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Monday, 15 September 2003
Page: 20013

Mrs DRAPER (2:50 PM) —My question is addressed to the Minister for Small Business and Tourism. Would the minister update the House on the government's ongoing commitment to improve the environment in which small business can grow and create jobs? What is the progress of government legislation aimed at assisting small business to do this?

Mr HOCKEY (Minister for Small Business and Tourism) —I thank the member for Makin for her important question. She is a great advocate for small business in the Adelaide region. It is not often that I give a wrap to a member of the opposition. It is not a habit that we want to create. We recognise that Barney Cooney was a one-off. But I think I might have found another one and I want to give the member for Hunter a bit of a wrap. Not only is he a pretty handy half-back for the parliamentary rugby team; importantly, he occasionally calls it as he sees it. We on this side of the House will be forever grateful for this observation by the member for Hunter on The Small Business Show when he recounted a conversation he had with a small business woman.

Mr Latham —Mr Speaker, I rise on a point of order. The question very clearly was about the progress of government legislation relating to small business and not a very dated conversation that the minister is repeating to the House. This answer is clearly not relevant. In the couple of minutes that the minister has been speaking, he has not mentioned legislation once and has not mentioned provisions for small business once.

The SPEAKER —Let me reassure the House that I was much more concerned about the relevance of the member for Hunter's capacity as a football player than I was about anything that has been said so far. The minister has the call.

Mr HOCKEY —The member for Hunter recounted a conversation he had with a small business woman. He said:

... she could afford to put on one person or would like to put on one more person, but is fearful of unfair dismissals, she is fearful of going through the barrier to another level of red tape and regulation.

We recognise that the member for Hunter was telling the truth. He was being honest. He was saying that he had met a small business woman who said that, if not for the unfair dismissal provisions that exist at the moment, she would employ another person. In part in response to that, the coalition said, `We want to introduce an exemption from unfair dismissal legislation for small business.' We have put that legislation to the parliament on 18 occasions, and on a total of 36 occasions—in both the House of Representatives and the Senate—the Labor Party have voted against it.

If we can exempt Australia's 1.1. million small businesses from the unfair dismissal legislation, it will, on some of the most conservative estimates, create an additional 50,000 jobs. And we believe in job creation on this side of the House. We want lower unemployment rates, we want more people in jobs and we want small business to thrive. Just as that small business woman said to the member for Hunter, it is important that we give small business the opportunity to grow. So we do not understand why the Labor Party continue to pretend to be the friend of small business. They have had the opportunity to vote in favour of small business in the Senate. When it comes to unfair dismissal legislation, on 18 separate occasions they have rejected the initiative. Labor can have all the inquiries they want in the Senate into a range of different matters, from the Trade Practices Act to late payments for small business, but when push comes to shove the only parties prepared to put the interests of small business ahead of the interests of the unions are the Liberal and National parties.