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Tuesday, 19 February 2019
Page: 13967


Ms MADELEINE KING (Brand) (19:08): I rise in this place to offer my support for the passage of the Treasury Laws Amendment (Increasing the Instant Asset Write-Off for Small Business Entities) Bill 2019. But, in so doing, I would like to move the following amendment. I move:

That all words after "That" be omitted with a view to substituting the following words:

"whilst not declining to give the bill a second reading, the House:

(1) affirms the importance of encouraging small business to make new capital investments; and

(2) notes that the Opposition's Australian Investment Guarantee is permanent, will provide targeted tax relief for businesses that invest in Australia and Australians, and guarantees new investment".

I'm really pleased to be here tonight and see this great Labor initiative debated in the House, and pleased that small businesses across the country will continue to benefit from it. Labor is proudly supporting this bill. Labor understands the importance of these types of measures to small business. In essence, this bill will give effect to the government's announcement earlier this year that it would extend the instant asset write-off for another 12 months and increase the relevant threshold from $20,000 to $25,000. It's really terrific to see the Liberal Party and the National Party once again taking up sound Labor policy in favour of small businesses in this country.

As we know, it was the Australian Labor Party who first legislated for an expanded instant asset write-off from the $6,500 threshold in 2012. It was actually the member for Lilley, the then Treasurer, who championed this initiative. On very brief indulgence from the Speaker, I'd like to give my humblest best wishes to the current member for Lilley in his retirement. Anyone who knows the member for Lilley will tell you that it will not be a quiet one. He is the stalwart of Labor and the Labor movement as a whole, a fearless fighter for equality, and an intelligent, hopeful and feeling human being. I feel extremely lucky to have had the opportunity to serve in this House alongside the great Wayne Swan in this parliament. Quite frankly, coming to this parliament, I didn't expect to ever serve in a chamber with this great Labor Treasurer of ours. I'm entirely honoured, Wayne, and I will miss you here. I think all of us parliamentarians, especially newer parliamentarians, can learn from the likes of our elders, so to speak, like the member for Lilley and others right across the chamber. I really am grateful to the member for Lilley for carrying on in opposition and lending his wisdom to some of our newer members. Good luck, El Presidente, comrade. We will see you again, of course, in your role as the National President of the Australian Labor Party.

As I've said, it was Wayne Swan and Labor that first legislated the instant asset write-off in 2012. The coalition subsequently abolished the instant asset write-off, returning it to a $1,000 threshold, before reintroducing an expanded instant asset write-off with a $20,000 threshold in 2015. The government has since renewed it in 2017, 2018 and again now in 2019. Labor supported the original measure, supported its two previous renewals and will support this one today. Labor has always been a friend of small business, and it's great to see the government coming to the table again this week and following Labor's lead on helping foster the growth of Australia's small-business sector. That's because we on this side of the House know—Labor knows—that small-business owners and workers in this country are doing it tough. Everything is going up except wages. We know that the people who run small businesses and work in them are the salt of the earth. They're hardworking Australians.

I'm proud to have grown up in a small business. My mother, Diana—I know I've mentioned this before—owned a local drapery store in Railway Terrace in Rockingham. After kindergarten or after school, that's what you did: you got picked up—maybe picked up a little bit late—and ended up hanging out in the shop counting buttons, doing the stocktake or doing some other task that one hated as a seven-year-old. But, nonetheless, that's part of working in a small business and having your parents—my mother and my grandmother—running it. At that time, it was just simply part of our life.

But you also get the great benefit of realising what it is that small business provides to the family that operates it. Not only is it income; it's the community that comes with it—the community that went into that shop and the community of shop owners around our shop. They were important friends for many years. I run into people in Denmark, for goodness sake, who used to own the Foodland next to my mum's shop in Rockingham, and they always remember Diana Morris and her shop, the little drapery store, The Family Traders, in Rocko. It's a lived experience and one I'm very proud to have lived. Although, obviously, my mother, if she watches this, will be mortified because I never said I enjoyed it when I was a child. But, as you grow older, you realise the hard work your parents do, of course.

In this business, there's no clocking off. There's no 'nine to five to make a living' work. Small-business owners and many of the people that work for them put their hearts and souls into their work, into their businesses. It's their dream—there's no doubt about it—and they live their dream because they have to make it work for their families and for their hearts. It's what they do. They take all their work home with them—the worries don't end on the weekends.

Family- and small-business owners make many sacrifices to keep their businesses running. If they're short-staffed, someone's had an accident or there's an unforeseen absence from the workplace, it's often, of course, the small-business owner themselves, or their families, who have to fill in on short notice. It's the small- and family-business owners who miss out on the assemblies or school excursions, because, as the kids know, they can't necessarily get away from the shop for whatever reason that may be. That's a very common occurrence. It's small-business owners that can't necessarily get to the kids' footy, netball or hockey on a Saturday morning because they're at work and they might not have the opportunity or they might not have any employees at all—that's just the day they work and these are the things they sometimes have to miss out on. On top of that cost, of course, small-business owners take huge financial risks to support their businesses. Often times their own family homes are at stake if the business goes south, and it's barriers such as home ownership and a lack of access to capital which may lock many protected business owners out of the market altogether.

