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Tuesday, 19 June 2012
Page: 7151

Mr BRENDAN O'CONNOR (GortonMinister for Housing, Minister for Homelessness and Minister for Small Business) (20:38): I would like to thank the member for Dunkley for congratulating me in my new role. I think it is very nice of him to remark that it is good to see that this small business portfolio has been elevated to cabinet, where it belongs. It was a decision of the Howard government to take it out of cabinet and it was a decision of the Gillard government to restore that position in cabinet. It was the right decision because, as the honourable member knows, many of the decisions made by government, whether they are to advance the constituency of small business or whether they are to protect the interests of small businesses, are done at the cabinet table. It is very important, and I do appreciate his heartfelt congratulations to me in that regard.

Can I say that I think he did ask about 17 questions in that five-minute contribution. I am happy to go to many of those, and if I do not go to all of them I might just provide them on notice. I will take those questions on notice and provide some further information to the member. I think the last matter that he raised was in relation to the Office of the Small Business Commissioner. This government is proud of the fact that we announced the creation of the Office of the Small Business Commissioner at the federal level. It is something that was first undertaken by the Bracks government in 2003, which actually appointed the first small business commissioner in Australia—a Labor government appointing a small business commissioner.

So it is not entirely coincidental that it took a federal Labor government to appoint a small business commissioner at the national level. It is a disappointment that the Howard government chose not to do so in 11½ years. Nonetheless, as I understand it, the honourable member supports the creation of that office, and I think it is going to be an office that will provide representations to the Minister for Small Business on behalf on the small business constituency. It will allow for good advice, independent advice, and a vocal presence in Canberra. I also see it playing a complementary role with the offices of small business commissioners across the country, because all mainland states have small business commissioners. We do not want to duplicate services, so there will not be a particular mediation role, but we will allow for the Small Business Commissioner to refer matters to mediation services. I see it being a good thing, and I thank the honourable member for his support in that regard.

The member asked a number of other things of me. He talked about some of the surveys that have been conducted in relation to small business. There is no doubt that there are some challenging times for small business in some sectors of our economy. Paradoxically, whilst the high Australian dollar is an indication of success, particularly success in the mining industry, there is no doubt that it presents challenges to all businesses in certain sectors of our economy. Manufacturing, tourism and other sectors that have been confronted with challenges as a result of the high dollar. As a result of that, we have sought to spread the benefits of the mining boom by introducing some specific measures to help small business arising out of the budget. I do understand there have been some issues around small businesses starting up and there has been lower consumer confidence and business confidence in recent times. I put that down to some legitimate concerns about what is happening in Europe. Madam Deputy Speaker, you know yourself how fraught things are in Europe and perhaps to a lesser extent in the United States. People are turning their eyes to those events and are somewhat concerned. There is also a natural readjustment of consumer spending. I think for too long now people have been going further and further into debt, and now people are instinctively, after proper consideration, realising that they do not want to be in such debt, and as a result they have been withholding in some cases discretionary money. That has led in some areas to a reduction in consumption by households, which has in turn diminished some confidence in business. But I think some of that has been addressed by the budget, firstly by the announcement of a return to surplus, a very important decision. Not too many countries in the developed world can return a budget to surplus. Also, it sends the message to both Australians and the world that we are a strong economy, we have contained inflation, low debt and an unemployment rate of about five per cent. The last economic growth figures were quite extraordinary. (Time expired)

Proposed expenditure agreed to.

Industry, Innovation, Science, Research and Tertiary Education Portfolio

Proposed expenditure, $4,004,203,000.