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Thursday, 18 June 2009
Page: 6594


Mr LAMING (4:25 PM) —We meet here this afternoon because in this global shock we have mounting unemployment in this country and stresses that small business have not seen for a decade. I see members from the other side exiting this chamber. They could stay around for a little while and learn a little bit more about the plight of small business people, who they do not meet in their own electorates. Members for Eden-Monaro, Dobell, Isaacs, Makin, Fremantle, Parramatta, Forde, Longman, Leichhardt, Bonner, Solomon, Page and Brand, I implore you to stick around. I do not like seeing the backs of you the way that small business people in your electorate see the backs of you because this government has abandoned them.

The stimulus package by this government, if you compare it to all stimulus packages around the world, has the least in it for small business. You only need to look at what the US has done and what OECD economies have done in Europe. When you look at Australia, it was basically cash payments that were very poorly directed and construction stimulus that went straight to the commercial building of multipurpose halls in schools. I am not about to criticise the importance of funding to schools, but there was never a better time than this year to protect our small businesses. They are, as the member for Moncrieff has said, the backbone of this economy. For those nearly four million Australians who work in small business, I rise today to speak. We in fact proposed this MPI for that very reason.

What we have here effectively is a government that has abrogated its responsibility. The minister is full of bluff and bluster in a souffle-like attempt to defend the record of this government, which is appalling, on the back of one survey result that came out this week. I am not any kind of analyst, but what creates the greatest likelihood of a good survey result in a poll is an atrocious one the poll before. When it collapses in May, of course there will be some sort of bounce back in June, which can be of a record quantity purely because of the collapse the month before. That explains why we have a small bit of good news—which of course is always welcomed on this side of the chamber.

What we on this side have is a coherent approach to protecting small business. The government virtually turned a blind eye. I will give a little bit of history. Remember 2008? When they should have been preparing for the economic crisis and the threats that this economy faced, they were holding 2020 forums and bringing in actors like Cate Blanchett and shamelessly politicising her. In 2009, they egged on the Reserve Bank to four interest rate increases over seven months when not another developed economy was doing that. While other economies stared down small levels of inflation that were mostly due to drought induced commodity price increases and to increases in petroleum prices, it was Australia which blinked and put enormous pressures on small business. That will not be forgotten in wider Australia.

What we on this side have done is come up with meaningful alternatives, such as net operating loss carry back provisions, which are welcome for strongly performing small businesses that hit a wall in this economy. On the other side, we have seen virtually nothing except depreciation arrangements that help only the smallest proportion of small business. We needed so much more from this government; we did not see it.

It is worth making an international comparison; economies in banking crises are suffering extraordinary economic pain, but this country had strong banks, a very small manufacturing sector compared to resources and most importantly of all no net debt—thanks to the Howard government, which put us in an ideal place to be able to stimulate the economy. What we saw was a Prime Minister who panicked. He went across to the G20, listened to all of the foreboding predictions for economies that had banking crises, problems with return on investments, problems with return on equity, net interest margins that were very small, massive exposure to derivatives and liquidity and cash to total asset ratios that were very small. All of those reasons meant that these countries were in enormous peril. But it was this country that forgot small business in its stimulus package. This government stimulated inefficiently and wastefully. Australia will now see the results: significant increases in unemployment. This government has been able to focus on nothing more than one retail sector survey and the very small proportion of this economy’s performance that it represents.