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Wednesday, 4 May 1994
Page: 212

Senator CALVERT (3.53 p.m.) —I rise to support my colleagues on this matter of public importance. I listened very carefully to some of the comments made by those on the other side. I particularly took note of what Senator Schacht and Senator Carr said about all the wonderful things that this Labor government has done over the years to help small business. Mention was made of macro settings and assistance. We cannot get away from the fact that all this assistance and all this help have resulted in huge numbers of bankruptcies.

  The so-called government help and the so-called macro savings meant that in 1989-90 there were 8,500 bankruptcies. That figure increased in 1991-92 to 16,780 bankruptcies. My colleague Senator Boswell gave us the figures for the total number of bankruptcies over the last few years. If that is the sort of assistance this government is going to give small business, God help small business in the next few years.

  I have a lot of friends in small business whom I have grown up with. I have been in small business myself. I know that from year to year the economy changes and all the rest of it. But the one single thing that people who have survived in small business say is, `For goodness sake, will you get the government off our back.' That is their plea. One of my good friends in Hobart who survived is in the contract building business. He started with a small business—it is still a reasonably small business. In bad times, he works longer hours and in better times he probably has a few more holidays. He adjusts to the changes in government policy and whatever. However, the thing that really upsets him most and gets to him most is that, while once upon a time he could go to work and do a bit himself, he now has to spend most of his time at home filling out forms for the government. If the government really wants to help—and it has talked about this in the past—why does it not simplify the controls that are applied to businesses? Why can it not implement a bit of the micro-economic reform that it has been talking about for so long?

  We have been told today that the white paper will fix everything. I remember the build-up to the One Nation statement. It was a bigger build-up than the last Evander-Holyfield heavyweight boxing championship fight, which at the end of the day was just a fizzer. That is what the One Nation statement was—a fizzer. I hope for the sake of unemployed people in Australia that this one is not a fizzer. All these changes and all these training schemes have to be paid for with money—taxpayers' money. Where do we get the taxpayers' money from? A lot of it comes from small business, so the government will tax them more.

  We heard today about the tax burden placed on small business. At the last election, our goods and services tax policy was heavily criticised. I know that a lot of small businesses were frightened by the publicity that this government put forward. The fact is that as soon as the government was re-elected it increased wholesale sales taxes, fuel taxes and all the things that affect small business. And so it goes on.

  Small business makes criticism of the government and its policies all the time. This criticism comes not only from small business—it also comes from its own ranks. We talked yesterday about youth unemployment and the fact that the bipartisan committee of which I was a member pointed out to the government that the way it was administrating the Department of Employment, Education and Training was wrong and that a lot of the work being done by it should be done by Social Security. That was 18 months ago. What has happened? The government did not even listen to what was said in that report that we put forward. In recent days we have seen a television program that dealt with the way in which money has been ripped off from the system.

  The Bureau of Industry Economics reported that the government policies to help small business in relation to finance and management were inadequate. The same report recognised a crucial role played by small business in areas such as innovation and spelled out a number of deficiencies in existing support structures. Only in April of this year the New South Wales Chamber of Commerce released a study which called upon two key areas of the government's relationship with small business—Austrade and the Export Finance and Insurance Corporation—to make their products and services more available to small business. And it goes on.

  There has been a lot of talk by the chairman of the chamber's export policy committee, Bill Farrands. He detailed the high costs of business regulations and charges and the waterfront and shipping charges. I know that there have been some improvements on the waterfront, but they are not good enough. We have to remember that small business is starting from so far behind that any drastic turnaround in industrial relations and micro-economic reform on the waterfront will take a fair while to impact on small business.

  I do not believe that the Victorian Employees Chamber of Commerce shares the government's optimism in the recovery for small business. It says that small business recovery at the best is shaky. There is no doubt that the government superannuation levy, the training guarantee levy and fuel taxes are inflicting a heavy toll on small business. I just hope that this white paper will help unemployment. The fact is that small business needs to get government off its back. It does not need help—it just wants a fair go and an economy that is working well. The evidence so far makes it clear that the only thing this government is interested in is taxing small business, not helping it.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Childs) —Order! It being 4.00 p.m., pursuant to order, I call on the ministerial statement on employment and growth.