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Monday, 29 February 2016
Page: 1253


Senator O'NEILL (New South Wales) (11:55): It is a pleasure to be able to put some remarks on the record with regard to the bill before the Senate this morning, the Tax Laws Amendment (Small Business Restructure Roll-over) Bill 2016, because it gives me the opportunity to explode some of the mythology that still seems to have a bit of currency with the Australian people that the Liberal Party are actually the party for small business. It was untrue before but it has never been more apparent just how untrue it is since the election of the Abbott government. The Abbott-Turnbull government, in permanent chaos, would be a disaster if it were a small business. There is no teamwork. There is one person trying to lord it over the others at every point of the day. There is no clarity of communication. There is no vision for the country. It is all about saving their own skin. We have seen it manifest itself many, many times in the legislation that they have attempted to push throughout the course of this parliament.

Small businesses across this nation understand that relationships are critical to their success. This government arrived and, with a new Senate, within days tried to force them to make decisions on complex legislation in some bizarre game that they played. It was an absolute abuse of trust. Why do I put this on the record today, when I am talking about small business and this particular piece of legislation, which I do support? I put it on the record because it reveals a government of flawed character. They are a government that tries to pretend to people that it is one thing, but as time passes this government is more and more revealed. They are all about themselves. They are not about small business. They are all about the big end of town, the multinational businesses, and helping them to hide their taxation failures from the public. They are in cahoots with the Greens and doing all sorts of deals that make it more difficult for ordinary Australians to get ahead.

I come as a Labor member from a small business family. I cannot tell you how insulting it is to have people on the other side stand up, time after time, and declare that they are the only people who understand small business. Labor represents people in our communities who own small businesses, and many of us come from families with small businesses or are still operating them. The fact is that there are actually over two million small businesses in Australia and they employ 4.7 million people. That is why what this government does around taxation for small business and what it does more broadly has a massive impact on millions and millions of lives. Small business enterprises make up 97 per cent of all businesses in Australia. They come in a range of sizes. But they all have one need, and that is to communicate effectively with their customers.

Under the leadership of the new Turnbull government—Abbott mark 2, as it is turning out to be—we are seeing the revelation on a broader scale of what has been apparent for a long time to anybody who was watching Minister Turnbull in his prior role as the Minister for Communications. I have a few things to say about the impact of Mr Turnbull's management of that portfolio, and I am not the only one. Today in The Sydney Morning Herald there is an excellent article that I would refer anybody who is interested in the future of this nation to read. It is by Mark Kenny and is entitled: 'NBN: Malcolm Turnbull's 'faster, cheaper' roll-out falters.' We can all remember that language before the last election: 'Malcolm Turnbull, the responsible man, who was from a business background. He'll look after businesses. He'll make sure they get a fair go. He'll make sure they get the right technology to do business into the future.' He has absolutely presided over a disaster, and the secret is out. Materials that have been made available to Mr Kenny marked 'commercial in confidence' and 'for official use only' set out the huge range of problems that are now part of what is Malcolm Turnbull's version—

Senator Williams: Madam Acting Deputy President, I raise a point of order. Could the speaker refer to those in the other place by their correct title or correct name, please.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT ( Senator Lines ): Thank you, Senator. Senator O'Neill, I draw your attention to the proper use of titles.

Senator O'NEILL: I am drawing attention to the role of Mr Turnbull, the current Prime Minister, as a supposed supporter of innovation and of small business. We have heard him say, 'There's never been a more exciting time to be Australian,' except if you live on the Central Coast or in the Newcastle area, which is where I come from in the great state of New South Wales, where we have the impact of Malcolm's vision for the country rolling out on the ground day-by-day, in a very, very flawed manner.

Indeed, at a recent hearing, Senator Conroy described how, in the Newcastle area, the quote to get the proper connection of fibre to the premise to a local small business was $10,000. You do not have to trust what I am saying here. If you go onto the nbn co website and click across a couple of tabs at the top, you will find language relating to the dodgy version of what they are trying to call the NBN. I prefer to call it to the MTM: Malcolm Turnbull's mess. That is what they are inflicting on small businesses right across the coast.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Senator O'Neill, you do need to refer to the Prime Minister as Mr Malcolm Turnbull. You have slipped up a couple of times, so if you could just be mindful of that, thank you.

