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Tuesday, 19 June 2012
Page: 7161


Mr BILLSON (Dunkley) (21:22): I would like to go back to the Minister for Small Business to pick up on some of the points he mentioned. On the issue of the small business commissioner—is the minister aware there was a small business commissioner appointed to the ACCC in 1999 by a cabinet level minister for small business, Peter Reith? Your lifting and rebadging of coalition policy was an opportunity to have thought about getting the title correct. Rather than just lifting the coalition policy from the last election, you could have rung me and I could have pointed out the problems that you needed to get across. One of the things that we noticed at the last election was that there was no new policy brought to the electorate or to the small business community by the Gillard-Rudd government. I congratulate you on your nimbleness in picking up coalition policy and in following the lead of the coalition in having the small business spokesperson at the adults table and not at the kids table, as was the case for the three ministers that you follow.

In that light, you would be aware of some commentary that there is concern about what you have called the small business commissioner. For those listening, this is not the small business commissioner we already have in the ACCC, but is a rebadging by the government of the small business and family enterprise ombudsman the coalition has been promising. There is some concern about the independence of that role—that you are reducing a role which would have had the additional teeth, powers and tools needed to enable it to be an ally to small businesses to, effectively, just putting in another first assistant secretary within your own department. Have you seen those concerns?

Have you also seen the calls from your preferred small business advocacy group for an appointment from outside the executive to ensure the independence of the role and to protect its authority? I would be interested to know your thoughts about that. Following on from that, for the Small Business Support Line—I read your press releases about the number of calls and find those very interesting—do you keep statistics on the nature of the inquiries being directed to it? You made quite a point about ensuring that the small business commissioner—that is not the one that is already appointed to the ACCC but the one that is the government's rebadging of the small business and family enterprise ombudsman we were advocating—did not trip over the state level small business commissioners. Have you turned your mind to how you might ensure the Small Business Support Line services are not a duplication of what is already provided by the state services offering similar assistance?

That is an issue that has been raised with me regularly.

Also, I would be interested if you could provide a breakdown of the issues being canvassed on that support line. Are you getting substantial numbers of people ringing looking for advice on award matters, given that Fair Work is reluctant to provide actionable information to small business people who inquire?

Moving on to the earlier point about the dissatisfaction with the government: have you seen the report in the MYOB 2012 Business Monitor report headed up 'Near-record SME dissatisfaction with government' and how it goes on to draw attention to the 38 per cent level of significant dissatisfaction going up to 52 per cent just in the last two years? Do you have any antidote to this sense that the government has no idea what is happening in small business?

Going to the carbon tax: are you at all concerned that the government has done no meaningful modelling on the actual price impact of the carbon tax on different sizes and types of small business, with different supply chains and service systems, all of which will produce a different outcome for the consumers, yet your Prime Minister decreed a one per cent price cap which has no basis in fact, no legal basis whatsoever, and has been repeatedly contradicted by the ACCC as it seeks to provide reliable information to the small business community as distinct from the self-serving political spin coming out of the government and its ministers? And also are you concerned at the report from the ACCC in the last few days that they are relying very heavily on industry expertise, given that the government has not seen fit to value small business adequately to do that research? And finally, you have what is called an industry update unit, established in December 2009. Has this area within your portfolio actually given you an update about the conditions being faced by the small business community—the dire straits—and the dissatisfaction they feel with this government, and the need for a government that will restore hope, reward and opportunity?

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Hon. BC Scott ): Order! I just might remind the chamber once again, as I have on a number of occasions, of the use of the word 'you'. It would be 'the minister' or 'the government' rather than 'you'.

Mr Billson interjecting

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: The member for Dunkley, it is a habit that has crept into debate on both sides of the chamber.