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Tuesday, 30 September 1997
Page: 7181

Senator COONAN —My question without notice is to Senator Alston, the Minister representing the Minister for Workplace Relations and Small Business. Minister, given the small business sector's call for reform across many fronts, will the government distinguish itself from the previous Labor administration and take further action to improve the outlook for Australian small business?

Senator ALSTON —On 26 May this year the House of Representatives handed down a fair trading committee report and a matter of months later the government is now in a position to respond to that report, as Mr Reith will be doing in the House of Representatives later today. That stands in stark contrast to the approach adopted by Labor to small business over very many years. In fact, over a period of 11 years they tabled 17 different reports. If you look at all of those reports—talk about a recipe for inaction—there was a particular contribution by the minister for making businesses smaller, Senator Schacht, who commissioned a couple of working party reports.

About all they managed to do over that whole period was boost one small business, and that was the printing industry. But apart from that, they were not serious at all. In fact, in the run-up to the last election they finally proposed into the House of Representatives a better business conduct bill, but of course that lapsed because of the proroguing of the parliament.

It is perfectly clear that Labor had absolutely no interest in the whole issue of small business and that is why it stands in such stark contrast to the actions that Mr Reith will be announcing later today. The government will be outlawing unconscionable conduct against small business, strengthening the protection for retail tenants and giving full effect to industry codes of practice.

Where does the Labor Party stand on all these issues? The fact is that Mr Beazley is out there having the cheek to claim credit for what the government is now doing in this area. This is the gentleman who managed to distinguish himself recently by saying on commercial radio that he is no genius. We know what that means—that is code for, `I'm not terribly bright.' If you think the people of Australia are looking for someone who is running around as a chronic underachiever, not prepared to disguise his quite well justified modesty on the issue, then quite clearly you are in very big trouble. Mr Beazley said:

I've got to be honest about these things. Sometimes people arrive on the political scene, men of true genius. I'm not. I'm probably the most experienced Labor leader there has been, through no fault of my own.

In other words, he does not have merit or experience going for him. He then went on to say:

But I've tried to be constructive.

I would like to know what he means by that. They certainly have not been constructive in the area of small business. They certainly have not been constructive in the area of workplace reform. They certainly were not constructive in the area of allowing people to buy shares in Telstra. They have ditched enterprise bargaining. They have gone back to the future. They are now utterly beholden to the trade union movement.

The scandalous attack we saw mounted on ACOSS recently no doubt came straight from the Robert Ray charm school, with Senator Conroy thinking the only way back into the political game was to get out there and belt up on defenceless policy analysts. Once again, that will be exposed for what it is—crass political intimidation.

Their litany of failure to lead—in fact, leading from behind—is distinguished even more, not just by their backflips on work for the dole or Hindmarsh Island or, particularly, tariffs but also by their sneaky backflips over greenhouse gases and the immigration intake. In other words, it is perfectly clear from all that has been going on on the other side of politics and from all of these grandstanding performances by the young roosters that Senator Ray and his colleagues are perfectly happy to see Kim Beazley wallowing in the ratings. Senator Ray's latest preferred candidate, Simon Crean, would not want to have it any other way.

That is fine by us, but I think it ought to be well understood out there that you do not have any solutions to these problems. George Campbell actually got it right when he said a matter of months ago:

I do not think the party knows or has a clear perception of what it stands for.

That says it all. (Time expired)