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Tuesday, 26 June 2012
Page: 8003


Mr HARTSUYKER (Cowper) (15:45): I welcome the opportunity to speak on this matter of public importance because it is indeed a very important matter. The future of small business is a very important matter not only for the entire country but also particularly for regional Australia, which does not have the large employers that the city has. So many of the jobs in the regions are generated by small business.

I believe the minister is a decent man but, unfortunately, I do not believe he understands small business. I do not think he goes and talks to the people on the street, on the high street, in the shopping centres and in the factories who are making it happen. These are the people who work 100 hours a week, who have mortgaged their houses to run a small business, who employ people and who worry day and night whether their business will survive. What is the assistance they get from this government? They get a massive new tax.

Small business has been caught in a bind for some time, with increasing costs and flat and falling revenues. What is the government's answer to that? It is a massive new tax. I was stunned, in fact, when the government proposed a carbon tax that was supported by the member for Lyne and the member for New England—two members who represent regional seats, who represent areas highly dependent on small business and who should know better. The reality is, because of this government every power point has been turned into another department of the tax office. Every time a small business uses power it is effectively paying the carbon tax. It is an untruth to try to claim that only the 500 largest companies pay this tax; every small business in this country pays this tax. Every small business is being hindered in its efforts to create employment by this tax. Every small business is being made less competitive by this tax, and this government, the member for Lyne and the member for New England should hang their heads in shame.

When I go around my electorate I hear people who are very worried. They worry whether their business is going to be able to continue. They tell me they are just hanging on. They tell me they need to get rid of this government. Consumer confidence is low and business confidence is low, and what assistance do they get? They get a great big new tax.

I was talking to Russell Greenwood, a butcher in my electorate. He is hardworking—works seven days a week—employs people and pays his way, and what does he get from this government? He gets a new tax. When I visited Russell he said: 'I've been speaking to a lot of small businesses in this town and, I suppose, as far down as Wollongong and further along the eastern seaboard, and everyone feels the same way. The carbon tax is just going put more and more costs on small business and, besides that, by and large big ones as well. It will end up and turn out really hurting people, so as far as I'm concerned it's going to put people out of jobs. It's going to put a strain on businesses—as if the costs of running a small business aren't bad enough already. I think that the backbone of this country is small business, and if this carbon tax goes ahead, well, it's going to crucify and close a lot of stores which are already closing. People are finding it very hard out there in this economy, and I think it's just going to get worse and worse if this carbon tax goes ahead.' I think Russell has pretty much summarised the thoughts of many small businesspeople.

I talked to the owner of another business, who asked not to be named, and they said: 'The increase in the cost of doing business is killing us. We're reducing our opening hours. We're trying to cut costs. The introduction of the carbon tax will probably be the final straw for us. We have no choice but to lay off staff. At the moment we are looking to cut seven jobs from our business.' How is that helping Australians? We know this carbon tax will not work. We know our emissions will rise and that the pain of small business will also rise.

The government is trying to claim that only 500 companies will pay the tax, but we heard in question time today that refrigerant R404A is going to be hit by a massive carbon tax that will increase the cost of the gas from $92.88 per kilo to $377.71 per kilo. That is a massive increase. Faircloth & Reynolds, an air-conditioning business in Coffs Harbour, which is in my electorate, has six vans and employs a combination of experienced operators and apprentices. Dave Reynolds told me that it will cost an extra $4,000 to stock each van. That is an extra cost being put on this business by this government. The government says only 500 companies will pay that, but that is about as credible as the claim, 'There will be no carbon tax under a government I lead.'

Mr John Cobb: There will be no government either.

Mr HARTSUYKER: Absolutely, the member for Calare. Small businesses are already attempting to cut costs.

Government members interjecting

Mr HARTSUYKER: Those on the other side might well laugh at the plight of small business, but those businesses are not looking as forward to the introduction of this tax on 1 July as those opposite are, I can tell you they are not. They do not want to be driven out of business by the government's incompetence. The thing about the Labor Party is it just does not get small business. It just does not get how hard it is to make a profit because probably none of them over there have ever made a profit. They have only ever had a union salary which comes in every fortnight, no questions asked—not like the people who are in small business who have to struggle to make it pay. They have to do a job, get paid for it and make a profit, and what do those opposite do to help? They tax them with the carbon tax. They try to tell us that it is not going to affect the cost of petrol, but who is going to believe that? Who believes that there will be no energy used in the production, distribution and retailing of petrol? Who believes that?

Mr John Cobb: Or the diesel used to transport it.

Mr HARTSUYKER: Or the diesel used to transport it. What we are going to see is a rise in the cost of petrol and a rise in the cost of diesel because of the carbon tax imposed by this government.

Transport industries are doing it tough. I was talking to Graeme Nicholson, from Nicholson & Page Transport in Maclean, who told me that the additional cost of the carbon tax will hit his small trucking operation hard. He said: 'It might be all right for road freight companies with the benefit of large, diversified logistics and storage operations but for smaller operators solely focused on long-haul transport the impact on their bottom line would be significant.' These operators are also facing an increase in the road user charge from this government. This government does not have a clue about the impact of this tax and the impact of increased costs on small business.

We need to encourage small business. I heard the minister talk about a range of government measures allegedly to assist small business. The best thing this government could do is not to implement this tax. The best thing this government could do is to call an election and hand over to someone who can run the economy—hand over to the opposition, because we could restore business confidence. We could restore consumer confidence, because they are concerned about your competence. One of the biggest factors in the economy at the moment is that the Australian people do not believe this government has the capacity to make the correct decisions on behalf of Australia. That is being reflected right throughout the economy.

We see people in small business doing their very best to keep their costs down. We see this government doing their very best to push costs up. On 1 July in my electorate we will see electricity prices increase by almost 20 per cent, half of which is due to this government's carbon tax. We have to encourage small business. We have to assist small business in what it does best—that is, employing people and creating wealth, particularly in the regions where small business is so important. The thing we must not do is restrict small business and retard its ability to employ people. This government has proven time and time again that it does not understand small business. If it is not more red tape, it is more taxes. If it is not more taxes, it is more bad decision making. This is just a prime example of that.

The Independents should hang their heads in shame at the fact they are supporting this government to implement this tax that is going to be so damaging in regional and rural Australia. In fact, on the weekend we are going to have a preselection in Lyne, and the people of Lyne will see a National Party candidate appointed. From this weekend on the people of Lyne will have a pretty clear choice—they will have a choice between a candidate who will pledge to repeal this tax, pledge to take the pressure off small business, and the member for Lyne who is keen to introduce this tax that is going to increase over time. This tax is going to put more and more impost on small business and is going to be jacked up to $350 a tonne, by the government's own modelling, by 2050.

The government and the Independents have no shame. They are going to crucify small business. It is about time this government handed over to the coalition to manage the economy strongly, get small business confidence up, get confidence in regional Australia up, so that small business can get on with its job of employing people.