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Wednesday, 4 May 1994
Page: 210

Senator CARR (3.43 p.m.) —I rise to oppose the proposition before the Senate today. It troubles me that the opposition can bring forward proposals such as this on days such as this. In one sense, it is fitting that those opposite can be so far off the mark, that they have taken their eyes so far off the ball. It is pleasing, I suppose, that a government has facing it, on a day such as this, when it is undertaking major changes in terms of its white paper on employment, an opposition that is so completely irrelevant.

  However, it is a danger to this country that the opposition is so irrelevant, so unable to address the key issues that face this country, so unable to come to grips with the concerns of Australians and, of course, so unable to make its point in an effective way. As I say, for a government, that is perhaps good but, for the whole process of parliament, one has to say, unfortunately, the opposition has missed the boat.

  It is very interesting that Senator Crane supported a proposition that reads:

The Government's failure to allow Australia's small business sector to reach its potential and provide real and lasting jobs . . .

The whole proposition is founded, according to this proposal, on the government taking action, but the Liberal Party policy is that the government should take no action. The whole point of the Liberal Party's existence is to defend the market—`unfettered markets'. Its idea of the way in which a society works is that those with power and influence are able to act unfettered by government regulation.

  When we have a case where a small business does require assistance from a government—I will draw the Senate's attention to the enormous assistance that is provided by the Labor government—it is interesting that the conservatives in this place, in complete contradiction to their normal approach, say that the market is not able to assist this particular sector of the economy and that the government should intervene. It is a shame that they do not recognise that philosophical flaw in their thinking in a whole range of other areas. I guess, in due course, we will see the same sorts of contradictions emerge.

  What do we have in terms of the Democrats? The Democrats are very interested in small business, as we would expect. In Victoria, for instance, the Democrats' electoral base has fallen below what is required for public funding. They are very dependent on small business for electoral support, so I understand the Democrats voicing their concerns here today. Of course, we are likely to hear more about their concerns. It is a bit odd with regard to the approach that the Democrats take in other areas—for example, industrial relations and the like—where they take positions far to the left of the Labor Party and, of course, demand—

Senator Boswell —It couldn't be to the left of you.

Senator CARR —Much, much further to the left of me. This is the real contradiction for the Democrats: where do they stand on these sorts of basic questions? The real issue here is: where do the coalition parties stand? They are the ones who have raised these matters. I appreciate that the National Party has some concerns here, representing rural communities, and I expect it to come forward and make those points. But, in essence, the National Party's policies remain consistent. It believes there should be privatisation of profit, but there should be subsidisation and socialisation of business losses. That is a fair enough policy, I suppose. The National Party is certainly consistent throughout all of its activities and in the way in which it approaches them. So I do not find its position surprising.

  The Liberal Party's position is surprising. It comes out with all of this small business rhetoric when it has no real approach. It has no real basis of policy to deal with these sorts of issues. We have seen that John Howard and Dr Hewson are divided on questions such as their approach to the government's white paper. I suspect they are divided on matters such as this as well. It is a very sad indictment of the Liberal Party. Liberal Party members come in here and make noises about the concern—the crocodile tears concern—they have for various sectors of the economy, when the Liberal Party went to the last election with the policy of the GST, which of course would have done a great deal of damage to the small business sector in this economy.

  Recently, the Liberal Party spokesperson Mr Tuckey revealed on Meet the Press that he had managed to miss a few significant appointments with key business organisations. Of course, he was not able to designate what the Liberal Party's policies were in terms of specific policy directions. That is characteristic of the Liberal Party at large on these matters of basic concern to the people of this country.

  Senator Schacht, however, indicated here today that the Labor government's approach is detailed, is able to come forward with quite specific measures, and is able to demonstrate conclusively the extensive support that is provided by the Labor government to small business. No matter where one looks—whether it is in training, management assistance, labour market programs or export facilitation—one sees a whole range of measures that the government is taking. It is giving considerable amounts of subsidy—in fact, quite significant, very generous levels of subsidy—to small business.

  We have seen other measures, such as action under the Trade Practices Act, to prohibit unconscionable conduct in commercial transactions—again, to correct market failures. I am sure the Liberal Party would fully support those sorts of notions. It would support greater competition in the marketplace to make sure that businesses do have a fair go and that the large monopoly concerns are not able to undermine the ability of small business to compete.

  We have seen export facilitation moves and export access programs. We have seen research centres established. We have seen various government regulatory operations established to assist with licensing in states and territories. We have seen improved action in terms of purchasing and buyers fair programs introduced by the government. We have seen the introduction of enterprise networking programs by this government. The list goes on and on.

  Quite clearly, we have seen the product of these programs demonstrated in terms of the success that has been generated through small business. We have seen a 5.5 per cent growth in employment in small business over the last two years. One hundred and thirty-six thousand more people actually work in small businesses. Six out of 10 Australians work in small business. All of this progress has been recognised, even by such staunch allies of the Liberal Party as Ian Spicer, the Chief Executive of the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry. He has strongly endorsed the Commonwealth's achievements in regard to small business. He has welcomed the third annual review of small business in Australia, which was tabled in this parliament in December 1993.

Senator Panizza —Tell us about your employment record.

Senator CARR —I will quote directly from his press release, if Senator Panizza doubts what I am saying. Clearly, there is broad community support for what the government is doing with regard to small business. It is providing direct assistance. The Liberal Party is without policy direction. It resorts to the rhetoric of the market. It cannot cope with the contradiction that the market itself lets down small business, as large firms gobble up smaller firms. Now those opposite come in here and call on the government basically to provide additional assistance.

  The Labor government is committed to increasing export facilitation for small business and increasing productivity to make sure that businesses operate effectively and competitively. The government has allocated $94 million to provide export support for small business over the next three years. It has developed export access programs, which are currently helping 1,200 firms. In short, the government is doing more than I suggest most people in this country understand to help the 6,000 small businesses that currently operate within this country.

Senator Boswell —Six thousand! Seven hundred thousand.

Senator CARR —Sorry—Senator Boswell is quite correct. The issue really is: what is the policy setting in which we are operating? There is low inflation and there are low interest rates. These are the critical matters that underpin all of the various actions that have been taken by this government in specific terms to assist small business.

  My time is short. Senator Crane mentioned the Industrial Relations Act. There has been a lot of hoopla by certain reactionary elements in the small business community. Mr Boyle in Victoria advised Jeff Kennett on the policy of `let them fear the sack'. That was the attitude of some sections of small business, but not all. Great outpourings of concern were expressed prior to the passing of that act—the disaster that was going to befall this country. We have not seen the evidence of that. All we have seen is the rhetoric of politically motivated groups operating on the fringes of Australian politics in the country—and Senator Boswell knows all about that—and in some parts of Melbourne and Sydney, highlighting that concerns often expressed by small business organisations and people like Mr Boyle are ideological. (Time expired)