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Monday, 19 September 1994
Page: 877

Senator CHILDS —My question is directed to the Minister for Small Business, Customs and Construction. The minister would be aware of the importance in the context of small business policy of the 1990 House of Representatives Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology report on small business, commonly known as the Beddall report. Is the minister aware of the criticisms of the government's commitment to implement recommendations of the Beddall report into small business? Are those criticisms valid and, if not, why not?

Senator SCHACHT —Yes, I am aware of some criticism recently about the implementation by the government of the Beddall report—namely, from Mrs Judi Moylan, the shadow minister for small business. Recently she made a statement criticising the fact that the government in her view had not carried through the recommendations of the Beddall report. I have to say that Mrs Moylan, who has been in the job only a short time, has made a number of mistakes, this, unfortunately, being one of them.

  The Beddall report—the committee was chaired by Mr David Beddall, who then became the Minister for Small Business—made 66 recommendations, 58 of which have been carried out. The only recommendation rejected outright by the government was one stating that there should be a new peak body established to represent small business in Australia. This was rejected because Australian small business organisations were totally opposed to such a new structure. The government accepted their advice.

  We worked with small business to establish a small business forum. The 31 small business organisations represented there meet two or three times a year with me and other government ministers to discuss in a very constructive way issues that affect small business. Also, as a result of the effectiveness of the small business forum the small business community has established a small business coalition of 40-odd groups to discuss issues affecting the small business community. Again this has proved to be very effective in putting ideas forward.

  A recent example of this is the ideas the small business coalition put forward for the industry component of the Working Nation statement. We received several hundred suggestions from the small business community, and most of the suggestions taken up by the government reflect that input from small business. It is a very constructive working relationship. When the Working Nation statement was published the small business coalition put out a statement welcoming the initiatives in that statement and congratulating the government on showing the sensitivity to understand many of the issues that small business was raising.

  Of course, this is in contrast to the efforts of the coalition. The most extraordinary effort of all in recent times was that of a previous shadow minister for small business, Mr Alexander Downer, who, in February 1989, issued a statement saying:

The Federal Opposition has launched a nationwide small business campaign in Melbourne today which will involve the aggressive marketing of Coalition policies and values to the small business sector, Shadow Minister for Housing and Small Business Alexander Downer announced today.

The campaign will involve the release of a specific Small Business policy by the Coalition and an extensive program of small business forums around Australia.

There is no record of any such forums taking place or of any statements being released by the then shadow minister, which explains why in May 1989, when there was a change in the leadership of the Liberal Party, Mr Andrew Peacock as the new leader sacked Alexander Downer as the shadow minister for small business. Mr Downer returned to the back bench, which makes it surprising that only in the last couple of days Mr Downer has said that Andrew Peacock has been `a great friend of mine and we've had a close association over many years.'

Being sacked by such a friend really is an extraordinary way to describe someone who—

Senator Vanstone —I take a point of order, Mr President. It is obviously one of relevance. What the minister is saying now is about as relevant to the question as paying gambling debts is to campaign funds. I suggest you rule him out of order.

The PRESIDENT —Senator Schacht, I certainly agree that you are digressing fairly widely from the point and suggest that you get on with the answer to the question.

Senator SCHACHT —I had actually finished the answer.