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Tuesday, 31 May 2011
Page: 5367


Mr SIDEBOTTOM (Braddon) (21:35): Unlike those opposite, I like to talk about things positive. I would like to recognise and congratulate the small businesses of my electorate and indeed the small businesses of Tasmania and Australia. They do a fantastic job in keeping the engine room of our economy moving, particularly where I live. I would like to pay recognition to the O Group in my electorate and those who auspice the business and employment arm of the group. They operate three of the business enterprise centres that exist in Tasmania. The O Group, of course, have their origins in my electorate. Indeed, the CEO is a former student of mine and I am very proud to say that. They have over 10,000 interactions with small businesses and they offer a business advisory and referral service throughout the state, providing 356 services, for example, in the past six months on the north-west coast alone. They helped start up 126 new businesses which have employed 223 new employees.

I suppose when you drill down into small business it is an interesting fact of life that, of the 38,000 businesses operating across Tasmania, for example, 95 per cent are small businesses and 80 per cent are microbusinesses that employ fewer than five people. That is something we forget about because generally the big noise of the economy is in the large industries, but the economy is generated by smaller businesses. Around 22 per cent of small or micro businesses, or 8,400, are located on the north-west coast and the west coast of my electorate. I have in my electorate over the last two years unfortunately had a number of major manufacturing centres close their doors—for instance, our two paper mills, Tascot Templeton Carpets and McCain in Smithton, the vegetable processing plant—all closed down for a variety of reasons. So we have had large numbers of unemployed. But a diversified economy is really the only way that rural and regional centres are going to survive, and I am really pleased to say we have been able to do that over the last 15 years. I congratulate both the Tasmanian government and the federal government for assisting this to occur, along with the relevant enterprises.

Many of the unemployed have been reabsorbed into our local economy. For example, of the 360 lost from our paper mills, over 220 have set up businesses or gone into training, many of the older workforce have retired and many have been employed by small businesses. These businesses are, as I mentioned, the engine room of our economy.

Tascot Templeton was a maker of quality carpets in my region. They lost about 150 jobs. Approximately 125 of these workers chose to stay in the labour force and seek other employment. One hundred and one of these workers registered with CHOOSE employment—another arm of the O Group, along with business and enterprise—so we can track accurately what these people are doing. I think it is really important, as we have done with the paper mills and the establishment of ForestWorks, that we are able to track what happens to unemployed persons. We must not just leave them to fall through the net. CHOOSE have been doing this tracking exercise and working with these workers individually. Of the 101 workers, for example, 79 have now been re-employed, mostly through medium sized manufacturing or processing businesses, but around 30 have been employed by small businesses. There is a similar story in Smithton in the far north-west of my electorate.

The other interesting thing that has come out of this, even at a time of difficult economic circumstances and unemployment, is that the O Group as an example in my electorate signed up 517 apprentices in the last six months, mostly through this government's apprenticeships program and related skills and training schemes. There were 517 signed up along the coast; 358 of these, or 69 per cent, were signed up by small business operators. So I congratulate our small business operators. I congratulate those who support our unemployed and apprentices. I believe that a diversified economy is how rural and regional Australia will be able to sustain itself. (Time expired)