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Tuesday, 22 October 2002
Page: 5584

Senator TIERNEY (2:40 PM) —My question is to the Minister representing the Minister for Small Business and Tourism, Senator Abetz. Will the minister inform the Senate of how the Howard government is providing practical support for Australia's vital small business sector?

Senator ABETZ (Special Minister of State) —I thank Senator Tierney for his ongoing support for small business, especially in the Hunter region. An important element of our Australian society is the small business community, and the Howard government is working hard to ensure that it receives the best and most practical government support possible. The government's strong management of the economy continues to deliver for Australia's 1.2 million small businesses: with historically low interest rates, with $36 million for skills development and small business incubators, with increasing the minimum grant under the Export Market Development Grant Scheme, with expanding the successful TradeStart export assistance network to regional and rural areas; and, importantly, with providing extra incentives for employers to take on new apprentices.

Today I would like to remind the Senate and the small business community that applications from organisations that deliver services to small business can now be made for funding under the federal government's Small Business Enterprise Culture Program. The program provides assistance for skills development projects and promotes an enterprise culture in the small business sector. Grants range from $5,000 to $250,000, with the average grant being about $50,000, and they are awarded through a competitive, merit based process. Preference will be given to those applications which show distinct benefits for small business in regional Australia, those that have community support and those that will have a long-term impact on the local economy. Organisations such as industry associations, business enterprise centres, women's professional and business organisations, community bodies and educational institutions are eligible for funding.

The focus of the program is to foster the growth of small businesses by improving the capacity of owners and managers to access skills which will meet their needs. It also focuses on the business skills of women in small business, who form a significant element of the sector. The enterprise culture program is designed to help address some of the problems facing small businesses in regional Australia. One of the major hurdles facing small businesses in regional Australia is the difficulty in accessing the knowledge base that will improve their business. Through the program they can arrange workshops and mentoring services that will help them to run their businesses. A healthy business leads to a thriving economy and that generates the much needed jobs that are so vital in the regional areas of Australia, such as the Hunter region and, indeed, in my home state of Tasmania. As I have previously explained to the Senate, small business employs almost 50 per cent of Australia's work force and has witnessed substantial jobs growth. The program is part of the $60 million small business assistance package of this government. People seeking more information on assistance programs for small business can visit the AusIndustry web site or call the AusIndustry hotline on 132846.