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Thursday, 14 November 2002
Page: 6376

Senator WONG (2:45 PM) —My question is to the Minister representing the Minister for Small Business and Tourism, Senator Abetz. What is the government doing about the devastating impact on small business of late payments by their big business customers?

Senator ABETZ (Special Minister of State) —I really have hit a note with the Australian Labor Party, haven't I? I have finally shamed them into showing some interest in small business. The commercial deals that small business might enter into with big business is a matter, in a free, democratic society, for them to determine between themselves. The terms of trade can be as the various parties agree. Whilst they are concerned about such things as bank fees and late payments by some larger companies, the important thing on the minds of small business that they are genuinely concerned about is getting rid of the unfair dismissal laws that Labor voted against yet again yesterday.

The Australian Labor Party can try to feign some sort of concern for small business by picking up on these esoteric issues on the side, but the fact is that the real issue of concern to small business proprietors right around the country is the unfair dismissal laws that are stopping them from employing another 50,000 Australians. What it also means is that small business proprietors, and those who are fortunate enough to have a job in small businesses, are required to work longer hours to fulfil the demands placed upon them because they are too scared to employ any more people under the unfair dismissal laws.

We have a bevy of state governments around Australia. It would be interesting to know whether they have raised this issue at COAG, if it is a matter of such importance. I do not think they have. It would be interesting to know whether the former federal government, a Labor government, moved on this issue in their 13 years in office. No, they did not. Did they go to the last election with this as an alleged policy? No, they did not. All they are doing is seeking to cover up their failure in relation to the unfair dismissal laws. Until the Australian Labor Party wake up in the area of unfair dismissal laws, the small business community will continue to reject them, as they should.

Senator WONG —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Does the minister agree with the Motor Trades Association of Australia that Labor's draft private member's bill to crack down on late payments should be passed as soon as possible? Does the minister also agree that the bill would, as the MTAA says:

... be of significant assistance to the many hundreds of thousands of small businesses who find that payments to them by their suppliers and purchasers are now regularly exceeding normal commercial terms.

If the minister does not agree with the MTAA, what alternative solution is he proposing?

Senator ABETZ (Special Minister of State) —As is so typical with the Australian Labor Party, they would seek to overregulate absolutely everything. We happen to believe in a free market economy, and it is up to businesses to come to arrangements with their suppliers to ensure that there are appropriate terms of trade entered into to the satisfaction of both sides. As a government, we will not pretend to be the big brother and seek to regulate to that sort of degree. The real challenge for the Australian Labor Party is to get rid of the unfair dismissal laws. Then small business might actually start to believe them. Until the Labor Party deal with that issue, small business will know that they do not support them.