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Thursday, 15 March 2012
Page: 3126

Mr BRENDAN O'CONNOR (GortonMinister for Housing, Minister for Homelessness and Minister for Small Business) (15:47): I thank the honourable member for his contribution. Some of the comments go to the issue of the Liberal Party's concerns about small business. The unfortunate thing is that the policies he enunciated in relation to what the Liberal Party would have done if elected were clearly those things that they were not able to do or chose not to do when they were in government. For 11½ years the Howard government was in power and in that time submissions were made by the small business community to elevate the portfolio to cabinet. For the last six years of that period there was no small business minister in cabinet. There were also calls from the small business community to have a small business commissioner, something that was not acceded to or accepted by the Howard government.

In fact, the first government that introduced a small business commissioner was the Victorian Labor government, in 2004. It did so because it wanted to provide a voice for small business. It wanted to provide independent advice and the opportunity for representation to be made directly to the small business minister in the Victorian government. The Howard government and the member for Dunkley, when he was a member of that government, had an opportunity to ensure that this office was instituted, but nothing was done by the Howard government in relation to that office.

The creation of the small business commissioner is a very important announcement. It will provide small businesses across the country with the capacity to make representations direct to me and to receive very pertinent advice about their small businesses. I think it is an excellent decision and it is one that this government made. It is something that was not done by the Howard government.

I think it is important that the government elevate this portfolio to cabinet. I feel very honoured to be in that position. It is something the previous Howard government failed to do for the last six years of its term. That says something about the Liberal Party and their relationship with small business. They say they are the party of small business but, when it comes to reform and making decisions in the interests of that very important and vital sector, they have failed when in government. It is very important that I am at the cabinet table, not only advancing the interests of small business but taking into account any potential adverse effects that may arise from other decisions; therefore making sure that small business is being considered when governments are making such very important decisions.

The member for Dunkley spoke for 15 minutes and he did not talk about the need to immediately pass on some tax cuts to small business. It is quite extraordinary. I have never before seen the Liberal Party and a Liberal Party leader, Tony Abbott, oppose tax cuts for small business. He has categorically opposed the tax cuts for small business that will commence on 1 July. This is unheard of. This shows the disregard the opposition has for the small business community.

We are looking to reduce company tax from 30 per cent to 29 per cent for incorporated companies. We are looking to provide instant asset tax write-offs of up to $6,500 for literally millions of small businesses across the country. We are also looking to have an instant tax write-off for the first $5,000 of motor vehicle use for business. All of these measures are being opposed by the opposition.

This is quite extraordinary, because the Leader of the Opposition is on the record as saying that he supports tax cuts. On 29 March this year, when talking to Lyndal Curtis on ABC News 24 he said:

… in principle we strongly support company tax cuts … and we wanted to deliver this tax cut …

On 4 October 2011 he said:

… we don’t believe in new taxes. We believe in trying to get existing taxes down.

On 12 August 2011 the Leader of the Opposition said:

The best thing I can do for business is to cut its tax …

The Leader of the Opposition has been on the record time and time again saying he wants to support tax cuts, yet, when he is provided an opportunity to make sure we pass on tax relief to literally millions of small businesses in this country, the Leader of the Opposition stands up and says, 'I refuse to support that initiative.' It is absolutely outrageous and unprecedented action by the Liberal Party. We hear this time and time again from the Liberal Party, that they are the party of small business. They say they are the party of the forgotten people. They have forgotten the forgotten people by not supporting the tax cuts for small business. It is an absolute outrage and they should hang their heads in shame.

The other thing that we know when it comes to the Liberal Party is that they never let the truth get in the way of a good scare campaign. They have sought to scare the small business community, scare the people of this country, by making up falsehood after falsehood in relation to the carbon tax. The facts are these: this government will apply a tax to the 500 biggest polluters. We will ensure that people are provided support by way of tax cuts and by way of pension payments. There is no tax imposition to be placed on small business. The small and modest increases that will arise in prices we accept will flow on to the consumer—a consumer that will be provided with tax cuts and increases in pension payments.

Compare that approach with the approach of the opposition. Their view is to impose a $1,300 per annum tax increase on every household in this country. Who lives in those households? It is sole proprietors, independent contractors, microbusinesses and small businesses. They will all have to pay a $1,300 increase because the opposition kowtow to the Gina Rineharts and the Clive Palmers in this country and choose to provide tax relief for the largest businesses in this country and impose tax burdens on the smaller businesses in this country. That is a typical response from an opposition that is taking instructions from the super-rich in this country. I have never seen the like of it in the 10 years I have been in this place: the Liberal Party so nakedly taking instruction from the super-rich and denying and depriving small businesses in this country of the tax cuts that they deserve.

