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Monday, 12 September 2011
Page: 9765

Mr NEUMANN (Blair) (16:28): I speak in support of the Business Names Registration Bill 2011 and cognate bills. I have a confession to make. I am rather fond of the member for Dunkley. Sometimes he can be cheeky and sometimes irreverent. But one of the things that he has not done today is listen to what former Labour Deputy Prime Minister in the UK Michael Foot once said, 'When making a speech always surprise,' because today we had the Tory tosh, the salivating of sloganism across the chamber from those opposite, from the member for Dunkley. We had that diatribe. In the past it was the communists, then the socialists, then the unions and now it is government. It is extraordinary. They are always campaigning on fear, never on hope, even in this good legislation before the chamber today. If you listen to the member for Dunkley, he might have supported it in the 12th, 13th, 14th or 15th year of the previous coalition government but, no, this is good legislation initiated by a federal Labor government. What he did not recognise, when it came to national competition policy, was that that was initiated by the Keating Labor government, and when it came to microeconomic reform and national regulatory reform, it was the Hawke and Keating Labor governments which did these sorts of things. Those opposite never actually walked the walk; they just talked the talk when it came to support for small business. Take this particular legislation, and the Australian Consumer Law which came into operation on 1 January this year, which replaced 20 separate acts and provided a single national law concerning consumer protection and fair trading, to make sure we have that seamless economy. Those opposite did not do it. But the Productivity Commission estimated that this reform would deliver a net gain to the community of between $1.5 billion and $4.5 billion every year. Or take the consumer credit legislation—a new national consumer credit law which commenced on 1 July 2010, replacing eight state and territory regulatory regimes and providing a range of financial services reforms, including to mortgage broking, margin lending, non-deposit-taking institutions—all done by a federal Labor government. Those opposite did not do it. And this legislation—the primary purpose of which is to establish a national business names registration scheme—again, was initiated by a federal Labor government; those opposite did not do it in 11½ years. There were papers. There was discussion. There was lots of process. But there was no action—they talk the talk, not walk the walk.

The primary purpose of this legislation is to make sure that any business that does not operate under its own entity name registers its name and details on a national register to enable those who engage or propose to engage with that particular business to determine the identity of the entity behind the business name and its contact details. This is important. If you are dealing with a business, you want to know who you are dealing with. If they are in debt to you and you need to take legal action, you need to know who is behind the business. Who actually runs it? Who is the mastermind? Who are the company directors? Who are the shareholders? Who are the people who actually run this business? It is not just a name. Who actually owns it? So this is important for business, and for business certainty; it is important for making sure that, whether you are in the Torres Strait or Tasmania, in Palm Beach or Perth, you have the same access to the same kind of registration and the same kind of opportunity to make sure that you can deal with certainty with another business.

The legislation will develop a national business name registration system with seamless online registration for both Australian business numbers, ABNs, and business names, operated by the Australian Securities and Investments Commission. Currently, each state and territory runs its own show. Presently, if you are going to register across the states and territories of Australia, you can pay up to $1,000 if you are a business for registering a business name for three years. That is just an unacceptable business cost. So, from now on in, under the national registration scheme, you will only pay one fee of about $70 to register for three years, with the option of paying $30 to apply for a one-year registration. This comes about through a process—and I accept, the member for Dunkley, that it came through a process: the national partnership agreement, and of course through the COAG process in which there were coalition governments and Labor governments.

In his media release of 17 August, the federal Minister for Small Business, the Hon. Nick Sherry, has made the point that our proposed national registration scheme will mean that business will pay one fee and face only one process to register their business names nationally. He said:

Together with related initiatives such as the Australian Business Licence Information Service and the Australian Business Account, the benefits of the national business names registration system amount to $1.5 billion over 8 years.

That is an enormous sum of money and it will save business a lot.

Locally, this will make an impact. I contacted Tony Axford, the manager of the Business Enterprise Centre Ipswich Region—and I want to commend Tony and his team for the work they have done in the Blair electorate, in Ipswich and the Somerset region, in relation to the floods which have hit my area so hard. They have done a great job, and recently we gave them $100,000 of small business advisory money, which is making a difference in the local area through workshops, mentoring and the assistance they are providing as well. Hundreds of businesses in Ipswich and the Somerset region were flooded. In an email to me he made the point that the business enterprise centresaround the country:

… are in full support of this bill, as most of the small and micro business cannot afford in the past to register business names in all states …

And he said:

The BEC network which works with over 160,000 business per year, have said the most common issue is to be able to afford to register the business name Australia wide which will enable branding protection.

I think that is an important point: make sure that someone cannot gazump you in another state, because we know the dingo fences no long apply. It does not matter whether it is accountancy practices or legal practices or if you are selling curtains or carpets because across the country people have businesses in Sydney, Melbourne and Canberra. We have great metropolises along the east coast and throughout areas like Albury-Wodonga and places like Tweed Heads and Coolangatta where the boundaries between the states are quite artificial. I have always made the point that there are a lot of oddities and eccentricities about our federation. I am sure our founding fathers would have thought differently in relation to this.

