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Monday, 29 August 1994
Page: 520


Senator SPINDLER (6.47 p.m.) —The Australian Democrats do not support clauses 6 and 7 of the bill. As I partly foreshadowed during the debate on the second reading, there are extremely compelling grounds for those clauses not being supported by the opposition and the government. Heaven only knows where the opposition gets its advice. It no longer seems to be concerned for small business; obviously, the government is not.

  I would like to briefly summarise something that has been on the table for a number of days. These sections knock back from eight to five the number of grants that a consortium may obtain. The argument put forward is that large firms, which are able to obtain a grant in their own right, are double-dipping. That is, they get up to eight grants, which is the current limit, as a consortium and then get another eight grants in their own right because they are big enough to get sufficient expenditure together to claim the 50 per cent contribution from the government.

  The government has not told the big boys that whatever grant they get, be it as a consortium or individual firm, would be counted as a grant so that they could not double-dip and would have to accept eight grants as a maximum. Instead, it has knocked back from eight to five the number of grants that small businesses can get through a consortium.

  On the government's own reasoning, big companies will still be able to get 13 grants—eight plus five—while small companies will be knocked back to five grants. That is the logic of it and the Democrats have put that in writing to everyone. In two and a half pages of finely detailed argument we have said what the effects of this particular provision are. We have asked that account be taken of the damage this is doing to small business without achieving the government's particular objective. We are told that five grants should be sufficient. That is a non sequitur. It means nothing as far as the government's objective with this particular amendment is concerned.

  Who is to make the decision as to whether they should apply for five or eight? The act as it stands enables people to get eight grants. All of a sudden they are to be limited to five, because five might be enough. What about the eight for large firms? Should that not be knocked back too, if five is enough? Why does small business once again get it in the neck?

  I really find it difficult to understand why this very straightforward calculation has not been taken into account when it has been pointed out to and considered by the government and the opposition. Why do they not look at the effect of this provision in the bill? On one occasion we were told, `Yes, you have got a point. But, really, we cannot go against the advice of the department.' What sort of answer is that? Is the government politically responsible to the community, to small business? Are government members parliamentary representatives elected to simply do the bidding of the departmental officers or are they elected to look after the interests of their constituents?

  Another argument placed before us was that small firms also could join a number of consortia. But what we are talking about is the relative difficulty that applicants experience, whether they be small business people or large companies. It is clear from the record, on the government's own reasoning, that large companies can double dip. To put it plainly, they can rort the system. Why do we not put any restrictions on them? Why do we say that small companies could join a number of consortia and can get it that way? Why do we make the distinction? Why do we knock back consortia to five grants and allow large companies to go for eight grants?

  I think I have made the issue quite clear to the committee. At this late stage, I hope that if the Minister for Primary Industries and Energy, Senator Collins, has any concern for small business at all, he will see the light of day, will see the compelling logic of the argument I am putting, and will support our opposition to clauses 6 and 7.