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Thursday, 11 June 2020
Page: 3994

Mr STEPHEN JONES (Whitlam) (18:35): It's such a great pleasure to follow my good friend the member for Cunningham in talking about local small businesses. We work together as a team, and through the crisis we've been working with our local organisations. Electorates are lines on the map, but the people who live locally—they might live in one electorate and work in another—want to see that their local members are working together as a unified team for the local interests. We've been doing that over the last few months.

Given the Payment Reporting Times Bill 2020 addresses small business, I'd like to start by saying a few things about the small businesses and small business organisations in the Illawarra and Southern Highlands. They are very well led. The Illawarra Business Chamber's young, dynamic chief executive officer, Adam Zarth, has been a great local voice for small businesses throughout the Illawarra in local and national forums. Good on you, Adam; great job, well done. Deb Murphy at RDA Illawarra has done a good job bringing together a disparate group of organisations and businesses, trying to put together a constructive and positive plan for how we grow our way out of the current economic problems in the Illawarra.

Our local tourism-facing businesses have had it pretty tough over the last two and a half months, but Mark Sleigh at Destination Wollongong, through his regular communication with businesses, the overwhelming majority of whom are small businesses, has done a good job presenting a positive, optimistic view of the future and some practical tips about how we get through the immediate. Well done, Mark. Steve Rosa at Destination Southern Highlands, up in the Southern Highlands part of my electorate, like Mark down in the Illawarra, has done a fantastic job. He is always positive and a great bloke to get on the end of the line. If you're feeling down in the dumps it's always worth having a yarn to Steve about the positive and optimistic future for business in the Southern Highlands. While I'm thinking about Steve Rosa, I've got to say: it's Pie Time in the Southern Highlands! If you're looking for something to do on the weekend, get out to one of the two or three dozen bakeries and pie shops in the Southern Highlands of New South Wales. Get your laughing gear around a pie from any of the shops. I'm not going to pick a favourite—that would be reckless!—but I can say they are all good and it's worth the hour's drive south from Sydney to get to the Southern Highlands and get involved in the event. Pie Time in the Southern Highlands: I'll be there, with or without sauce.

I also want to give a shout-out to some of our local media, the Illawarra Mercury and the Southern Highland News. They have gone through a change of ownership, and it has been pretty disruptive for the businesses and the local staff. They had their advertising revenue absolutely smashed, but, by jingo, they've done a good job over the last couple of months telling local stories, promoting local businesses and showing us a way and reminding us how wonderful it is and how important it is to remember that you don't just belong to an economy you belong to a community. They have been a great part of building community. I think Sharon Bird gave a shout-out to Greg Ellis, who is the business editor. Ditto from me, but I also want to give a shout out to Julian O'Brien, the editor at the Illawarra Mercury. He's a great leader of staff and a great leader in the community. You've done a good job, Julian. I love your work.

I also want to say something about supporting local businesses in the Illawarra and Southern Highlands. I've given a shout-out to Pie Time in the Southern Highlands, but I've got to say that I was listening to the news last week, before I came down here, and I was hearing stories about all these Sydneysiders who had driven south to spend a few hours in the wonderful village of Berry in my friend and neighbour's electorate of Gilmore.

There is rarely a thing that you would find the member for Gilmore and I differing on, but I have to say that when I saw footage of people lining up for 20 or 30 or 40 metres outside of a doughnut van and outside of every pie shop in Berry, and I was hearing stories of people waiting an hour or so to get a seat in a restaurant, I couldn't help thinking to myself that they had had to drive through my electorate, and there are some wonderful beaches and there are some fantastic restaurants, cafes and pie shops there. You can get decent doughnuts or a decent pie in half a dozen places around the Illawarra—you have had to drive past them. Yes, I hear the member for Blaxland asking about fish and chips. It is a wonderful place to take your family. The beach that I go for a run on in the morning, Warilla Beach, is a local secret. I am letting you in on the secret. Don't drive all the way to Berry. Drop off in the Illawarra, pull into Shellharbour, pull into Warilla or any of them. Pull into Windang, my local cafe. They dropped a T-shirt off. They have done a great COVID-19 issue of their T-shirt—the Dang! Cafe; I love their work. There are so many great businesses that you can drop into. You don't have to drive that extra hour into my friend's electorate. You can stop in at Shellharbour. So, all of you Sydneysiders who are looking at a place to have a day out on the weekend, think of Shellharbour, think of the Illawarra and think of my electorate. There is plenty going on there.