Senator O'NEILL: It is the passion for the small businesses in my region, who are the key players, that has distracted me from that very important standing order. I will endeavour to accede to your request little more carefully, Madam Acting Deputy President. The reality is that, on the ground, people are paying the price for decisions made by the man who is now the Prime Minister of this country. He thought it was fair enough to deliver this lemon into the regions of Australia. It was supposed to be cheaper, but $29 billion has turned into $56 billion—it has nearly doubled in price. It is way behind schedule, as is articulated very clearly in this article by Mr Mark Kenny.

In addition to that, if you decide your business is worth investing in and worth growing and you want the new technology that Mr Turnbull decided you did not need, you can pay thousands or tens of thousands of dollars. That is what it says on the nbn co website. Yes, for thousands or tens of thousands of dollars, you can get the basic technology that you need to be a successful business in this country. That is a revelation with respect to what the Liberal government really think about small business in the regions across this country. They do not care that they are putting regional Australia behind the rest of the country. They do not care, because they are quite happy that the big end of town and their mates in the city have got the real deal; they have got the real NBN. It makes a really big difference.

In the middle of Gosford we have a real-life experiment going on. There is a hub where genuine small businesses, innovative and creative small businesses, have the real NBN. They have fibre to their house. Many of them are home businesses. They also have fibre to their premise in the main street of Gosford. There we have a company—you can look them up—called BlinkMobile. They got an international award for innovation in industry as an international business that is in the cloud. The only reason they can do that is that they have got the real NBN. They are employing 30 people—and have perhaps even grown since I was last there—on great wages on the Central Coast, in regional Australia, because they got the real NBN. They got it before Mr Turnbull became the Minister for Communications. As soon as he came in, he decided he knew better. He knew what was best for small business, and he cut it away.

The problem for our small businesses across this country is very, very real. Mr Turnbull's decision making around what Australians need and do not need is shown to be very, very flawed. He cannot run from his shameful record. Again I say: go to the article in The Sydney Morning Herald by Mark Kenny around the rollout that is faltering, the blow-out in costs and the gap-to-target that has increased from 49,000 to 65,000 as at the week ending 12 February. These issues are created by the man who acts as though and talks as though he knows what the real needs of small business are.

This piece of legislation is particularly important for small businesses that find they are growing and that need to make some sort of change to their corporate structure. If the revenue of your business is under $2 million and you want to defer any gains or losses that you might make when you are transferring business assets from one type of entity to another—perhaps you are a partnership, changing to another structure—this legislation deals with some anomalies around that. It is important because, at the moment, a small business that wants to become an incorporated company, or a company that wants to become a trust, pays a capital gains tax bill for transferring assets from one business to another structure. Without the change this legislation allows, a company is forced to stay in a structure that does not allow it to grow and, when a person transfers assets from themselves to themselves, they are forced to pay a capital gains tax—which does not seem very fair and does not really help small businesses grow. That is why this is a sensible piece of legislation. It will indeed provide the flexibility we need to allow businesses to grow and thrive. But Labor have some concerns about this legislation and we think it is important to ensure that it should work in the way that is intended. We propose that there should be a Treasury review of this in a couple of years to make sure it is working the way we want it to.

There are differences between Labor and Liberal with regard to small business. One of those important differences became evident in the very first budget of the Liberal government under Mr Abbott. Labor instituted two really important things. One was the instant asset write-off, to make sure that people who were purchasing something for their business could write that off immediately rather than have to depreciate it, which took away a lot of red tape. When this government came in, they immediately said, 'Small businesses do not need that. We will get rid of that.'

They are so disconnected from the people they purport to support that they did not even check with the Small Business Council about it. The council was outraged by it, and so there was a redress of that. Like Mr Turnbull, these Liberals know better than small business and so they come in heavy-handed, not listening to small business—they know better and so they just do things to small business without proper consultation. Small businesses, which were going to use that instant asset write-off properly, ended up getting a sugar hit of commitment from Mr Abbott, who said, 'We'll do it to two years—just the two years.' Why two years? Because this government is only about itself. It is not about giving business a plan for the future; it is about telling business what they can do and exploiting business by saying, 'We're your friends; 'we're your friends.' I remember the then minister for small business, Mr Billson, the member for Dunkley, was the one charged with telling everyone how good it was. They gave a sugar hit the two years but, when those two years are up, the businesses planning to grow have suddenly lost one of their platforms. Why two years? Because the government cynically manipulates their announcements to time them with what they thought would be their next election.