We still hope that the opposition—indeed, the member for Dunkley and others—will support the tax cuts for small business, but I doubt it. I cannot see it happening. This opposition leader and this opposition are so negative that I would not be surprised if they oppose their own policies. The fact is that the member for Dunkley put up a couple of issues—

Mr Billson: You're pinching them.

Mr BRENDAN O'CONNOR: You might have come up with them in opposition, but you should have made the decisions in government. Of course, you chose not to and you have failed to properly relate to the small business community because in the end—

Mr Billson interjecting

Mr BRENDAN O'CONNOR: Yes, there is no doubt you did make small businesses tax collectors under the GST. That is the one thing they remember about you and the Liberal Party when in government. The small business community know they have a government now that is listening to them. Peter Strong, the executive officer of COSBOA, applauded the decision to institute the Small Business Commissioner. There is no doubt that they applauded that. Indeed, other employer bodies have done likewise, supporting the creation of this position. They are also supporting the tax cuts this government is soon to enact. They understand that small businesses in this country have challenges and it is for that reason that this government is providing some support. I think it is really important that the government play a role as an enabler to create the conditions in which businesses can thrive.

If you want some proof of the way the government respond to small business, you need only look at our decision when we were confronted by the global financial crisis. There is no better way to demonstrate the difference in approach between the government and the opposition than when it came to making decisions in relation to the challenges of the global financial crisis. We chose to invest in education and housing and to provide support—

Mr Baldwin interjecting

Mr BRENDAN O'CONNOR: Yes, we provided support for people who needed accommodation; yes, we provided support for students across the land who wanted 21st century infrastructure—and why shouldn't they want that? Who were the other beneficiaries of that very important decision? They were the thousands and thousands of small businesses across the country that worked on 27,000 projects—tradies, sole proprietors, independent contractors and small businesses in the construction and maintenance sector, and that flowed on to other sectors of the economy. If you went to an opening of a BER initiative—and I know that many on the other side, having voted against it, turned up to some of those events—if you listened to the small businesses that built those very important amenities for those schools and if you talked to the architects and builders, as you know, Madam Deputy Speaker Burke, they said: 'Without these decisions we would have gone to the wall. Without these decisions we literally would not be here today.' That decision by government—

Dr Emerson: Opposed by the opposition.

Mr BRENDAN O'CONNOR: Yes, it was opposed by the opposition. That decision provided opportunities for thousands of small businesses. It meant that so many more people were employed. That was absolutely critical. It meant that we ensured that thousands of small businesses in every one of the members' electorates in this place survived and thrived. That is what happened as a result of those decisions. Conversely, the opposition chose to oppose those very important initiatives. In the end, their heart is not there to support small business. In the end, whatever their rhetoric, the reality is that their heart is not in this at all. Ultimately, if you have to choose between a tax cut for small business or tax relief for the largest and wealthiest companies in this country, which would you normally choose? This government will always choose support for small business and, clearly, the opposition will provide relief for the super-rich. That is the problem.

I have been in the role of the Minister for Small Business for a very short time. I am very proud to be the minister and I am very proud to have the portfolio elevated to cabinet. It is the first time since I have been in this place that there has been a cabinet minister representing small business. I am happy that within that time I have been able to announce the Office of the Small Business Commissioner. I am happy, indeed, to have been able to prosecute the argument as to why we need tax relief for small businesses. I will continue to prosecute that argument to ensure that we provide such relief.

I will be speaking to as many small businesses as I can as I go around the country. They are the engine room of this economy; there is no doubt. They employ just under five million Australians. They are absolutely vital to our economy. As I said earlier, the role of government is to create the conditions in which they can thrive. We did that when we confronted the global financial crisis. Indeed, we saved and ensured that certain companies continued in a very prosperous manner. We will continue to provide new opportunities for small business because if you create the right conditions then certainly those small businesses will prosper. Why is it so important? It is important for those businesses but it is also important because of the breadth and the proportion of Australian employees that are employed by those businesses.

We will continue to listen to small business. I will be travelling around the country talking to all of the areas of small business, and, literally, they are in every sector of our economy. I will be getting direct from them their concerns and challenges so that we can continue to respond. What I hope will happen between now and when the decision is to be made in the Senate is that the opposition has a change of heart. I hope the opposition thinks about this and puts the country first, puts small business first and supports the tax cuts and the tax relief that we want to provide.

All this week the Leader of the Opposition has tried all sorts of distractions to forget about the one issue that is clear in everyone's mind: we have a Liberal Party leader who is seeking to oppose tax cuts to small business. The only thing that they wanted to talk about today is one job for a former Liberal Treasurer. They did not want to talk about the jobs in the small business sector or about relief for small business. I say to those opposite: listen to the small business community, accept the tax cut, allow the tax cut and allow that for them because they need it. (Time expired)