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Thursday, 27 May 2004
Page: 29425

Mr JOHNSON (10:03 AM) —I am pleased to speak on the Export Market Development Grants Amendment Bill 2004. I support this bill very strongly because it is a bill that is in the interests of my constituency of Ryan and it is also in the interests of small business men and women throughout the country. Therefore, it follows that it is in the interests of this country's national economic prosperity. The first point I want to make is that it is interesting to note the speakers who will be making presentations on this bill. We seem to have a majority on our side—only one member of the opposition will speak on this bill. I just wonder if that signals to the electorate the respective support of the government and opposition for (1) this bill, (2) small business and (3) the valuable contribution that small business men and women make to the country, particularly in employing people. It is no secret that this government has been very proactive in making great inroads into the unemployment rates that were left by Labor during their time in office, and we now have record levels of employment in the country.

I think one of the very strong reasons why this is the case is the success of businesses in Australia that export to the world. I have quite a few businesses in my electorate of Ryan that export to the world. One of the reasons they are able do this is because they have, at the head of those businesses, individuals who are creative, entrepreneurial and very much in favour of business making a contribution to the overall prosperity of our country.

The EMDG Scheme is the government's principal financial assistance program for small and medium sized exporters. It will continue to make a big difference to our small and medium sized businesses who wish to export our fantastic services, skills and products to the world. It provides grants that reimburse up to 50 per cent of the money spent by eligible exporters during the financial year on specified export promotion activities—less, of course, the first $15,000. The scheme has a budget of more than $150 million per annum and it provided some 3,800 grants last year alone. The EMDG Scheme enjoys very strong support in the small business community and, as I have alluded to, in my electorate of Ryan in particular it is a very popular scheme. It is very widely utilised. I know it will continue to have the strong support of small and medium sized businesses in the Ryan electorate. Surveys continue to reflect this, and my interaction with the business community in the Ryan electorate reflects this as well. The scheme has been regularly reviewed and is recognised as a benchmark for effectiveness in government industry support programs in the generation of additional exports.

The Export Market Development Grants Amendment Bill 2004 contains one measure only, which is designed to ensure that EMDGs do not go to applicants or their associates who are deemed by Austrade as not fit and proper to receive such grants according to ministerial guidelines. Currently, a grant to which an applicant is otherwise entitled is not payable if certain provisions of the EMDG Act apply. For instance, grants are not payable for: export marketing expenses for illegal activities; marketing expenses incurred in the promotion of certain publications, films or computer games that have been classified by the classification board, prohibited or potentially prohibited Internet content, or telephone sex services; and if the applicant is not a resident of Australia, does not have an Australian Business Number, has outstanding disqualifying convictions or is under insolvency administration. The legislation does, however, allow for grants to be paid even though the applicant or an associate of the applicant may be viewed as an inappropriate person to represent or promote the public interest of Australia in relation to trade outside of Australia, or for other reasons to receive, directly or indirectly, the benefits and recognition of a government grant. This bill is good for this country.

This bill has the wide support of the Ryan electorate and I want to take this opportunity in the parliament to pay tribute to a number of small and medium sized businesses which have profited substantially from the government's support of their initiative and entrepreneurial skills. They are creating employment opportunities in the Ryan electorate, throughout Brisbane and throughout Queensland as well. I want to pay particular tribute to the following companies. Firstly, there is Blue Ribbon Seed and Pulse Exporters, who are based in Pullenvale in the Ryan electorate. They are in the business of cereal grain wholesaling. They are very successful indeed, and they are making great strides there. I also want to acknowledge Double Brown and Associates, who are in the business of book and magazine wholesaling. They are in Bellbowrie, which is also in the Ryan electorate. They are very creative at targeting a niche market and showing what can be done with entrepreneurial flair and by having a go.

Also in the business of computer software manufacturing is a company called Epitropos Pty Ltd, in Toowong. They are also at the cutting edge of computer software manufacturing—another good example of a local business in the Ryan electorate that is taking advantage of this scheme. The sum of $5,000 that they received is just a small illustration of how a small amount of money, in their case, can have a large impact on their business and its success in terms of potential employment and potential export dollars for our country.

