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Thursday, 1 September 1994
Page: 794

Senator DENMAN —My question is directed to the Minister for Small Business, Customs and Construction. I refer to the release on Tuesday of the latest Yellow Pages index for small business. I understand that the small business index reflects information gained from a survey conducted during the period 12-25 July 1994 from a thousand randomly selected small business proprietors from all metropolitan and non-metropolitan regions of Australia. Has the minister been able to consider the survey results? If so, do the results provide any indication of the strength of the economic recovery?

Senator SCHACHT —I thank Senator Denman for her question. Next week I will be spending a day with Senator Denman in northern Tasmania, visiting small businesses and listening to the issues raised by them. It is something that opposition senators show no interest in, other than Senator Boswell, who does raise questions about small business.

  Yes, the Yellow Pages survey was released earlier this week. It is a survey that has already established itself as having a good track record and credibility. It is a survey taken every quarter of 1,000 metropolitan and regional small businesses with fewer than 20 employees. It covers small businesses across a broad spectrum of services—manufacturing, construction, wholesale, retail, transport and finance.

  The figures released on Tuesday show that small business confidence in their prospects over the next 12 months remains high and unchanged since the beginning of 1994; 57 per cent of respondents were fairly confident; and a further 18 per cent were extremely confident, giving a total of 75 per cent expressing confidence in their prospects for the next 12 months. So three-quarters of businesses surveyed expressed confidence and only 10 per cent are worried about the next 12 months. Small business confidence is highest in the finance and business services sector, with 80 per cent expressing confidence. What is interesting to note is that the divergence between the sectors is now much reduced; that is, all are now confident about the future and to a much greater degree.

  Small business sales growth remained strong over the three months to July, with a net 28 per cent of small businesses surveyed reporting sales increases. This was a slightly smaller net increase than in the preceding three-month period, but well above the figure for the same period in 1993.

  Employment in small businesses surveyed rose by a reported 1.5 per cent in the three months to July. This is confirmed by the survey out today by DEET that showed that skilled employment vacancies for the preceding quarter were up by over 60 per cent on the same period last year. In the Yellow Pages small business survey the strongest employment came in the manufacturing sector, with a net 10 per cent of businesses recording increases. Again, it is very encouraging for government policy that manufacturing is showing such a strong growth rate.

  This is another indication that the economic recovery is well under way. This survey matches the quarterly accounts figures released earlier this week. As I say, it matches the DEET figures on skilled vacancies. All in all, small business is growing very strongly. Confidence is high. It augurs well for the long-term future of business in Australia and emphasises that small business is leading the way in creating economic confidence in Australia.

Senator Ian Macdonald —When are you going to get the unions off their backs?

Senator SCHACHT —I hear Senator Macdonald interjecting. The extraordinary thing about Senator Macdonald that you should note, Mr President, is that he is described as a moderate in the Liberal Party. It makes one wonder what the rest of the Liberal Party must be described as, if he can reach the exalted state of being described as a moderate. It is typical that whenever I give an optimistic report based on a very strong survey such as the Yellow Pages survey, all we get from opposition senators like Senator Macdonald is inane interjections. It is a great pity. Small business recognises that Senator Macdonald does not have any interest in small business and what it is doing for the Australian economy.