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Tuesday, 27 May 2003
Page: 15021


Mr BAIRD (2:04 PM) —My question is addressed to the Treasurer. Would the Treasurer advise the House of the results of the Yellow Pages Business Index released today? What does the index indicate about the confidence levels of small and medium enterprises?


Mr COSTELLO (Treasurer) —I thank the honourable member for Cook for his question. The Yellow Pages Business Index surveys 1,800 small and medium enterprises in all states and territories. It shows that business confidence remains strong, with 68 per cent of small and medium enterprises feeling fairly or extremely confident in their business prospects. The net confidence balance was plus 54 per cent, down slightly from the February result of plus 55 per cent, but very high by historical comparison. Confidence was highest in building and construction, reflecting the continuing strength in residential and engineering construction activity. Regional businesses continue to report higher confidence levels than metropolitan businesses. That is interesting. I will say that again: regional businesses continue to report higher confidence levels than metropolitan businesses at plus 57 per cent. When you consider the effect of the drought, which would have an effect on confidence for regional businesses, and when you consider the effect of the exchange rate, which many businesses in the exporting business would consider has moved against them in recent times, and the difficulty in the international environment, that is quite significant. Small businesses are always asked as part of this survey what their prime concerns are. Ten per cent said that their prime concern was lack of work, eight per cent said that it was consumer confidence and six per cent, interestingly, said that finding quality staff was their prime concern. The drought was the prime concern of four per cent. Two per cent said that their prime concern was the GST.


Mr Fitzgibbon —Two per cent of the million.


Mr COSTELLO —The member for Hunter interjects. To my knowledge, he has no plan to roll back the GST. That is a word you do not hear around here very much, do you—the R word? The GST was going to destroy small business as we know it. The interesting thing is that the member for Hunter interjects. I am aware of a small business in the Hunter that is worried about unfair dismissal laws. It is very close to the member for Hunter. It is a hairdressing business, from memory, and it is very worried about unfair dismissal laws but not so worried about the GST, apparently.

We were told by the Labor Party that they would surf their way into office on the back of the GST. It was the prime concern of two per cent of those surveyed for the Yellow Pages Business Index. In fact, when asked what was their major concern, 35 per cent said, `No concern.' That was the major response in relation to that survey.

As I said earlier, our country faces difficulties. We have a weak international environment, we have the worst drought in 100 years, we have come through a war in Iraq, we have the threat of terrorism, we have SARS in relation to regional tourism and we have an appreciating dollar, which will be of concern to many exporters. But in the wake of all that, the fact that the Australian economy continues to outperform other advanced industrial economies of the world shows the results that can be got from good economic policy. Economic policy is important for small business, and that is why this government intends to continue with strong economic policy in this country.