In Kenmore, Greenisle Investments Pty Ltd are a consulting engineering services company. They received grants in 2001, 2002 and 2003 of around $40,000. That is a firm that is also doing very well and making the most of this government's support for small business and for cutting edge skills and technology.

I want to also acknowledge a Mr Peter Howes, who is the principal at HRM Consulting Pty Ltd, based in Taringa. I have had the opportunity of visiting their business and seeing the fantastic work that they do. They are also involved in the computer and high-tech industry. They provide consultancy services to the world, which is remarkable for a smallish business. They started off very small, in the Ryan electorate, and they have now created a reputation for excellence and reliability in the broader international market. They have received EMDG support as well, and I know that they will continue to employ people in the Ryan electorate, as they are looking to expand their services.

A very interesting business is My Travel Network Pty Ltd, which is engaged in the travel agency business. They are in Toowong. They have received over $100,000. They are another example in my Ryan electorate, of which I am very proud, where there are people who are doing fantastic stuff to employ people and to make a contribution to the Brisbane economy.

Another very interesting business is Tina Jeffrey Design Pty Ltd, at Fig Tree Pocket. They have only received around $14,000 to $15,000 over two years, yet they have been able to make every use of the dollars provided by the federal government to create a niche market. I have had the pleasure of meeting Alan and Tina Jeffrey at my Ryan small business networking breakfasts. They are in jewellery and silverware manufacturing, and they continue to make the most of the scheme. Only recently, I bumped into Tina at the airport, and she was saying to me that their business is expanding and they are looking to try and employ more young people, in particular, and give them the opportunity of learning their craft, which is the manufacture of jewellery and silverware. That is just another fantastic example of a husband-and-wife team living in Fig Tree Pocket in Ryan, where they are getting off their backsides and actually making a difference to our community. They are employing people and thinking constantly about how they can value add to their businesses. They are receiving the support of the Howard government through this very successful EMDG Scheme, where they are able to promote the Australian brand name.

I just want to conclude by saying that, in the Ryan electorate, small business and medium sized businesses play a very strong part in the community. They are at the forefront of community work. They are at the forefront of supporting local charities, and they are able to do this because they are flourishing and employing people. They are continuing to make a difference in the local economy, and this gives them the opportunity of also being good business citizens, as it were. I think this has been largely possible because of the climate of good governance and the good policies that the Howard government has been able to implement in its three terms in office.

I know that local businesses in my electorate will be very supportive of this scheme, and I have every intention of letting them know that only one member of the opposition spoke on this bill in the parliament today. I just hope that that Labor member is not reflective of the opposition's views about small business and the important role that it plays in the Australian economy. I am very pleased to say to the people of Ryan that I will continue to lobby very strongly for EMDG support for them. I know that a number of businesses in the Ryan electorate have come to me for support and assistance in how to make the applications to the government to receive the support. I want to reassure them that I will be working very hard to make sure that the EMDG dollars also come our way.

In conclusion, I make a comment about the Ryan Small Business and Employment Advisory Committee in my electorate of Ryan. I thank all those who contributed to that, particularly the previous head of Queensland Austrade, who came to address the gathering of Ryan small businesses last year. He talked about the scheme, about the valuable place of exports in the Australian economy, about the importance of Austrade and what it can do for small businesses and about the assistance that Austrade's international offices can provide to small and medium sized businesses who want to venture out of their local community and expand into the big, wide world because of the richness of opportunities that other markets provide for us. His presence at that networking breakfast resulted in one of the biggest attendances that I have had over the two years that I have organised the Ryan small business networking breakfast. I thank him again and look forward to the pleasure of working with his successor, who is new to the job of running Austrade in Queensland, and inviting him to address the Ryan small business community.

I would like to convey to the Ryan small business community that if there is anything that I am able to do to assist them as their federal number, they have only to pick up the telephone or pop into the office at 31 Station Road and they will have my full support as the federal number for Ryan to assist them. The EMDG Scheme is a fantastic initiative of the federal government. This bill is very good. It provides appropriate support to those who require it and also ensures that it is not a system that is abused and exploited by those who wish to take advantage of the taxpayers of Australia, who are continuing to make small business very important in this country.