I want to acknowledge the work undertaken by the Minister for Small Business on this. I think this is a big issue. To understand why it is so important you need to understand the cost and the certainty. Currently, as I said, businesses face different fees and a bureaucratic process to register their business in each state and territory in which they undertake business. I make the point that in my home state of Queensland a business has to pay $133.60 for a one-year registration or $255.60 for a three-year registration, but that varies with other states. In New South Wales a business has to pay $160 a year to register a business name. In the ACT it costs $151 for a three-year registration or $221 for a five-year registration. In Tasmania this same business would have to pay $140. In Western Australia it would pay just $90. In Victoria it would pay $85.50. In the Northern Territory it is really just $66 to register a business name. There are more than 30,000 businesses that operate in multiple jurisdictions and this equates to thousands of dollars in fees a year. That does not include the figures for what I have said: the ongoing fees, the late fees, the extract fees and those for the different forms that might apply and the cost to a business of the man-hours that are undertaken. So there are red tape and fees associated with this.

The system will eliminate frustrations for businesses that want to expand interstate, going from, say, Coolangatta in Queensland to Tweed Heads. No longer will they find a similar name already registered elsewhere. When they register in Queensland through online registration, the name will be, of course, registered nationally. There will only be one registration form to complete, not the multiple ones across the country. There will be one place to search for business names and there will be one place to pay your fee, being the Australian Securities and Investments Commission. When they register for an ABN they will register their business name and they will receive confirmation of the registration at the same time. It makes good sense to use the ASIC to manage and administer the business names register. It is responsible for the registration of companies, and I think that makes for a sensible outcome.

As I said, this is important for business and, of course, we are committed to lifting productivity. This will lift productivity in the workplace. It will enhance the quality of the regulatory framework and it will make a difference: it will reduce business costs and it will create an easier environment for businesses to compete interstate, globally and domestically as well.

I made the point at the beginning of this speech that this Labor government is a reforming government, as were the Hawke and Keating governments, in delivering microeconomic reform. We believe it is essential to have a strong commitment to a national regulatory system and to undertake reform of that. COAG has been the building block to do that, and I acknowledge the work that is done by the states and territories as well. The Department of Finance and Deregulation has estimated that 10 out of the 27 business regulation reforms under our agenda are worth about $3.5 billion a year for the economy and about $1.8 billion of this will flow directly to business. That is a big enhancement of our economy and a big enhancement of the productivity and the profitability of our businesses. The national partnership agreement is designed to enhance long-term growth and improve our workforce participation and improve overall labour mobility. We want to expand that and we want to make sure that we undertake to get rid of the inconsistencies.

I cannot let it go that those opposite want to whinge about jobs. We heard a diatribe from the member for Dunkley about jobs and business operations. At the height of the global financial crisis those opposite did not even provide the necessary support for nation building to support jobs, as this reform will undertake, by creating greater business productivity. We have this mindless mantra of economic malarkey from those opposite, on these issues, talking the economy down. It is a bit rich—this is the mob with the $70 billion black hole. What we have from those opposite on this, and you heard it from the member for Dunkley in his speech today, is mindless economic recklessness and irresponsibility when it comes to the economy. I am starting to think that those opposite are not just mindless and irresponsible but also economic vandals.

The opposition's economic policies depend on which way the wind is blowing. You heard the vacillation from the member for Dunkley in his speech on this bill. One minute he was supporting what we had said and the next minute he was criticising us about the process we are undertaking on this bill. So those opposite have no plans and when it comes to these economic reforms there is nothing they can say. They really are hopeless, hapless and helpless on this stuff. They did not do it when they were in government and they are criticising us for trying to do it now.

They come with this nonsense about independent contractors. Independent Contractors Australia, which represents about two million self-employed businesses, had this to say about the legislation and the government's efforts and I think the member for Dunkley should have a good listen:

This is what red tape-cutting is about. It’s the boring and tedious side of government, but it’s this sort of commonsense reform that makes for better business. We encourage the government to continue this type of effort.

That is what the mob opposite did not say about this bill. They tried to invoke Independent Contractors Australia to say that we are not in favour of small business, but Independent Contractors Australia supports us on this legislation. We on this side know that independent contractors are an important part of the economy because small business is an important part of our economy. There are about four million small businesses across the country and they employ people. They export goods and services and they employ people—including people in my electorate.

This legislation is important, like consumer credit, the Australian Consumer Law and the regulatory reform we are undertaking across the length and breadth of the country. Everything we are doing here is about supporting small business and making sure it is profitable because small business employs people. Cooperative relationships between labour and capital are important for small business. We understand that. We understand that is what drives productivity. We understand that when labour and business works together in the small business environment that is when business becomes more profitable. That is when wages rise, that is when business becomes more productive, that is when productivity rises, that is when the economy improves, that is when communities prosper and that is when the country develops wealth.

Those opposite do not understand that. They do not understand that partnership and cooperation is important. They only understand a monetarist Friedman style market economy, which does not do anything. The economy is about partnerships and we support this legislation. (Time expired)