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Wednesday, 17 June 2009
Page: 6483

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) (7:26 PM) —I thank the shadow minister for his question. The small business support line is meant to augment the existing advisory services that are being funded by the Commonwealth. There are 36 business enterprise centres being funded to the tune of $42 million over the forward estimates. In addition to that, the Prime Minister announced in October last year at a small business summit in Brisbane that there will be $4 million, specifically for the period of the global financial crisis, for further advisory centres. Another 54 advisory services were successful in that funding round. So that is a total of 90 small business advisory services now being funded directly by the Commonwealth. We do understand that that does not constitute comprehensive geographic coverage of this huge continent of ours, and therefore we believe that the support line provides a very valuable supplement to those advisory services.

In terms of the receipt of the call, the current planning is that it will work through AusIndustry. We already have people who are equipped to handle what are likely to be the most common referrals. For example, there might be the questions: ‘How does this small business tax break work? Am I eligible for it? When does it expire?’ The person on the end of the support line will be well briefed to say: ‘We will put you in touch directly with—

Mr Ciobo —Who is the person on the support line? AusIndustry?

Dr EMERSON —It will go through AusIndustry, and we already have trained people who are capable of doing that work. But that will be supplemented. That is the reason there is extra money being spent on it.

As a rough estimate—there is no science in this; it just gives a bit of an indication—80 to 90 per cent of inquiries will be of a general nature. It might be GST compliance, people worried about tax debts and so on, or people seeking information on what other government programs are available for small business during these challenging economic times. The person on the end of the support line will be equipped to do that. But the other 10 to 20 per cent of questions may well relate to the local circumstances of that business in their local community, and there we will seek to support a network of advisory services. We have not reached a landing yet on whether that will be the network not only of 36 business centres but of about 130 business centres around Australia. That is one possibility. We are still working our way through that to make sure we do what I am sure the shadow minister is urging—get real value for money out of this so that people in these more challenging times are able to get quality advice, particularly, as I said earlier, in those parts of Australia that are perhaps not already fully serviced by Commonwealth funding of business enterprise centres.