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Thursday, 6 April 2000
Page: 15437

Mr FITZGIBBON (1:52 PM) —I move amendment No. 1:

(1) Schedule 2, page 7 (after line 24), at the end of the Schedule add:

4 After Section 51AC, add:

51AAC Concurrent operation of State and Territory Laws

It is the Parliament's intention that a law of a State or Territory should be able to operate concurrently with this Part unless the law is directly inconsistent with this Part.

The A New Tax System (Trade Practices Amendment) Bill 2000 is very much about small business. Therefore, this is an appropriate time for me to move an amendment that goes some way towards assisting small firms rather than what the body of this bill does; that is, to make life harder for small firms. Those members of this House who followed the Reid inquiry and more recently the retail inquiry will know that retail tenancy leases are at the forefront of small business concerns. Of course, it does not rate as as great a concern as the GST itself. During the Reid inquiry we heard some horrific stories from retail tenants with respect to the way some landlords are prepared to act unconscionably towards their tenants. Both those inquiries called upon the federal government to facilitate a uniform retail tenancy code right across this country. Of course, not surprisingly, the government chose to ignore the unanimous and bipartisan recommendations of those committees. The New South Wales Minister for Small Business, Sandra Nori, did not take that unpreparedness lying down. Late in 1998 the New South Wales government passed amendments to its Retail Leases Act. Those amendments were designed to protect retail lease tenants, something the Howard government is not prepared to do. That amendment sought to draw down the provisions of section 51AC, an innovative part of the Trade Practices Act—a recent innovation which in itself flowed out of the Reid inquiry. Unfortunately for small business people in New South Wales and in other states in which governments might be prepared to act, that act has never been proclaimed. The reason for that is, quite rightly, that the New South Wales government is concerned that its amendments, if adopted and proclaimed, may offend section 109 of the constitution.

My amendment seeks to amend the Trade Practices Act in so far as it is necessary to put in place a savings provision that would remove the concern about any conflict or any offence to section 109 of the constitution. The government should fall in and support this very appropriate amendment. Why should it not support it? We know the government supports my amendment. I know because I have with me a letter from the minister at the table, the Hon. Joe Hockey, to Sandra Nori, the Minister for Small Business in New South Wales. I will read the letter to the House. Mr Hockey says:

Thank you for your letter dated October 25, 1999.

I should point out this is not by any means Sandra Nori's first approach to the federal government. The minister goes on to say:

Concerning the draw down of section 51AC of the Trade Practices Act into states' retail leases legislation. I appreciate this particular amendment is important for the states and I realise that there are cogent reasons to bring forward this proposal as speedily as possible. Accordingly, I will be bringing the need for amendments to the Trade Practices Act to the intention of my ministerial colleagues in the near future and seeking approval for appropriate legislative amendments. I will ensure your office is advised once this has taken place. I look forward to achieving an outcome which will be welcome by everyone with an interest in this issue.

There it is. I seek leave of the House to table the letter from Minister Hockey to the New South Wales Minister for Small Business.

Leave not granted.

Mr FITZGIBBON —This is a commonsense amendment that will help small business in New South Wales. We know the government supports this amendment. We have the evidence in front of us by way of a letter from Minister Hockey himself. Today I call upon the government to do the right thing by small business for a change, in contrast to what it is doing in the main body of this report and in contrast to what it is doing with the GST, and support my amendment.