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Wednesday, 4 May 1994
Page: 208

Senator CRANE (3.33 p.m.) —I rise to support Senator Boswell's matter of public importance, which states:

The government's failure to allow Australia's small business sector to reach its potential and provide real and lasting jobs to Australia's one million unemployed.

I think it is very appropriate at this time, contrary to what Senator Schacht said, to debate this matter. Perhaps the wording should be changed to say, `and condemns this government for the destruction of so many small businesses over the last five years.' It is instructive in that regard to look at the bankruptcy figures since 1989-90. There were 8,552 bankruptcies in 1989-90; 13,091 in 1990-91; 16,780 in 1991-92; 14,816 in 1992-93; and 7,351 to the end of the December quarter in 1993-94. In five years a total of 60,590 businesses have gone bankrupt, most of which were small businesses. This can be laid fairly and squarely at the feet of this government and its economic policies.

  I wish to pick up and put on the public record a couple of points. The first is the totally misleading claim by Senator Schacht. In fact, what he said with regard to Wilson Tuckey and the number of press releases he put out is a straight-out lie. The facts are that last year Wilson Tuckey put out 40 press releases and so far this year he has put out 14. Why any minister would want to come into this place and try to mislead the Senate in that manner is just beyond me. It does Senator Schacht no good, it does the government no good and it does those people who try to defend Senator Schacht no good. But it is really irrelevant to this debate.

  Senator Schacht also said that all we were going to do was put on a 15 per cent tax. He failed to mention the fact that we were going to get rid of fuel excise and payroll tax.

Senator Robert Ray —You are great `gunnas', aren't you? You are `gunna' do this and `gunna' do that.

Senator CRANE —Senator Ray knows what the government has done. It has put up these costs. It has put up sales tax. It has put up fuel excise. It has, in fact, attacked small business. The government has attacked the whole community in the policy position it has adopted. Now the government comes out screaming, claiming that this is the greatest thing of all time, the greatest thing that has ever been produced in the world. That is a total misrepresentation of the government's performance, what it has done and how it has behaved. It is an absolute shame that it has allowed the situation to reach the position it has.

  I have mentioned fuel excise, sales tax, the superannuation guarantee levy and the training levy. What the government has done is create an enormous bookkeeping exercise for small business which, firstly, is not inclined to do this type of operation and, secondly, does not have the time.

Senator West —Nothing compared with what you were going to do under the GST.

Senator CRANE —Senator West can bleat all she likes over there but she should have a look at the government's record. It tells the story as far as the government's position on small business is concerned. I will give an example of the red tape side of it that we have heard so much about. A roadhouse in a small country town in Western Australia had to deal with five government departments: the taxation department, the mines department, the health department, DEET and the CES, the department of employment and productivity, and the many arms of these.

Senator West —They are state bodies.

Senator CRANE —They are not all state bodies. Since when has DEET been a state body? Mr Beazley would love DEET to have been a state body after his performance in managing DEET. As for the minister for employment or, as he is known in the electorate of Swan, the minister for unemployment, he would have loved DEET to have been a state department. All of the corruption, fraud and so on in DEET's operation was raised here many years ago.

  The issue I want to deal with is one which I am absolutely certain will not be dealt with in this particular statement and that is the industrial relations legislation which came into operation just a few weeks ago. It is the single, biggest impediment to small business and employment. In fact, it has frightened the pants off small business. What this IR act has done in a technical sense is unionise the workplace, regardless of whether the employers or the employees want it. The no disadvantage test continues, and it is worse. In fact, it has removed any possibility of real, meaningful flexibility gains.

  Those opposite will not address that; they do not have the courage. Their masters will not allow them to address it. Government senators know darn well that that is a fact. While that no disadvantage test continues, we will not see true flexibility in the labour market and in the workplace. I can see Senator Carr taking down some notes. No doubt we will hear some erroneous nonsense in a little while.

  The other point I wish to raise is the federal government's use of international conventions through the external affairs powers to override state legislation. The state legislation is working, but the government is hell-bent on destroying the industrial reforms that are occurring in the mining industry in Western Australia. Workers are willingly signing contract workplace agreements because they are better off and they want to share in the growth and productivity in Western Australia. One may ask this government why the growth is so much higher in Western Australia. Why has unemployment fallen so dramatically since Premier Court and his government took over, in contrast to 12 months before when Mrs Carmen Lawrence was the Premier and we had the worst unemployment figures in Australia? It is an interesting and instructive comparison.

  If the government is serious about small businesses being able to increase employment, it must address these issues. In fact, what it has done is directly hostile to the very ethos by which these business operators live. It defies their principles and the trusted mechanisms under which they do business. They are comfortable dealing with local identities. They deal with local bureaucracy. They tolerate—I emphasise `tolerate'—state departments, but they will not have a bar of the centralised approach of this government, simply because they do not trust it, and nor should they trust it. They do not trust what comes out of some of the hallowed halls of buildings in Melbourne. The people in them control industrial activities around Australia.

  I want to refer to the inadequacies and restrictions of jobstart. No doubt this will be dealt with in the white paper. I want to put on the public record for those who do not know about it that the average income support on jobstart is 16 weeks. It ranges from 12 to 20 weeks. In dollar terms, the assistance ranges from $100 to $230. The people who are taken on are obliged to be kept on for 12 weeks after the support period ends. If they are not, for whatever reason, DEET has a responsibility—although it is questionable whether it is carrying out that responsibility, having regard to what we saw the other night—to remove that business from the list of businesses eligible for the scheme, regardless of the reason for non-continuation of the employment.

  The problem with this has to do with the rigidity of the Industrial Relations Act and with the rigidity of the scheme. That is the reason why most small businesses reject it. One of the principle problems has to do with the termination provisions, which have been made far more onerous in this new act. There is no right to a sensible outcome between employers and employees. Almost every termination situation will end up before the arbitration commission. We have already seen that start to happen—and I am not referring to the heralded flexible employment agreements. Unfortunately, my time has almost expired, but I say to the government that it has driven small business into the ground. (Time expired)