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Thursday, 5 May 1994
Page: 331

Senator NEAL —My question is directed to the Minister for Small Business, Customs and Construction. I refer to the initiatives contained in the government white paper which will continue to support the small business sector. Is the minister able to provide additional information on these programs? Further, how have these initiatives been received by the small business sector?

Senator SCHACHT —The small business sector has responded very well to the initiatives announced yesterday in the white paper. Already, my colleagues Senator Gareth Evans and Senator Cook have mentioned some of the initiatives in the package, but not all of them, because it is such a comprehensive package. Senator Cook has mentioned the support we are going to give to state chambers of commerce and industry to pilot a business equity information service, which is commonly known as `business angels'. We are going to provide—

  Senator Kernot interjecting—

Senator SCHACHT —Senator Kernot may claim, like all Democrats, to be an angel in politics, but this is well understood in the business community and is something that the small business community recommended that we take up.

  There will be improved information and training for bankers and accountants to enhance their knowledge of the special needs of small and medium enterprises, particularly groups of borrowers. There will be assistance for small and medium enterprises seeking expert advice on export finance, and on the preparation of loan applications; and benchmarking of best manufacturing practice to assist banks assess future prospects of small and medium enterprises and to standardise their loan applications.

  There will be the provision of up to $32 million over the next four years to encourage enterprises to form networks. Again, that has been a major request from the small business community. Through participating in networks, firms can enhance their market knowledge and performance, and raise their attractiveness as a customer and as a supplier.

  Senator Cook mentioned the significant changes to the pool development funds which will make them very attractive to investors and be of great assistance to fill a gap that is existing at the moment to get small and medium enterprises access to finance to commercialise new technology.

  We have reduced the threshold for the 150 per cent concessional deduction for R&D from $50,000 to $20,000 to make sure that many more SMEs get access to that concession, and we have reduced the participation threshold for R&D syndication from $1 million to $500,000. We have also expanded the office of regulation review to provide better review processes, and we have funded it accordingly.

  These measures have been very well received by the small business community. Yesterday, after the statement was released, the Small Business Coalition, which consists of 37 small business organisations from right round Australia, issued a statement welcoming these initiatives. The coalition said that it welcomed the emphasis on private sector growth and investment to generate employment, and the important part small and medium enterprises must play in that growth in the initiatives announced by the government as part of the Working Nation white paper.

  The coalition specifically noted the issues it put to us in the last three months, such as the reform of the arrangement for full development funds, research and development, improved access to capital, the suspension of the training guarantee levy, regulation reform and training of enterprise managers. That is why the Small Business Coalition has come out in support of these initiatives. The Small Business Coalition is the most representative small business body or organisation in Australia, and it is a body that I suspect most members of the coalition parties—maybe with the exception of Senator Boswell—would know nothing about.