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Wednesday, 17 June 2009
Page: 6482

Dr EMERSON (Minister for Small Business, Independent Contractors and the Service Economy, Minister Assisting the Finance Minister on Deregulation and Minister for Competition Policy and Consumer Affairs) (7:21 PM) —I am glad that the shadow minister for industry has called for reinforcements. He said he had a big list and now he has disappeared, but he might be trying to add a few questions so that he could fill out the remaining time. But I do thank my counterpart, the shadow minister for small business, for his question in relation to the Small Business Online Initiative. It is $10 million over two years, 2009-10 and 2010-11. The purpose of it is to get more small businesses online. The best estimate we have is that about 93 per cent of small businesses have an email address but, surprisingly—I certainly was surprised at this figure—the proportion of small businesses that have a webpage is 54 per cent. They would be a lot of home based small businesses, microbusinesses based at home, which is an area of great growth in the small business community. The purpose of the online program is to get that figure of 54 per cent up much higher and to get more small businesses to have webpages that are functioning and that they are confident about and utilising. They can therefore reach out to a bigger client or customer base and get ready for the opportunities created by the National Broadband Network—in fact, I would call it a national superfast broadband network.

I understand the point of the question. In terms of the timing, we do this work now, for the next two financial years, to get the proportion of small businesses who have a webpage—not just an email address but a webpage—up from 54 per cent to as high as possible so that when the national superfast broadband network is ready to roll they can take full advantage of it.

I will just make this point, if I may. What sort of benefits will there be for small businesses from the National Broadband Network? I think it provides enormously exciting opportunities. It is an enabling technology. I will give one example which I think summarises the sorts of benefits for small business, and that is teleconferencing. With superfast broadband, teleconferencing technology available to the small business will be much closer to reality. If someone has a business in, say, Townsville, it would save them flying to Brisbane or around Australia to talk to suppliers or potential clients or customers. What I would like to see is something that is a little bit visionary. I understand that in regional centres not all small businesses may be able to have their own teleconferencing studio or facility, but maybe one could be located in a local chamber of commerce or business enterprise centre. They could go to the teleconferencing facility in the chamber or the centre and do their work there, saving them the time and the effort and expense of having to go around Australia and, indeed, overseas physically in order to do that. That is just one example of the exciting benefits that would be available to small business under the superfast Broadband Network.