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Wednesday, 23 November 2011
Page: 13701

Mr BILLSON (Dunkley) (10:08): Thank you to my colleague the Parliamentary Secretary for an absolutely compelling case as to why the parliament should support this bill. There is nothing worse than consequential provisions that kick in before the consequence to which they relate has actually been achieved. The bill has identified a changeover date when a number of Commonwealth laws dealing with the tax system, the ANL Act, the Bank Integration Act, the Corporations Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Act, Financial Transaction Reports Corporations Act, the Defence Service Home Act, Olympic Insignia Protection Act, Wine Australia Corporation Act and the Qantas Sale Act. There is no point in having all of those provisions activated prior to the national registration system actually commencing. We were alerted to this issue and had some good discussions with the responsible minister to not impede the passage of the legislation through both houses of parliament with the understanding that this amending provision would be coming through. The coalition is very supportive of this bill. It tidies up a technicality that needs to be tidied up so there is synchronicity with the changeover—that the changeover date sees the national business name system activated and then all of these other changes are brought into effect to coincide with that date. This whole idea about national business names registration is something the coalition supports. When we were talking about the substantive bill I pointed to the work that was instigated back in 2006-07 by the then coalition government and it is good to see that things are being moved along by the current government.

I will briefly touch on a couple of other points I raised in my contribution. I would put this under the watching brief that the coalition has on the implementation of the national business names system. There were a couple of issues that we know—

Mr Husic interjecting

Mr BILLSON: Thank you. Government Whip?

Mr Husic: Yes.

Mr BILLSON: I want to get the title right; I do not want to be discourteous. Thank you, Government Whip, for that encouragement. There are a couple of things that I think all stakeholders in this process were interested in, including the merging of state based business names registration into a national system. I am sure the parliamentary secretary would be aware of the potential for overlap there and the bill provides for geographical identifiers to be attached to names after that transition so that no one is disadvantaged. There is also some work to be done on a determination about certain names that would not be permissible and how potential conflicts or near-identical names would be handled. That work is ongoing but it certainly is an area that all stakeholders are interested in and will keep a watching brief on.

The other things I touched on briefly were the interplay between this system, domain names and trademarks, and how having some synchronisation with those various intellectual property and commercial identifier systems with the business names was a smart move. We hope that goes well. I know a number of us would like the domain name system to go back the other way and check with business names, to reduce the risk of ambush marketing but we have not quite got to that point yet because there are a whole lot of interjurisdictional issues there that I am sure the parliament will need to turn its mind to down the track, when it becomes more of a commercial concern.

I also touched on the issue of the ABN. You would be aware from your extensive parliamentary career, Deputy Speaker Slipper, that the ABN is not required by all persons involved in carrying out commerce in Australia. Certain thresholds for turnover and the nature of the business were factors that decided whether or not you needed an ABN. That was thought to be appropriate at the time but under the business names national framework an ABN is essential, otherwise you cannot get a business name. So whereas once microbusinesses might not have needed an ABN now they will need to, as not having an ABN will inhibit someone getting a registered business name and, under this law, to trade without a registered name is a strict liability offence. So now, all of a sudden, the ABN becomes a fundamental issue.

I am alerted to ongoing concerns about the government's hostile disposition towards independent contractors. We have seen a number of examples where the government is making it quite difficult for independent contractors to carry out their legitimate contribution to our economy. In fact, there was another episode earlier this morning with the abolition of the entrepreneur tax offset. One of the spurious rationales given for that was that it would help delineate between independent contractors and traditional employees. They question implied is: why should an independent contractor, a self-employed person, get that very modest tax incentive whereas an employee may not? The answer is: the employee can go to the employer and talk about how things are going and not be completely consumed by the success, fate or otherwise of the enterprise within which they carry out their work. For an independent contractor, a self-employed person, that is their worry, directly. They are the ones who sit up at night wondering when the revenue is going to come in.

There was a modest incentive of a 25 per cent tax offset for small businesses—whatever their structure—for income levels up to $50,000 and then that 25 per cent tapered down to nothing at $75,000. Again, the rationale, as spurious as it is, was that this somehow clouded the issue. This is part of a coordinated and calculated campaign to make independent contractors feel as if they are some blight on our economy, that self-employment is somehow an illegitimate way of pursuing a livelihood. I stand steadfastly opposed to that assertion that keeps rearing its head through the Gillard Labor government. A hope at some point the Labor Party takes account of the Prime Minister's Chifley address where she talked about the ambitions of working men and women and how being your own boss and starting your own business was a legitimate ambition for working men and women—a motive, an inspiration I can well relate to and my community can well relate to. It would be nice to see some policy consequence to those fine words, because to this point we have not seen that.

In closing, I did touch on the interplay between some intellectual property issues—the trademark registration process and business names—and I alluded to a local business person caught in a David and Goliath sort of arm wrestle with a global company who has decided that the business name they have been operating under for some years—Global Gas, which deals with issues of measurement and verification of energy and gas, is somehow infringing against Global GAP. The irony is that 'GAP' as near as it is—yes, it is three letters and two of them happen to be 'G' and 'A', and there is a difference at the end—but the 'GAP' is actually an acronym for an agricultural certification known as 'good agricultural practice'.

This operation is born out of Europe. It was previously known as Europe GAP. It started in 1997 and was designed to give retailers confidence that food that was being purchased was being farmed and processed in a way that minimised detrimental environmental impact. Good stuff—no problem with that. But to then say that Global GAP, being a private sector body that sets voluntary standards for the certification of production processes of agriculture, including aquaculture, for products around the world to help consumers and retailers somehow is being infringed upon by a Mornington Peninsula-based company dealing with the measurement of gas is, I find, quite offensive.

What has been brought to this task and what is yet another example of the David and Goliath battle that so many small businesses face is that they have been slapped with a good, weighty volume as to why they are offending the intellectual property rights of an agricultural certification outfit in Europe which has no crossover in terms of markets, no risk of confusion. In fact, 'Gas' is a proper noun and GAP in this context is an acronym. It is really quite spurious. A multinational is slapping down a small business and using their commercial weight and the legal tools to the disadvantage of that small business that has a legitimate right to access the name that they have been trading under for many years.

Here is an example of where intellectual property intersects with business names, and I touched earlier on the domain name area. I am pleased that this national business registration process has an eye to those issues—although, if you feel you are being infringed upon, it is still up to you to fight the good fight and find all the lawyers and the cash. And you are still potentially vulnerable to this kind of quite predatory behaviour of frightening a small business out of a legitimate name that they have every right to use for some spurious argument that was presented in a nice, meaty folder by a very, very reputable law firm. But the money you spend does not equate with the strength of your argument. I hope Mr Sokol gets a fair go, as IP Australia considers this issue. I urge them to consider this application on its merits. The two business names at question present some superficial similarities, but that does not amount to a risk of confusion, commercial detriment or an infringement on intellectual property, as the enterprises, industries, markets, customers and services provided are distinctly different. Gee, I hope Global Gas gets a fair go. The coalition supports these amendments and hopes the national business name registration system rolls out quite well.