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Friday, 29 November 1985
Page: 2588

Senator JESSOP(11.51) —I join this debate on sales tax to ask the Minister for Industry, Technology and Commerce (Senator Button) whether there is any way in which the Government could avoid imposing rather severe economic burdens on small businesses. Senator Michael Baume mentioned this earlier. At the moment there is no way of avoiding the sudden impact, but I think there must be a way of doing so. I had a case of a person who provides in excess of 5,000 stock items to pharmacies and departmental stores in South Australia and the Northern Territory. The items are in the toiletry area. That person's small company last year turned over something of the order of $1.25m and paid something like $250,000 in sales tax. He had issued price lists recommending retail prices to be charged after September, leading up to the Christmas period, then suddenly at midnight on Thursday, whatever the date was, he found that all those 5,000 items had to be rescheduled by 9 o'clock the following morning. This small businessman found it impossible to get any idea of the details of these 5,000-odd items from the departmental officers. I am not blaming the departmental officers at all, but the time-wasting procedures created tremendous economic hardship for that small businessman who had to reschedule his prices and reprogram his computer-and that takes time-and he found that a lot of time was wasted unnecessarily on employing people specially to go through the schedule. I felt very sorry for the sales tax division of the Department of the Treasury. Perhaps I was rather unkind when I wrote to the Treasurer (Mr Keating), whom I blame entirely for this. I also sent a copy of my letter to the head of his Department and the director in South Australia, a very nice gentleman called Mr Kelton. Subsequently, and in a very co-operative way, Mr Kelton made an arrangement to see the businessmen to whom I have referred and help him as best he could. When I consider that sort of time wasting for small businesses and businesses generally, I think there must be a way to overcome the problem. The Minister shook his head when I asked the question originally--

Senator Puplick —I noted that.

Senator JESSOP —I am glad Senator Puplick noted it. Certainly the answer will come back that if businesses are given a month's notice of the change, everyone will buy up the goods. What is wrong with that? If people buy the goods it is a darn good thing for the Australian economy anyway. I believe that it is not beyond the intellectual capacity of Senator Button and his colleagues--

Senator Messner —Obviously it is.

Senator JESSOP —The Minister shook his head, so obviously it is. This matter is very important to small businesses particularly and these measures have caused them considerable difficulty.