It's these factors that do, of course, make me and everyone on this side of the House, and, in fact, the whole chamber, empathise with the budgetary stresses of running a small business. While some may choose to use this as an excuse for loosening some industrial relations laws, I really can't agree with that. But I can see how in frustration these views can foster and, sadly, fester. That's why the antiphoenixing legislation that has been talked about in this place is particularly important, because all small businesses deserve to operate on a level playing field. No small-business owner deserves to have another small-business owner cheating and not playing by the rules, and, therefore, getting an unfair advantage over others, and it's an important reform that I know will come before this House.

Many small- and family-business owners continue, despite what you might read. They're the ones that are fighting for a fair go for workers. They support a fair day's pay for a fair day's work in the form of penalty rates in this country and many other workplace conditions, and their support for this must be commended. It's not penalty rates but there's a lot of support in the small-business community for domestic violence leave. I know this because they speak to me about it. Of course, small-business owners are very close to their employees, being the nature of that business, and often don't need to be asked to give their workers leave to deal with what can be a really confronting situation for an employee. They just do it as a matter of course.

I'd like to commend one of the small businesses in my electorate, the Waterfront News Gifts and Lottery Centre, which is on the Rockingham Beach Foreshore. It's an excellent example of the hardworking, fair and quintessentially Australian sprit of the small family business. Before the attack on penalty rates was confirmed by this government in 2016, when it was just a threat, I spoke to the owner of this newsagency, Dave Mews, and he said that he couldn't imagine not paying his staff penalty rates on Sundays or public holidays. He just wouldn't cop the argument that it was to protect small-business owners. As he said to me: 'These people relying on penalties rates could be the small-business owners of tomorrow. They make sacrifices, working antisocial hours and on holidays, and they deserve to be remunerated for this.'

He was right to observe that penalty rates are entirely predictable for any business. We know when Sunday is—it happens every Sunday. We know when public holidays are—they happen as gazetted on the public-holiday list. These are the costs of running a business. Small businesses, in my experience—actually legitimate small businesses with a good business model—build penalty rates, always have, into their business plan and their costs. They build it into the cost of their coffee or the cost of whatever service they provide, because it is utterly predictable when they will have to pay penalty rates. To say it's some kind of shock and to then get rid of it and deny many thousands of workers across Australia those payments is immoral and it shouldn't happen, and I look forward to the day, perhaps in the future, when we can restore the penalty rates of those many thousands of workers across the country. So I want to thank Dave Mews for his insight many months ago—a year and a half ago, in fact—about this. I really haven't forgotten his compassion and his fairness to his workers and workers in the sector that he operates.

This is a typical sentiment of these salt-of-the-earth small- and family-business owners in this country. It's great to see them rewarded in this place with an increase in the threshold for the instant asset write-off scheme that we're talking about today. Of course, this bill's not the only win we've seen for small businesses this week. As we know, the government did a spectacular yet welcomed backflip on Monday and passed Labor's 'access to justice' amendment, and I commend them on it. I note no-one spoke on small business in that debate but I'm sure they'll speak tonight. That 'access to justice' amendment ensures a level playing field in the case of anticompetitive behaviour by big business. It's a move that will mean that businesses will be able to request a no adverse cost order—so literally lowering their access to justice in the courts when they are suffering from anticompetitive behaviour from big business.

I commend former senator Katy Gallagher, who I hope will join us shortly in the other place; the shadow Treasurer and his team; and the shadow Assistant Treasurer, the member for Fenner, for his great work in getting this reform finally through the parliament after it was announced by the member for Greenway in the 2016 election campaign. So Labor is the supporter of small business, has been for many years and will continue to fight and continue to drag the government to this very important reform.

Today's bill, which seeks to increase the instant asset write-off to $25,000, is yet another win for small business this week. My amendment refers to Labor's intention to make it permanent, rather than just making it year on year on year on year and the consequent uncertainty that comes with that. It is good to get rid of that uncertainty, and that is what Labor is committed to doing. In addition to these measures, Labor is also offering a superior tax policy for businesses, including small business, through the Australian Investment Guarantee. When it comes to small business, whether you vote Labor or Liberal or National, the taxation of small business will be the same with the one exception—that is, we support the Australian Investment Guarantee. Labor will bring that in should we be fortunate enough to be elected to the Treasury benches.

While there's not a breadth of difference between Labor and the government on taxes for small business, the principal difference at the moment is in relation to the Australian Investment Guarantee, announced last year. It will allow businesses to deduct up-front 20 per cent off all new investments, with the remaining amount depreciated in line with normal depreciation schedules. Assets such as machinery, plant and equipment—for example, things like trucks or utes—and intangible investments such as patents and copyrights will be eligible for the immediate deduction.

