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Monday, 22 September 2014
Page: 10091

Mr WILLIAMS (Hindmarsh) (12:13): I move:

That the House:

(1) acknowledges small business as a major driver of economic growth in Australia;

(2) notes that:

(a) small businesses are time and resource poor and face significant obstacles in securing government contracts;

(b) the Government has allocated $2.8 million over four years to assist small business to access the Commonwealth procurement market;

(c) the establishment of a new unit providing specialist advice on contracts will ensure small businesses are not disadvantaged when dealing with the Commonwealth; and

(d) under Labor, 519,000 jobs were lost in small business;

(3) commends the government for removing the regulatory imposts that apply to more than 20,000 annual tender processes for Commonwealth agency work; and

(4) recognises the benefits that will be achieved for small business in being able to competitively compete for Commonwealth tenders.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: Is the motion seconded?

Mr Sukkar: I second the motion and reserve my right to speak.

Mr WILLIAMS: Small business is the heartbeat of the economy. That is a phrase that gets bandied about a fair bit, but it is so true and we will say more about that today. My first real contact with small business came when I helped my mother in her shop in country South Australia as a young boy. As with many small businesses, this is a family business where the family members pitch in, and it is in a tight-knit community where everyone makes a significant contribution to the local business. I earned some pocket money along the way, which was always useful. My wife also is a small business owner, so I hear daily of the challenges that she faces in her business, with increasing costs and pressures and also those of other businesses around her workplace.

The coalition, however, has a strong record of working with small businesses, and members of the coalition know from our time in business—because we understand business and we can relate to small business—how to help small business. The small businesses out there and the employees of the small businesses know we are on their side. Over the last few years, I have talked to thousands of small business owners and workers about the challenges they face, and we are committed to making life better for them all. Unlike members opposite, we are not for big government; we are for effective government. I know these are the words that members opposite do not like to hear, but efficiency, productivity and results is where small businesses are focused and what they want out of their workplaces.

I would like to make a few comments about my home state of South Australia before I get onto the government's small business policy agenda. South Australia, unfortunately, is one of the highest business taxing states in Australia. These are not my words; these are the words of our local business chamber, Business SA, the self-proclaimed voice of business in South Australia, so they obviously know what they are talking about. We have seen business closures and job losses, and not just in South Australia; small businesses around Australia are haemorrhaging.

It is no surprise that they are finding life tougher after Labor introduced tax after tax, whether it was the carbon tax or the mining tax. At state level, the emergency services levy has increased, which is causing some grief for small businesses as well. There are reports in some areas of a significant amount of their bills going up, placing more pressures on them. In my electorate we have businesses that have said the carbon tax is contributing to the increase in their utility bills by around $14,000 for one business and over $40,000 for another. This is why it is so important that we have acted like we have to remove the carbon tax and other taxes.

On the positive side, there are some business-friendly policies that we have started implementing in addition to those that I have mentioned, and I will touch on them later. We have also seen some positive employment trends, with over 100,000 jobs being created in Australia, and this is as a result, in part, of our business-friendly policies. Our challenge now is to continue to find ways to help businesses grow and hire new people, and to reduce their burden of regulation and their cost structure. In my electorate of Hindmarsh, I am working with local councils to help businesses in my area, whether that be through tourism projects or the $155 million from the government's Growth Fund to help innovative manufacturing companies invest in new capital equipment.

At the national level, our broad agenda is encouraging entrepreneurial behaviour, productivity and competitiveness. I will just run through a few points in this respect. In terms of tourism, which for my electorate is so important with its cafes, restaurants and the airport, we have $43.1 million over four years to implement the new Tourism Demand-Driver Infrastructure Program. In terms of entrepreneurs, we have close to $500 million over four years to establish the new Entrepreneurs' Infrastructure Program. Having dealt with entrepreneurs over many years, I know how important they are as an ecosystem of Australia's economy because of the innovation they bring, because of the jobs and wealth they create and the employees that they bring on board on their journey. Because of this importance, I have talked to a number of entrepreneurs about the employee share-ownership scheme. I am working with my colleagues in trying to get a better structure in place, so that there are incentives for highly skilled employees to join these fast-growing firms, these start-ups, these companies that have had success in recent years, like Atlassian or Freelancer. They have been success stories and we need more of them in Australia. That is why our policies are on the right track in helping create a better environment.

In terms of small exporters, there is a boost to the Export Market Development Grants program, which will help small- and medium-sized businesses access export markets. From working overseas in Europe, assisting trade and investment, and from working with small businesses, I know how important this sort of support is to getting it right. There is $15 million over four years to support small exporters.

Another positive initiative is the Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman and there is $8 million over four years to transform the existing office of the Australian Small Business Commissioner. And there is the company tax rate. It is so important to get company taxes down to create more incentives for our businesses around Australia. This will provide a benefit for close to a million small and medium-sized businesses.

An important initiative of government is improving small business access to contracts. This is something that many raise with me—access to procurement and government contracts, and a better understanding of how they work. We are helping small businesses by providing close to $3 million to help access the Commonwealth procurement market, which will help them with their requirements to meet expensive insurance obligations and other compliance documentation. These are barriers when they are tendering for contracts. There is the new Commonwealth Contracting Suite for contracts valued under $200,000 which will make it easier for them as well. There are so many different areas that we are looking at to help with small businesses. I know the member for Deakin and others are working hard in their respective electorates to help small businesses and spread the message out there.

In terms of messages, I hosted a recent forum with the Minister for Small Business, Bruce Billson. Bruce is a member of our cabinet, and we are proud to have him in cabinet. Not only is he a very good minister and a great supporter of small businesses; he also sits around the table making key decisions. Unlike the members of the opposition who decide to play pass-the-parcel with the small business portfolio, we have placed a high importance on it, and that follows through with that appointment to cabinet. Small business as we know is so important for our country. It contributes about one-third of private-sector contributions to the economy. Close to five million Australians are employed in the area, and this amounts to around 43 per cent of private sector employment—a significant contribution.

Small businesses around Australia have told me continually of how they are struggling and how they are finding the new challenges with their operations. They are looking for government to assist in any way it can whether it is through the competition policy review—another positive initiative of the government—or other programs. That will be released shortly for consultation. Its broad remit looks at regulations and other impediments across the economy which are restricting competition and reducing productivity, and are not in the broader public interest. It is also looking at job creation, innovation, investment and helping small businesses grow and prosper. All these things are so important for small businesses.

In closing, it is through a wide array of initiatives that we are helping small businesses—on infrastructure, on regulation and on reducing taxes. Small businesses know they have a friend with the Commonwealth government. We will keep on fighting for the best results for small businesses because we know how important they are for our society. We know how important they are for jobs for families. They are the heartbeat of the economy and they have innovation and provide direction for our local communities. We will do everything we can to support them.