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Monday, 27 March 2017
Page: 3259


Mr MORRISON (CookTreasurer) (18:58): I would like to thank those members who have contributed to this debate. Having reflected on some of that debate, I have to ask the question: what has the Labor Party got against small business? Why are they so opposed to small business? Today they came into this place and voted against a tax cut for small business, to actually increase the threshold for a small business definition, which I know that Deputy Speaker Kelly is very passionate about when he is not sitting in that chair, where he is completely independent at this moment, but sitting elsewhere. Two to 10 million dollars—they voted against that today. They said today that small business has to pay more tax. Now they do not want to level the playing field for small business. If you are a small business person in this country, you must look at the Labor Party benches with complete despair. I suppose many small businesses have had much experience of looking at the Labor Party with despair. As these two bills have come into this place today and are being dealt with, it has demonstrated once again that the Labor Party has no friends in small business and small business has no friend in the Labor Party.

This bill represents one of the most significant reforms to our competition laws in recent times. It will ensure that our laws promote strong competition in our markets and a level playing field for business, including over two million small businesses, to the ultimate benefit of Australian consumers. The bill reforms section 46 of the Competition and Consumer Act and makes consequential amendments to the telecommunications-specific competition laws in part XIB of the same act. The amendments introduced in this bill are designed to address fundamental deficiencies with section 46 as identified by the Harper review, which was initiated by this government and is being implemented by this government. The new section 46 will better target anti-competitive conduct, better support pro-competitive conduct and facilitate more reliable enforcement. The reforms will ensure that section 46 is appropriately focused on protecting the competitive process and the long-term interests of consumers, rather than individual competitors or a particular group of businesses. Overall, this reform will benefit consumers and the economy by giving all businesses a better opportunity to compete on their merits.

When first introduced into the parliament, and as recommended by the Harper review, schedule 1 included a provision requiring the courts to have regard to anti-competitive and pro-competitive factors—these are the so-called mandatory factors—when deciding whether conduct has the purpose, effect or likely effect of substantially lessening competition. As was recommended by the Senate Economics Legislation Committee, the mandatory factors will be removed from the new section 46 through amendments that I will put to the House shortly in the consideration in detail.

Stakeholders expressed concern that the inclusion of the factors would add significant uncertainty and complexity to section 46. Removing the factors would also reduce any risk that the substantially lessening competition test will take on a different meaning with the new section 46 compared to other provisions in the competition law that use that test but do not contain mandatory factors. The commencement of this bill has also been adjusted to ensure that the new section 46 does not take effect until and unless authorisation is available for conduct that might otherwise breach section 46. A broader competition law reform package, which among other things, will extend authorisation to section 46 conduct, is currently being finalised for imminent introduction.

As a result of the reforms in this bill, our competition regulator will be better equipped to promote open, competitive and well-functioning markets in Australia that are focused on producing better outcomes for customers. These reforms will support a level playing field for all businesses, to ensure that new and innovative firms can expand and enter new markets, new technologies can be introduced into Australia and consumers can access the best-quality products at the lowest prices. By strengthening our competition laws, these amendments will support our long-term productivity growth, which is absolutely essential to creating jobs, securing jobs, ensuring wages can increase and ensuring Australia's continued economic growth.

As Treasurer, I have been very pleased to sponsor this bill into this parliament and, through the government's processes, to have been joined, in particular, by the Minister for Revenue and Financial Services, who has also been working very strongly to this end. I particularly, once again, want to congratulate and thank the former member for Dunkley, who was responsible for carriage of these matters in the last parliament. I think it is a testimony to his commitment on these issues while he was in this place. That work has been followed on by myself and the Minister for Revenue and Financial Services. I commend the bill to the House.

The SPEAKER: The original question was that this bill be now read a second time. To this the honourable member for McMahon has moved as an amendment that all words after 'That' be omitted with a view to substituting other words. The immediate question is that the amendment be agreed to.