Now, I want to say something about the bill before the House, before somebody pulls me up—I am being very, very relevant, but maybe not always relevant to the matter before the House! The first rule in politics and the first rule in government is 'do no harm'. When I turn my attention to the bill before the House, it has great intentions—an important objective of ensuring that small businesses who are particularly doing it tough get paid for the work that they do and the goods that they deliver. I don't think there is a person in the House who wouldn't share that objective. If you are a small business, you are doing it tough, and you probably don't have access to the vast amounts of overflow capital of large businesses. Large businesses have a whole swathe of mechanisms available to them to smooth their cash flow. If you are a small business, you don't. If you deliver some goods and you are told you are going to get paid in 30 days, then by God you should get paid in 30 days. It is just not reasonable for these large businesses to be using small businesses effectively as their piggy bank to help them smooth their cash flow. It is simply not reasonable. So, the objective of the bill is good.

If I have a criticism it is that it actually doesn't go far enough, and it is not just my criticism. Kate Carnell often speaks a lot of sense in relation to small-business matters. I know she's from the other side of politics, but on small-business matters she speaks a lot of sense. She had this to say about the bill:

… the Payment Times Reporting Framework as one piece of the puzzle, but it won't solve the problem of late payment times on its own. Legislation requiring SMEs to be paid in 30 days is the only way to drive meaningful cultural change in business payment performance across the economy.

I think Kate Carnell makes a bit of sense. Legislation requiring prompt payment within 30 days is what is going to drive change here. It is for this reason that Labor is supporting the bill in the House but referring it to a Senate committee so that we can interrogate how the bill might be improved. When I read through the details of the bill, I was almost nostalgic for the days that the Treasurer used to come in here in his earlier and more junior roles and celebrate 'red tape day'. I was almost nostalgic for the day when the Treasurer, then the Assistant Treasurer, would stand at the dispatch box and celebrate the removal of commas from legislation as a great achievement in red tape removal. I look at this bill and I can't help thinking that there is a lot of red tape for not much regulatory grunt. So we've got a criticism. We'd like to see a little bit more grunt for the regulatory package, and it is just not there. I am in unison with Kate Carnell, the small-business ombudsman, on this critical point.

There are couple of other things I want to say. I've got to make this point: a bill which has the word 'transparency' within its title and seeks to use sunlight and transparency as the regulatory force to make large businesses, businesses with income over $100 million, pay small businesses, businesses with income under $10 million, on time, and uses transparency as the tool to deliver that, could probably deliver a bit of transparency in itself. This is a very serious point. Too often in this portfolio we are seeing legislation which is very, very thin indeed, where all the force and all of the work sits in delegated legislation—whether that be rules made by the minister, or regulations, or, in some instances, extensive powers delegated to the regulator themselves. I have heard and I can see some reasons why, for flexibility, you might want to do that from time to time. But parliament has a role in these important matters.

Too often we are seeing legislation which is very, very thin indeed, with all the regulatory force being delegated to people outside of this place. It means the executive and the regulators lack accountability in this place. It's not good enough to say, 'Well, an instrument that they have made is reviewable in the other place.' It might be a disallowable instrument. So let this be a warning to the drafters of legislation such as this: too often in this portfolio, bills are being presented within this place which are said to do big, large, powerful things, but those big, large, powerful things are not contained within the legislation; they are delegated elsewhere.

I know I am not the only person who has this concern. I have read concerns from New South Wales senator Concetta Fierravanti-Wells, who oversees the committee in the other place. She has made similar statements and raised similar concerns. If this place is to be a legislative forum, if this place is to be the place where laws are made, then the detail needs to be within the bill. Let this be a warning to the drafters. There may be an occasion where Labor in this place and the other place agrees with the objective of the bill but rejects it because the legislation is very thin indeed. These bills come very, very close to that mark.

Can I finish on a couple of points about doing what you ask other people to do. These bills are about ensuring that big entities pay small entities their bill on time when a service is delivered or goods are provided—a very worthy cause, indeed. I'd like to ensure that the government is doing the same thing itself. Too often I have heard stories from people who are either clients of or service providers for the National Disability Insurance Scheme that they have not had their bills paid on time. The consequences can be devastating. I have in mind the example of Bruce Mumford, a constituent of mine from the Southern Highlands. I spoke about his case earlier this year in parliament. Bruce nearly lost his bed. This is a guy who has multiple and significant disabilities. He requires a wheelchair for his mobility and a special bed to sleep in at night. His bed was literally being wheeled out the door with no replacement because the bill had not been paid on time.

This is not an isolated example with the NDIS. If government is sending a message to big businesses that bills must be paid on time, we want to ensure it takes some of its own medicine. Too often in the NDIA, this is not happening. When you look at the size of the people—the size of the organisations and the employees—who are providing services to the NDIA, these are small businesses and sometimes not-for-profit entities. They live from one pay cheque to another. If the bill isn't paid on time, the consequence for that small organisation or that small service provider and the people they are providing a service to can be devastating. We'll be voting for this bill in this House. We're sending a warning to the government about the way they draft their legislation— (Time expired)