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Wednesday, 6 February 2013
Page: 243

Mr FITZGIBBON (HunterChief Government Whip) (15:54): I congratulate the member for Dunkley on one thing: that was the fastest speech I have ever seen delivered in this place. And why wouldn't it be? As the shadow minister for small business and as a person who is never, or very rarely, allocated a question in this place on small business matters, the member for Dunkley just assumed he would have a 15-minute speech this afternoon. He assumed that he would be leading the debate in this place on a very, very specific matter of public importance on small business. But, alas—and I feel for the member for Dunkley—this debate was led by the Leader of the Nationals. That is some sort of oxymoron or contradiction in terms—the Leader of the National Party leading a debate on an MPI.

I was intrigued that the member for Dunkley spent so much time—and he used a prop, so I hope you will excuse me for using one briefly—talking about this document: 'Our plan: real solutions for all Australians'. Maybe the reason the Leader of the National Party was given a guernsey is because his photo is on the front of that document. The member for Dunkley is missing. The opposition understood that with no member for Dunkley, the shadow minister for small business, on the front cover that they had better lead with the Leader of the National Party.

The member made a big deal about this document. This is my second prop. I will be very quick. Here is the plan: this one pager here. I will just go through it quite quickly. 'Helping small business'—there is a bit of a blurb about the importance of small business. We all agree. If there is one thing that both parties in this place seem to agree on, it is the important role that small business plays in this country. So say all of us. There is no argument there.

Then they talk about lowering taxes for small business. How are they going to do it? They are going abolish the carbon tax—surprise, surprise! They do talk about corporate tax, but there is no information and no detail about how this is going take place, be done or be funded. Remember that we have reductions in taxation, including for those in small business, linked to the carbon tax and the mining tax. Of course, they are going to get rid of all of those. It is the magic pudding again! Then they are going to reduce red tape for small business by a billion dollars. Can you imagine how the member for Dunkley or the shadow Treasurer in their offices calculated that on the computer or on the calculator, working out how they were going to reduce small business red tape and green tape by a billion dollars. I invite the opposition to allow their next speaker in this debate to explain how that has been calculated and exactly which regulation is going to be removed.

They have a crack at the tax office. That is sport for all of us, of course. The tax office were never hard on small business when they were in government—of course not! That never happened! I was the shadow Assistant Treasurer in this place and watched day by day as then Assistant Treasurers—both Mal Brough and now shadow minister Peter Dutton—walked in here correcting, day after day, tax bills they had amended and had to re-amend because of the adverse impact on small business and business more generally.

Then they are going to double the annual rate of small business growth. Sorry? They are going to double the rate of small business growth? So there are going to be four million small businesses by the end of the Abbott government's first term? I can only assume that is what that means.

They are going to review competition law. They had 11½ years in government to review competition law and did nothing. They will do nothing if they have another opportunity in the future. Of course, there is the old chestnut—extending unfair contract protection to small business. IR is always a big feature, but what they do not do, again, is give any detail, because we know it is back to Work Choices. They will go back to Work Choices.

Mr Billson: It is not even IR, you genius!

Mr FITZGIBBON: It is IR related, Member for Dunkley, and you know what it is about. Of course, contract protections for small business is okay between small and large businesses. That is the manifesto that the member for Dunkley spent so much time focusing on.

In many ways, the more things change the more they stay the same. The conservative political party in this country spend a lot of time talking about small business outside of this place but very little time talking about it inside this place. They take it for granted. They think it is their natural constituency, but they should understand that many small businesses in this country—many that I speak to—know that their real allegiance is to the big businesses of this country.

That is where they get their campaign funds and that is why, when I look at unfair contracts, competition policy and other matters, I have a bit of a laugh. They have never lifted a finger in this place through the Trade Practices Act to improve the standing and the competitiveness of small businesses against larger businesses.

I have been saying in this place for 17 years that there are only three critical things a government needs to do for small business. First, it needs to grow the economy, which this government is doing miraculously in the face of the biggest global economic downturn since the Great Depression. Second, it needs to keep the price of money, the price of borrowing, low; keep interest rates low. Interest rates in this country are at a historical low. The member for Dunkley talked about spreads, but he knows that is a matter completely outside the control of this government or any other government but rather is affected by global economic circumstances and the necessity of the banks in this country to borrow more funds onshore. The third important thing is to simply get out of the way. What hurts small business more than anything else is overregulation, and this government has a very good track record of getting out of the way of the small business community.

I spent many years in this place as the small business shadow minister, and I spent many years in this place as shadow Assistant Treasurer—a portfolio which causes one to spend a lot of time on small business issues. It is not just about the three things I mentioned; it is not just about the things we need to do and not do. It is about the things that at first blush do not appear to be related to small business—things like the National Broadband Network, which is particularly welcomed by people like me who represent rural and regional Australia because it gives small businesses in the region a competitiveness they could never have dreamed of in the absence of such technology. Of course, that is another initiative of this government that those on the other side seem determined to get rid of.

We have elevated, in the real sense, small business to the cabinet level and I am very pleased that we have a new small business minister who, like those before him, does understand small business. Minister Bowen is from Sydney's west, and that is the heartland of small business in this country. You find many traders and home marketers and people working in IT who are self-employed. Small business people and business people generally are the real creators of wealth in this country. We are committed to ensuring they remain the real creators of wealth. From this government you will not just get the sort of rhetoric we heard from the Leader of the Nationals and the member for Dunkley and that we saw in the glossy one-pager the member for Dunkley waved around today; you will get real policy initiatives and real action—the type of action that is good for small business, which will continue to grow small businesses and will give small business the opportunity to flourish and employ Australians.

It was a little unfair for the member for Dunkley to claim that small businesses are employing fewer people. We have had a mining boom, and small businesses have found it difficult to retain staff. People are taking the opportunity to earn higher incomes in the mining and associated sectors. What is the Labor Party doing? It is attempting to spread the benefits of the boom, to level the playing field and give small businesses an opportunity to compete. Perhaps they cannot compete on the wages front, but we are investing in things that do level the playing field. Infrastructure is generally part of that. It is apparent that the member for Dunkley does not understand that. I am sure the Leader of the Nationals does not understand it, and we know, having heard them so many times, that the conservative forces in this place are long on rhetoric and very light on detail. (Time expired)