This investment guarantee promotes investment in local economies, which is very important—as many people in this House will know—in regional areas, where we have so many vendors of heavy machinery and not so heavy machinery that go on to the rural properties and farms all around this country. Like the access to justice policy that the Nationals waived through the government party room—however they manage things—I hope that they do consider the benefits to the Australian Investment Guarantee and maybe push their coalition colleagues, the Liberal Party, to support it, and we can get another win for small business in the chamber before we finish our grand total of 10 parliament sitting days this year; I think we have six left. So if the Nationals could get on to that, I would be grateful. I am sure all the small businesses in this country would thank them for that.

The investment guarantee is well targeted, fully funded, cost-effective, fiscally responsible and funded by Labor's reforms to the tax system. I want to make it clear to everyone: under a Shorten Labor government, 99 per cent of businesses will receive a tax cut and no business will have its tax rate increased, and all business will be able to plan and invest with confidence and certainty.

The investment guarantee has received broad support across the country. Innes Willox, the chief executive of Ai Group, said:

The Investment Guarantee would provide a significant boost for businesses to invest particularly for longer-lived investments.

The proposed measure comes at a time when business investment, and particularly non-mining investment, has been slow to recover in recent years.

As a measure designed to lift investment, the Investment Guarantee would increase the stock of invested capital, boost the quantity of capital per worker, raise productivity and underwrite an acceleration of real wage growth.

That is an excellent third party endorsement of our policy.

Our good friends at the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry have also supported Labor's investment guarantee, with the national CEO, James Pearson, stating:

Business welcomes this commitment from the Opposition—it's good policy. What’s particularly positive is the proposal to make this a permanent feature. This is important as policy certainty and policy consistency is critical for business.

That's great news that the Australian chamber supports Labor policy in this manner, and I hope the coalition government might think about supporting it as well.

The Australian Food & Grocery Council has said:

This initiative will go a long way to encouraging investment in high-tech and high-skilled projects to enhance efficiency and increase scale.

We're particularly supportive of the Australian Investment Guarantee's inclusiveness across the industry sector. The opportunity to use this Investment Guarantee towards energy saving projects is also very important.

That's another great third-party endorsement for Labor policy.

I would be remiss not to mention in this forum Peter Strong, CEO of the Council of Small Business Australia, who has said:

Labor's announcement is a welcome one as it would make it easier for Australian businesses to invest and grow. The fact that this measure is available to all businesses, big and small, is also very positive as it will help small businesses directly as well as encouraging larger businesses to invest in the products sold by small business.

He reflects my earlier sentiment about the importance of this investment guarantee in the regions, where there are smaller businesses supplying larger businesses and farms. There is broad industry support for Labor's policy, and, again, I hope the government might consider following our lead on this, as they have done many times in this House recently, and think about this as another policy to adopt, like the instant asset write-off. Maybe they will make that permanent. I certainly hope they'll think about it.

Labor is also committed to legislating a second ATO commissioner for appeals, which will be a great benefit to small business. It will ensure small businesses receive fair appeals processes when dealing with the tax office. Genuine concerns have been raised about engagement with small businesses facing tax disputes with the ATO. We have seen some pretty grim tales in the media about small businesses dealing with the tax office. There are good people in the tax office, of course, and it's a difficult job. But there has to be a real separation in the ATO between staff who make tax assessments and those who handle disputes and appeals. This is why we will seek to establish the new position of a second commissioner of appeals in the tax office. This is another idea I would offer to the coalition today. They might want to take that back to the party room next week—not next week; we have to wait for those three days in April—and see if they want to help us protect small business and enable it to do fairly in any disputes with the ATO.

We're also keen to make unfair contract terms illegal and punishable with significant fines of up to $10 million. We will expand the definition of small businesses eligible for protection from such unfair contract terms.

While I am given the chance to talk about Labor's policy on small businesses, one of the great challenges to the small businesses in this country is, of course, the state of the National Broadband Network. Labor has pledged to put in a service guarantee that will deliver greater protections for small businesses and consumers alike. The rise of e-commerce is a great change facing small business. It's exciting for us as consumers but it can be quite challenging for small businesses. Whilst challenging, the opportunities are vast. It enables businesses from around the world to be competitive in our Australian market and it opens opportunities for Australian businesses on the world stage and in international trade. It means that quality access to the internet and digital capabilities is paramount to the success of Australian small businesses. As we know, the NBN rollout under the coalition has been nothing short of a disaster. It's resulted in widespread delays. I know there's a pool shop, a small business, in Rockingham in my electorate that's running two contracts with two different providers because they can't seem to get hold of the NBN adequately. We are trying to help them, of course, but that's exactly the kind of problem this service guarantee is designed to address by making sure small businesses are guaranteed the service they paid for.

I know we're coming up soon to the adjournment. Sorry to the member for Dunkley; I will save you the 30-second break in your speech, which is great for me because I'm more than happy to speak for a bit longer about small business. We know it's the backbone of Australia's economy. It employs many, many people around the country. It employs whole families. People who work in small business are family. I reflected on my mother's shop the other day. We still see some of the people that used to work there on a Saturday morning at the drapery store. They have been firm family friends since that time and will remain so until their time comes to an end. That's what small businesses are about; they work for the community, they work for each other, and they form the community itself. Labor supports small business.

Debate interrupted.