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Wednesday, 17 October 1984
Page: 1865

Senator JACK EVANS(3.46) —I commence by complimenting Senator Robert Hill on the topic which he has chosen for today's matter of public importance. I will read it to the Senate so that it can be clearly understood:

The Government's failure to recognise the importance of small business to the Australian economy and to implement policies that will encourage growth and employment opportunities within the sector.

Senator Hill has been brutally frank and I admire his integrity. He is not talking about this Government's failure; he is talking about governments failure . He is talking about all governments and I think that that is a very important distinction which needs to be drawn. Senator Hill would have recognised long since that it is not just this Government but all of its predecessors which have failed to recognise the importance of small business and to implement policies to help small business, as distinct from proclaiming policies which it promises to implement in the future but never quite gets around to.

It is quite fascinating to look at the history-it is not a very long one-of political parties discovering small businesses. The Australian Labor Party discovered small businesses in 1983 and put out a schedule of promises for small businesses, a few of which it has kept. It is to be commended for those few promises to small businesses which it has kept. I gather from Senator Hill's statement that the Liberal and National parties have just discovered small businesses. I make that statement because although they may have had policies about small business in the past they never implemented any of those policies when they were in government. It is fascinating to hear the diatribe about the present Government's inability to implement its policies without any reference being made to the failure to implement Liberal Party policies in the past, which would have helped small businesses and which would in turn have helped this country through its unemployment crisis.

One must ask: Why is small business suddenly becoming important? The cynical view might be that big business donations to political parties now have to be revealed. So instead of receiving a few large donations from the larger enterprises around Australia, some political parties are hoping to get a lot of small donations which do not have to be revealed. That is a fascinating theory, but perhaps it is a little too cynical. Perhaps the reason is that small businesses, and only small businesses, can permanently resolve the unemployment problem. Of course, unemployment is a vital issue in this election campaign.

It is fair to suggest that this debate was brought on to publicise the Liberal Party's new policy paper on small businesses and to invite people in small businesses-as Senator Hill did-to have a look at it. But in politics, as far as the electors are concerned, it is the actions that are important, not the promises. The policies are not worth the paper they are written on if they have no currency in Parliament and unfortunately political parties' policies on small businesses have absolutely no currency in this Parliament or this nation. Both the Labor and Liberal parties policies, when converted into actions have been detrimental to small businesses.

I indicated that small businesses are important in the employment field because they are usually more labour intensive than big firms. In the United States of America the whole net increase in jobs since 1967-15 million of them-has been due to small firms. Another fascinating fact is that young people are much more likely to be employed in small businesses than in large enterprises, simply because small businesses have a much more flexible approach to their employment. Small businesses are able to take on board young people who may lack skills, training and educational qualifications-the criteria which are laid down quite rigidly by the larger enterprises. We need to look at the problems of youth unemployment when we are looking at small businesses because if we can encourage the development and growth of small businesses around this nation we will be able to assist young people to get into employment, and older people to get their jobs back.

It is typical of the sort of approach that all governments have to small businesses that they cannot trust them to do their own thing. The establishment of the Small Business Advisory Council is so typical of that. Of the 16 members of that Council, only seven represent small business. Less than half of them represent small business. Five of them are bureaucrats, and four come from miscellaneous fields such as the trade union movement, accounting and finance and, for some strange reason, the Victorian Chamber of Manufactures.

The initiatives that the Australian Democrats would like to see introduced into this Parliament and carried out by this Government or any future government have been demonstrated by our legislative approach. As you will be aware, Mr Acting Deputy President, the Australian Democrats have introduced more private members Bills than have ever been introduced to a parliament or to all the parliaments since Federation. The reason for that is to give the lead. For the first time there is a political party which does not have the power of the government but which does have an influence over government, an influence which has already resulted in this Government adopting one of our private member's Bills. Others that I strongly recommend the Government to take on board-and I am willing to let it take full credit for them-include the Corporation (Employee-owned Co- operatives) Bill 1984 which gives the power and the support to groups of employees who want to salvage their own company before it goes under by forming it into a co-operative with the help of government. Another is the Arbitration ( Contract Carriers and Bailee Drivers) Bill 1984 which involves a typical Aussie small business. Yet owner-drivers are shot at and taken advantage of by the larger businesses because they are so vulnerable and have no access to an arbitration system. We also introduced legislation on the collective bargaining system to enable smaller enterprises to sit around the table, decide to break away from the trade union system and develop their own industrial agreement to suit that particular enterprise in that particular industry. This might not be relevant to the larger enterprises but it would be most suitable for the smaller ones. I appeal to the Government to take on board some of these initiatives that the Australian Democrats have put forward by way of private member's Bills.

