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Wednesday, 4 May 1994
Page: 204

Senator SCHACHT (Minister for Small Business, Customs and Construction) (3.14 p.m.) —I rise in this debate with some bemusement because, from Senator Boswell's point of view, the debate would have been better placed tomorrow, after he had had the opportunity of seeing the substantial content of the white paper on employment, industry and regional development that will be laid down in this place at 4 o'clock today. I will certainly not pre-empt the details of that statement. I acknowledge Senator Boswell's interest in small business. In my view, he ought to be the shadow minister for small business for the coalition because, on my recollection, Mr Tuckey, who is the shadow minister, has issued only two or three press statements on small business in the whole 12 months he has had the portfolio.

  I have before me a transcript of the shadow minister's performance on Meet the Press on Channel 10 on Sunday in which he was quite willing to talk about everything but small business, wallowing in his reputation of being a tough political operator. His comments on small business were appalling because they showed no substance and no policy concepts at all. He actually said to small business people, `Don't invest in your business.' I find that appalling, irrespective of which side of politics one is on. That the shadow minister would publicly go on national television and encourage small business not to invest is appalling. I am sure Senator Boswell would not say it, because his understanding of small business is much better than that of the shadow minister and most of the others in the opposition. I acknowledge that and always will.

  I am disappointed that Senator Boswell has raised this MPI today. I would rather have it in two days time or next week when we will have before us the full content of the industry statement. Although I will not give details here, I will say to Senator Boswell that many of the things raised by him about small business over the last year that I have been in the portfolio will, in one way or another, be covered in the statement that will come down at 4 o'clock today. I think small business will be very pleased about those details.

Senator Crane —Tell us about it.

Senator SCHACHT —No, Senator Crane will have to be patient until 4 o'clock this afternoon. Senator Boswell should not talk about lack of support from this government. We already have in place programs that have been very successful. I recommend that Senator Boswell get more detail about export access, a program designed to assist small and medium sized enterprises become successful exporters; a program in which we have already invested millions of dollars; a program that is organised and administered by the business organisations of Australia, and we provide the funds. That has been a very successful partnership. Chambers of commerce and manufacturing organisations have complimented the government on this program, saying that this is the best partnership.

  Many firms have entered the export access program and around 85 to 90 per cent of them have some indication of an export order. I would like to read to Senator Boswell an unsolicited letter which I received today. The writer of this letter, the Managing Director of Kronos Products, is quite happy for me to read it out in the Senate. It says:

Dear Sir,

I am the owner of a small manufacturing business situated in Sydney. My late parents started the business in 1958 approximately two years after arriving from Athens Greece. I have been with the business for some 36 years, although being a tired 45 years old, I still like what I am doing, ie. manufacturing and exporting our chocolate macadamia products around the world. Almost all of our production goes overseas and this in turn helps to employ some 38 people in our small factory.

Reason for this letter is to express a sincere thank you to the people in the Export Access Programme especially the two officers helping us, Mr . . . Fisher in Sydney and Mr . . . Lindford in Osaka. Although we have been expanding our overseas markets slowly it was refreshing to see from our Chamber of Manufacturers, men that honestly and diligently helped and are helping our small business. "Thank You" and the government for assisting Kronos with their efforts.

Yours sincerely,

I find it a bit hard to get that letter today, unsolicited, and then to hear Senator Boswell say that we are not helping small business.

Senator Boswell —That is export.

Senator SCHACHT —We want small business to get into export because Senator Boswell knows as well as I do that we have to export more to get the deficit down. As Senator Boswell knows, the programs we have through NIES to get world best practice and better management processes into small firms has been an outstanding success. That is not just a federal government success story. It also includes state governments, Liberal and Labor, which have worked in cooperation with the federal government in establishing the NIES programs right around Australia. That has been a turning point in making our small and medium sized enterprises become internally more efficient and do better in their businesses in Australia. Where appropriate, export access also helps those who are eligible through producing products and services to become exporters.

  The issues that face small business, and Senator Boswell has raised some of them, turn towards the macro-economic settings within Australia. What better things can we do for small business than to have the lowest inflation rate for 30 or 40 years, the lowest rate of industrial disputation for 30 or 40 years, and a growth rate of four per cent plus? From my visits to many small businesses in recent months, on my anecdotal observation the growth rate of those small businesses is much higher than for the rest of the private sector and may be running at much more than the average of four per cent for this period. Interest rates are at their lowest level for many years.

  This is all because we have our macro-economic settings right. We also have a program to reduce the budget deficit to one per cent of GDP by 1996-97. That underpins the fiscal outcome for the federal government, which we are committed to. All of those things add up to an environment where small business can invest properly and with confidence.

  We do not need `Iron Bar' Wilson Tuckey to go around telling small business, `Don't invest.' I suggest to Senator Boswell—I will not ask him to do it publicly, for the sake of harmony in the coalition—that he privately tell Wilson Tuckey to shut up in his comments on small business. I do not think he does the coalition—

Senator Knowles —He knows more about small business than you will ever know.

Senator SCHACHT —Why has he issued only two, maybe three, statements in 12 months on small business? Look at the transcript of the Channel 10 program on Sunday. All he talked about was numbers, leadership, the history of who he had done over in the past and who he had supported as Liberal leader. He did not address in a comprehensive way any concept about small business. Maybe that is why today in an interview on Perth radio the former Liberal leader in the Senate, Fred Chaney, said:

I don't know what's happening within the Opposition. It just seems to me that the Opposition just keeps making itself irrelevant.

Wilson Tuckey is the reason why, in policy terms, the coalition is irrelevant.  I would welcome a change on the opposition front bench to have Senator Boswell as opposition spokesman on small business because he actually tries to understand and debate this matter seriously. He raises with me questions of a substantive nature on small business, trying to get an outcome. In the past Senator Boswell and I have worked together in Senate committees on a number of issues; we have worked together on getting outcomes on competition policy and I acknowledge his contribution. Without hesitation, I compliment him on his interest. I do not always agree with the view he takes, but at least one can have a decent debate on a constructive basis with Senator Boswell. This is not possible with Wilson Tuckey or with most of the rest of the opposition because they are not up to score with what is happening in small business. That is why overwhelmingly at the last election small business dropped the ball for the opposition and refused to vote for it.

Senator Knowles —Ha, ha!

Senator SCHACHT —Why would they? The opposition wanted to give small business a 15 per cent tax and nothing in return. The opposition has destroyed its supposedly traditional relationship with small business, and that is why small business is now supporting us. (Time expired)