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Thursday, 2 April 1998
Page: 1848

Senator IAN CAMPBELL (11:35 AM) —I would like to respond to Senator Margetts and the point raised by Senator Murray a bit earlier. One of the things about this $1 million threshold is that it not the size of the business, it is actually the size of the transaction. By seeking to define it with a period of time you may seek to help the group of people from the MTA, but you may, when you are doing that, exclude thousands of other small retailers in shopping centres. That is why they are so happy with this definition, because it comes down to transactions.

One of the transactions might be the lease to get hold of their space in the shopping centre. That is why the shopping centre owners, the big property groups—who are probably going to kill me after I have said all this—want to try to narrow it. They would seek to try to narrow it in the way that you are describing in terms of putting a time limit on it, or they would seek to try to narrow it by putting a limit on the number of employees. They would love to do that because it makes it easy to exclude a lot of their tenants from the protections of the act, whereas the $1 million transaction test will ensure that more small businesses are included. I have said, in relation to the group of people whom the MTA have raised, that there is a process going on at the moment, and going to mediation is part of the process, the oil code and the franchise code, and we think that is the most appropriate way to do it. But, if you seek to alter this threshold in the legislation, you run the serious risk of losing the protection for potentially thousands of small business people, and it is a very real risk.

Another point should be made: I am informed that the $1 million amount, as set in the legislative framework, can be altered by regulation. Once the legislation comes into effect we will, of course, be monitoring to see whether the $1 million threshold is appropriate and that it does work in practice. If, as a result of that monitoring, some alteration needs to be made it can be done by regulation. But that only reinforces the fact that it is important to keep the threshold clear.

Senator Murray talks about the employee test. One of the problems with that—I have seen the amendments proposed by the Democrats and the opposition—is that you would have to seek to define how that test is applied. Does the definition refer to full-time, part-time or casual employees? What time in the financial year would you count the number of employees? You again get the definitional problem that Senator Schacht raised in his very first interjection in the debate: what if it is $1,000,001 or $999,999? You have the same problem—in fact much bigger problems—if you seek to add in some alternative tests. We believe that the $1 million transaction test is the best test. The Small Business Coalition and almost all of the other bodies that represent businesses in Australia support it and want this legislation in this form and do not want to tinker with the test as it is.

But, as we have said, the $1 million threshold can be changed by regulation. We would seek to get that in and if the $1 million needs to be changed for some reason then we can do so by disallowable instrument and see how it goes.