In their first budget they did a dirty deal on small business and then turned their backs and walk away again. The con-artistry around the Liberal government, which continue to act as though they were the friends of small business, is disgraceful. Day after day we see them come into this place with legislation they put through to protect their friends in multinational corporations at the cost of ordinary working Australians, who show up and pay their taxes every week. We saw a deal in the last week of this parliament between the Greens and the coalition government to make it more difficult for the Taxation Office to show Australians who is paying tax and who is not. They did not protect ordinary Australians, like you and I; they did not protect small businesses; they protected multinationals. I say to any small business person—who is driving in the year ute, working hard for their families, taking on an apprentice and paying their tax—you cannot afford to vote for this Liberal government. You cannot afford to vote for Mr Turnbull, who decided to keep his job as communication minister—the man who made millions out of communication and who should have known better. He was tasked with the job of wrecking the NBN. 'Break it' was his direction from Mr Abbott, and that is exactly what he did. If he gets the chance—if Australian small businesses allow themselves to be conned again by this government—to be re-elected and, in some sort of partnership with the Greens, the coalition will control this chamber and this parliament. They will do to Australians what they tried to do with that 2014 budget—they will try to rip away the fabric of our society.

Support for small business is a game that they play, not a policy that they deliver on. They forget something about small business when they treat it as an economic entity. The small business women and men, who employ local people in my community and across regional Australia, are also the parents of kids in schools. They are also the carers for people who need access to hospitals. Small business people contribute to our local community. When it comes to fetes and supporting local charities, small business is where we go. They are connected to ordinary Australians. Small business believes in fairness; this government does not. Small business people need to know that their children are going to school to get a great education, wherever they walk through the door. Small business people need the Gonski funding, because they need to know that their kids are going to be looked after at school. Small business people need the Gonski funding to go into schools because they want to employ young people who are literate and numerate, who can deal with innovation and who are able to study and work and do well for this country.

Small business people who get sick need one of the 26 regional cancer centres that Labor established when we were in government last, because they can run their business and get their treatment locally. The whole time that Mr Abbott was the health minister and the whole time he was Prime Minister, we did not see investment in health. Instead we saw them rip it away—$57 billion they took away from health across this country. On arrival into parliament, Mr Abbott ripped up national partnership agreements that saw responsibility shared between state and federal governments. He just walked away; he just left people right across this country—small business people, ordinary working people sick people and walked away from that responsibility. This coalition government, which has now joined in with the Greens, do not care about ordinary working people who own small businesses, who do the hard yards, who sit down and do their BAS statement on Tuesday night at 10 o'clock, who contribute to their local community, who believe that education is a right for every child and who understand that we are all connected in this together. This government is for the top end of town, not for ordinary Australians—absolutely not for ordinary Australians and certainly not for small businesses.

It is really important at this time to indicate that we as an opposition can only do so much to protect for people who are in business across this country. When we have the opportunity to review legislation and to speak with experts about it, we listen carefully. The piece of legislation, which I am speaking to today and which I do support, gives sensible and practical assistance to growing small businesses on the coast. But let people across this country make no mistake: if you are a small business or you are pay-as-you-go earner, this government is not supporting you. If they are elected, they will absolutely sweeps through a range of changes. I would not be surprised if the on-the-table off-the-table GST rise, supposedly dead and buried, comes back. What would the impact of that be on small business? Absolutely enormous. The reality is that this is a government that lacks care. Their commitment is to making only the top end of town successful, propping up their mates and looking after one another, and any of the gestures and commentary that they make in support of small business is a con job. They should not be trusted with the government of this nation. Small business should not trust them any more than any of the rest of us do, because small business understands the hard work that goes into developing and securing businesses and, while it will benefit from this change in legislation, it will get smashed on the roundabout of this government going through and taking away from every small business the opportunities that they deserve.