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Monday, 16 March 2009
Page: 2819


Ms JACKSON (8:59 PM) —I would like to commence tonight by acknowledging that small- and medium-sized businesses are an important part of the lifeblood of the Australian economy and the generators of many jobs. They contribute almost a third of gross domestic product and employ some 5.5 million people. That is why the Rudd government are committed to supporting Australian small businesses through the global recession, and we recognise that small businesses are often the first to feel the effects of an economic downturn.

This is the most severe global economic crisis since the Great Depression. We all know it started in the United States of America and has now spread across the world, causing a global recession. It was caused by unrestrained greed and unregulated markets. Around the world we have witnessed more than 30 banks collapse or be bailed out, and we have seen major economies like the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany and Japan fall into recession and unemployment rise in practically every country around the world. The Prime Minister and the Treasurer have said that Australia will not be immune and the situation will get worse before it gets better. The government has been upfront with the Australian people about the future. This will be a long, drawn-out global crisis which will have a real impact on Australia. Growth will slow, budget revenues will be reduced and unemployment will go up. But the government is taking early and decisive action to cushion Australia from the impact of the global recession to try to stimulate our economy and protect our financial system. We have heard about the guaranteed bank deposit accounts and the term funding of our banks, building societies and credit unions to maintain the stability of the financial system and to protect people’s savings. We also saw the need for an immediate economic stimulus to the national economy and, while the majority of the stimulus package is on infrastructure and skills, it will take some six to 12 months to stimulate the economy and a more immediate stimulus like cash payments is necessary to provide an urgent boost to our economic activity.

As I indicated, both the Treasurer and the Prime Minister have said that are were no easy solutions or quick fixes to this global crisis. There are no silver bullets. There is not just one thing the government can do to make the crisis go away, but we as a government have said that we will do whatever it takes to reduce and cushion the impact of the crisis on Australia. Small business, in particular, will benefit from the government’s $42 billion Nation Building and Jobs Plan, introduced to support jobs and invest in long-term economic growth. I know from my own discussion with local businesses throughout the electorate of Hasluck that there is a great deal of goodwill and support for both the Economic Security Strategy, announced in October last year, as well as the more recent Nation Building and Jobs Plan. Certainly the retailers in my local stores know that the economic stimulus package in December was a great bonus to them prior to Christmas.

Some of the government’s other measures include: a $2.7 billion small business and general business tax break, providing small businesses with a turnover of $2 million a year or less; an additional 30 per cent deduction for eligible assets costing $1,000 or more acquired between December 2008 and 30 June 2009 and installed by 30 June 2010; a 20 per cent discount on the pay-as-you go tax instalments payable by 3 March 2009, which provided an immediate boost to cash flow; a share in the $12.2 billion immediate stimulus package for low-and middle-income households and individuals; the government’s direct investment in schools, housing, energy efficient homes, roads and local infrastructure, which will all benefit small business; a $4 billion Australian Business Investment Partnership to support the commercial property sector and the thousands of small businesses, independent contractors and tradespeople who service it; and a $46 million investment in small business advisory services. The Nation Building and Jobs Plan was carefully designed to support jobs and bolster the economy in the short term but, even more importantly, it will lay down the groundwork for a stronger economy when we emerge from the global recession.

Those small business initiatives I went through are in addition to a program of initiatives already in place to assist small business, a program of cutting red tape in 27 areas of state and federal regulation affecting business. I congratulate the Western Australian government on its cooperative approach with the federal government following COAG agreements. We are moving from nine separate markets in Australia to one. We have also ensured that small business contracts of up to $1 million with Commonwealth departments will be paid within 30 days or penalty interest may be charged by small businesses. As well, there is the introduction of a simpler process to make it cheaper and easier for small business to tender to sell goods and services to government agencies. From 1 July 2009 small businesses will be able to send their superannuation payments to a single clearing house that will distribute the money to the employees’ various superannuation funds free of charge.

Earlier this month we saw the Minister for Small Business, Independent Contractors and the Service Economy, Craig Emerson, convene a roundtable meeting between the banks and small business organisations to respond to issues associated with the availability of credit to small business. Members would be familiar with the communique that arose from that roundtable discussion, and it is pleasing to note that they tackled and addressed a number of issues affecting the price of credit and looked at ways of assisting small businesses experiencing repayment difficulties as well as those experiencing difficulty obtaining credit. I urge all members of the House to become familiar with the communique. In particular, I note that Minister Emerson announced that his office will establish a small business complaints clearing house to ensure that the government continues to be responsive to small business in these economic times.

You can imagine my distress, then, when last month the CEO of one of my four local chambers of commerce circulated an email to all WA federal MPs that had been sent to her by a small business member. She rightly assumed it was not his message and that it had been widely circulated. Nevertheless, she believed that, ‘It is not a one-off story; it is the story of the majority of small to medium enterprise owner-operators in Australia.’ The text of this email, allegedly from an employer to ‘valued employees’, says, amongst other things: ‘The economy doesn’t pose a threat to your job. What does threaten your job, however, is the changing political landscape in this country.’

It goes on and on. For example: ‘On 15 October I wrote a cheque to the Australian tax office for $288,000 for quarterly taxes. You know what my stimulus cheque was? Zero, zip, zilch. The question I have is this: who is stimulating the economy—me, the guy who has provided 14 people good, paying jobs and who services over 2.2 million people per year with a flourishing business, or the single mother sitting at home pregnant with her fourth child waiting for her next welfare cheque? Obviously the government feels the latter is the economic stimulus to this country.’ That is the flavour of this email. Its last paragraph is: ‘So if you lose your job it won’t be at the hands of the economy. It will be at the hands of the politicians that swept through this country and changed its financial landscape forever. If that happens, you can find me sitting on the beach, retired and with no employees to worry about.’

I am sad to say that this email has been around and around for some while. Its genesis was in the United States of America. It is not based on a true story at all and it fails to understand this simple message: the only way we will get through this global financial crisis is to work together. This is a time for national unity, a time for us to put our differences aside and work together to ensure that Australia gets through this global recession. I urge businesses, unions, employers and employees, all levels of government and the community: together we can work through this difficult period ahead. Let us not point fingers and lay blame on other people. Let us work to ensure that businesses receive reliable information to assist them, advise them and support them as well as tell them of the opportunities available to them.