I also suggest that it is time that the Government listened to us when we appeal to it on behalf of small businesses to do such things as take away the sales tax on freight. We have been appealing to the Government for 18 months to keep the promise it made in opposition that it would not tax tyre retreads. That tax is still there despite the fact that there is a-

Senator Button —We did not make any promise about that. That is not true.

Senator JACK EVANS —I am sorry, Senator, there is a promise in writing, and I will produce it for you later. The courts have ruled that that is now illegal but the blessed tax is still there and tyre retreaders are still going out of business and sacking employees. We are trying to help the rural industry by getting rid of the tax on honey mead and by stopping the increased levies on meat and livestock exports. We ask the Government to listen to us on all these initiatives because we have the voice of small business in our ear. Obviously it cannot get to the ear of big government. We also appeal to the Government to keep the income equalisation deposits for farmers and expand them for small businesses because there is potentially a great benefit there for small businesses.

I appeal to this Government and to any government in this country to get off the backs of small businesses. Both parties, Liberal and Labor, should get off the backs of small businesses. The Government should get rid of the Division 7 tax which frustrates small businesses trying to compete with big businesses which do not have to pay a Division 7 tax for retained profits. That has to be a definite deterrent to small businesses and a substantial advantage to big businesses. Yet this Government lives with that and will not do a thing about it . Neither would its predecessor. How can they dare to pretend that they are on the side of small businesses? The Government should help small businesses to pay their sales taxes out of their customers' funds instead of having to meet them out of their own funds by delaying the time in which those sales taxes are called up. It should give small businesses the 60 days they need to get the money in so that they can pay the tax. The Government should also get rid of payroll tax which has to be one of the most vicious taxes this country has at the moment because it is a tax on employing people.

Senator Maguire —But that is a State tax.

Senator JACK EVANS —The Government could get rid of it by subsidising the States and lightening the burden for them. The Government could even get rid of it, Senator Maguire, by dropping it in the Australian Capital Territory where it has the power, but it will not do so. Provisional tax payments should be payable monthly instead of the whole lot having to be met in lump sums. Most importantly , the Government should call off the bureaucrats and get rid of the time consuming form filling and costs of servicing governments at all levels in this country. It should help small businesses with special interest rates for small enterprises because they lack the borrowing power of big businesses. I suggest that it could also give them access to a new legal structure which provides them with both the benefits of partnerships and those of corporate status.

Let us face it-today government is in the hands of big business. All governments in this country are in that position. We saw that in the way that this Government handled petrol retail outlets. It bowed to the pressure of the multinationals to keep a number of petrol retail outlets in the hands of the multinationals. The small business people want to break that link, that control, that the oil companies have over the small petrol retail outlets. The Government 's policies continue to ignore the needs of small businesses. Its banking policy , its industrial relations policy, its industry policy-these policies look after the steel industry, the motor vehicle industry and the mining industry but ignore small business. It becomes more and more obvious that governments in this country have no capacity to plan and to cater for the great diversification of small businesses and the evolution and the proliferation of Australian entrepreneurs; and I doubt whether governments can cope with the growing new service industries. This Government, as with the previous Government, regards small as beautiful in any context other than in a business context, for Australian small businesses are consistently ignored by governments. Maybe that is because big governments and big bureaucracies relate more easily to big business. I return to the subject of this matter of public importance:

The Government's--

all governments of Australia--

failure to recognise the importance of small business to the Australian economy and to implement--

not to proclaim--

policies that will encourage growth and employment opportunities within the sector.

That could not have been more truthfully stated, and it could not have been more ignored by this Government and previous governments.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Sibraa) —Order! The honourable senator's time has expired.