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Wednesday, 9 September 2015
Page: 6393

Economy


Senator O'NEILL (New South Wales) (14:16): My question is to the minister representing the Minister for Small Business, Senator Abetz. Does the Abbott government support the inclusion of an effects test in Australian competition law?


Senator ABETZ (TasmaniaLeader of the Government in the Senate, Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Public Service and Minister for Employment) (14:16): As the honourable senator would know, this is a matter that has been provided to us as a proposal from the Harper review. The government is going through the Harper review and its proposals and giving consideration to the many suggestions therein. We are consulting widely and we will be in a position in due course to announce what our final decision is.

Having said that, I am reminded of Senator O'Neill's former leader, Mr Beazley, who quite some time ago acknowledged that the Labor Party never pretended to be a friend of small business. We on this side are and that is why we are looking—

The PRESIDENT: Pause the clock. Point of order, Senator O'Neill.

Senator O'Neill: The question was a very simple one, and the answer needs to go the effects test and the government's position with regard to an inclusion of an effects test in Australian competition law.

The PRESIDENT: The minister did address the question by saying it is under consideration.

Senator Wong interjecting

The PRESIDENT: I am not going to enter into a debate about this. Senator Wong, on the point of order.

Senator Wong: Just because the minister references it once it does not then make a subsequent discussion about a former Labor leader directly relevant to the question.

Honourable senators interjecting

The PRESIDENT: Order on both sides, on my right and on my left. As I have said on numerous occasions, as have many predecessors, once a minister has answered the question a minister can enhance their answer if they wish to enhance their answer.

Senator Wong interjecting

The PRESIDENT: It has always been the case. Senator Wong, I have ruled on the point of order. Order on my right.

Senator Wong: Mr President, perhaps subsequent to question time it could be clarified with the chamber whether the scope of your ruling is that a minister can say anything she or he likes on any topic if they address the question in the first sentence, because if that is the ruling I would like some clarification. Thank you.

Government senators interjecting

The PRESIDENT: Order on my right. Thank you, Senator Wong, I will take your comments into account and I will consider those comments. But, as a general principle, providing the minister does not stray too far from the original question, the enhancement has always been allowed. Minister, you have the call. You have one minute—

Senator ABETZ: I have finished my answer.












Senator O'NEILL (New South Wales) (14:19): Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Do the comments by the small minister, I mean the small business minister—that was genuinely accidental.

Honourable senators interjecting

The PRESIDENT: Order on both sides. Just a moment, Senator O'Neill. Firstly, we will take that as a genuine error and, secondly, start again with your question.

Senator O'NEILL: Thank you, Mr President. Do the comments by the small business minister that section 46 of the competition law 'is a dud, does not work, and is like a hunting dog that won't leave the porch' reflect government policy? If not, what is the government's policy?




Senator ABETZ (TasmaniaLeader of the Government in the Senate, Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Public Service and Minister for Employment) (14:20): Mr President, I have already answered the honourable senator's question. We have been provided with a review by Professor Ian Harper. Part of that review canvasses—

Senator Wong interjecting

Senator ABETZ: Mr President, I think you warned all senators, including Senator Wong, about section 203 of our standing orders. I would invite you to enforce it, if the Labor Party want any answers at all.

Honourable senators interjecting

The PRESIDENT: Order! My apologies, Senator Abetz, the Clerk was addressing me at the time and I did not hear what happened.

Opposition senators interjecting

The PRESIDENT: Order on my left. In any event, I reiterate about standing orders that they must be complied with.

Senator ABETZ: Professor Ian Harper, who undertook a review for and on behalf of the government, has put forward certain suggestions to us, including about section 46. We are working through those in a methodical and purposeful manner and will determine our approach in due course. Having said that, I do not think anybody would doubt that Mr Billson is a true champion of small business.






Senator O'NEILL (New South Wales) (14:21): I ask a further supplementary question. I refer to comments by Senator Matt Canavan, who said, 'To protect small businesses we need stronger competition laws, like an effects test.' Who speaks for the government on this—Senator Canavan or the small business minister or the Treasurer? Is Senator Canavan correct when he says there is 'strong support in the party room for an effects test'?


Senator ABETZ (TasmaniaLeader of the Government in the Senate, Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Public Service and Minister for Employment) (14:22): Within the coalition, we actually allow debate. We actually allow people to have a view and, indeed, until such time as the government have determined a view, even cabinet ministers can express a view. As there is a debate within the community that is being expressed as to particular approaches to section 46, it is appropriate for my good friend Senator Canavan to also champion the cause of small business as he sees fit, as he believes is within the best interests of his constituents in Queensland. The fact that there might be a diversity of ideas might come as a shock to all those who come out of trade union school and are told exactly what to say, how to say it and when to say it. We actually allow freedom of thought, we socialise those views and as a result— (Time expired)