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Tuesday, 28 August 2001
Page: 30362

Mr WAKELIN (2:24 PM) —My question is addressed to the Treasurer. Is the minister aware of the results of the latest Yellow Pages business index released today? What does this survey reveal about the level of confidence by small business and its view of the economy?

Mr COSTELLO (Treasurer) —I thank the honourable member for Grey for his question. I can inform him that the Yellow Pages business survey was released today. It showed that confidence levels across Australian small to medium business improved markedly in the last quarter to the highest level since November 1999. Mr Speaker, 61 per cent of small and medium enterprises feel confident about their prospects for the next 12 months. The increase in confidence was reported across most industries, including hospitality, finance, insurance, communication, property and the business services sector. I think all members of the House would say that to see a return of confidence to small business is a good thing and welcome—at least all members on this side of the House will welcome it. No doubt the Labor Party will be unhappy about small business increasing its confidence. But for the small business sector that is good news. It reflects the fact that after coming through the December quarter, which was a negative quarter, with transitional effects to the new taxation system, after coming through the international downturn, a recovery of confidence is being widely reflected in the Australian business community.

The Yellow Pages also asks small business today which party it believes is better for handling taxation matters, and I thought the House might be interested in this. Small business was asked which party they thought would provide a fairer tax system, and 16 per cent said Labor; 40 per cent named the coalition—three to one. They were asked who they thought was the best for limiting tax for small business, and 11 per cent said the Labor Party; 42 per cent said the coalition—42 per cent to 11 per cent. They were asked which party they thought was the best for ensuring that interest rates do not rise: 51 per cent said the coalition and five per cent said the Labor Party. The number that supported the Labor Party was about a third of the Labor Party's maximum interest rate of 17 per cent. They were asked which party was the best for controlling inflation: 61 per cent said that it was the coalition. But this is the one I really liked: which was the best for controlling the deficit—

Mr Crean —Tell them about the FEC scam.

Mr COSTELLO —They always interject the loudest when they like the news the least. The small business response on which party was the best for controlling the deficit: coalition, 69 per cent; Labor Party, four per cent. I do not know why the Labor Party only had four per cent, because that favourite clipping that I go to bed with every night from the Financial Review includes in it the Labor Party's promise for bigger surpluses. Why is it that only four per cent of small businesses have got the message when, after all, the Labor Party is going to roll back the GST, it is going to spend on the noodle nation, it is going to increase its expenditures on health—and it is going to do all of that with a bigger surplus. As I keep on saying: why didn't we think of that?

It is probably six or seven weeks today since the noodle nation was released by the Labor Party. I think in all of that time since its release we have not had in this House one question on the noodle nation. There has not been one question on the noodle nation, which was going to be the centrepiece of the Labor Party's plan for the next election. There have been no questions this week in relation to health, which after last week's caucus meeting was going to be the great counterattack from the Labor Party, no mention of education and no mention of the roll-backwards either. These are policies of the Labor Party which dare not speak their name. It is no surprise that only four per cent of small business believe that Labor can control its deficits. In fact, one would be surprised that it was even as high as four per cent in relation to this survey.