introduced funding for the business enterprise centres. It was an election commitment in 2007 and it was delivered by my predecessor, Dr Emerson. We are very proud of the work the BECs have done. They deserve the additional funding, even if Senator Macdonald and the Liberal Party do not think it is deserved.

Senator BILYK (Tasmania) (15:03): Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Minister, in what other ways has the Gillard government been supporting small businesses to recover? Is this new funding a part of this year's budget announcements?

Senator SHERRY (TasmaniaMinister Assisting on Deregulation and Public Sector Superannuation, Minister for Small Business and Minister Assisting the Minister for Tourism) (15:03): The additional funding is part of the ongoing Small Business Advisory Services Program. That is a $42.5 million commitment from the government. The program makes it possible for some 37 business enterprise centres across Australia to operate.

I had the pleasure to launch the latest centre in Cairns, Senator Macdonald. You are obviously not looking at what is happening in Northern Queensland. We are actually expanding the services being offered, Senator Macdonald, contrary to the silly interjection you made earlier and the quite false claim that we are cutting back on the centres. We are expanding the reach of these centres. Senator Macdonald would be well advised to go and visit some of the small businesses that have been receiving advice from the new centre in Cairns. You are obviously so divorced from the issue and from your own community that you have got no appreciation of the work of these centres. Many of the advisers are formerly small business operators, and they are referred to small business operators.

Senator Chris Evans: While I would like to hear more from Senator Sherry, I ask that further questions be placed on the Notice Paper.