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Wednesday, 29 September 1993
Page: 1396

Senator SCHACHT (Minister for Science and Small Business and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Science) (3.13 p.m.) —I want to speak on this motion to take note of an answer moved by Senator Ian Macdonald. Although it was directed at an answer given by Senator McMullan, Senator Ian Macdonald spent about half the time attacking small business in Australia.

  I want to put the record straight as to Senator Ian Macdonald's record regarding small business. At the last election he went around Australia trying to explain the advantages of putting a 15 per cent GST on 900,000 small businesses in Australia when they would not have got anything out of it. Most of them do not pay payroll tax and so that benefit was not available.

  Senator Ian Macdonald was also trying to explain, in one of the most garbled performances of the election campaign, whether or not there would be a GST on water, rubbish collection, parks and gardens, local government rates and so on. On three different occasions in 24 hours he gave three different answers. This is his knowledge of small business.

Senator Hill —Mr President, I raise a point of order. This is a debate to take note of an answer of the minister relating to the effect on jobs of the government's fringe benefits tax extensions. What has that got to do with what Senator Ian MacDonald may or may not have said in the past? I accept that we can have a reasonably wide ranging debate under this particular head, but there has to be some relevance to the answer that the minister gave, because that is the subject of the debate. Senator Schacht ought to have to comply with the standing orders the same way as everybody else.

  Therefore, I invite you, Mr President, to bring him back to the subject: how many jobs will be lost by the government's proposal? Will it be 20,000 to 30,000 jobs, as stated by Senator Ian MacDonald, or will it not? If Senator Schacht is arguing that it will not be, what is his case in support of his argument?

Senator SCHACHT —Mr President, on the point of order: I certainly would not have risen in this debate except that, when Senator MacDonald spoke in moving the motion, he attacked small business and he attacked me, as the minister for small business. I would have thought it appropriate that I respond to put the record straight. If it was inappropriate for me to remark, it was inappropriate for him to move a motion on another matter and then use it to attack small business in Australia.

Senator Ian Macdonald —Mr President, if we are making points on the point of order, we must at least be accurate. Nowhere in my speech did I attack small business. In fact, I promoted small business. I attacked the minister for small business, and well he deserves attack for what he has done to small business. He must at least be truthful in what he says on this point of order.

Senator McMullan —Mr President, I want to speak to the point of order, too. It is an extraordinary and unique proposition from Senator Hill. If we had rigorously applied the requirement that all the speeches on motions to take note of answers had to be as narrowly constrained as that to which he just referred, we would have had a lot fewer speeches from a lot of people in the opposition. But, on this occasion, Senator Schacht actually responded to the remark which Senator MacDonald made in his speech. He did range a very long way from the point, but we did not object to him doing that.

  Those opposite cannot now have it both ways; they cannot say that this fellow wandering all over the place and abusing Senator Faulkner and the rest of us was in some way in order, but that Senator Schacht responding is not. If it was in order for him to make those contributions in his speech to take note of the motion, it is in order for Senator Schacht to make this response.

The PRESIDENT —Senator Ian MacDonald moved to take note of an answer. During his speech he did make a number of comments about members of the government. That is why I have let Senator Schacht go. We have had wide ranging debates in this particular procedure. But, at the same time, I would ask him to be relevant.

Senator SCHACHT —Thank you, Mr President. I will not even use all of my five minutes. I am basically putting the record straight about Senator Ian MacDonald's performance when he attacks people about small business and about the opposition's policy on small business. Senator Ian MacDonald attacks our policies about fringe benefits tax and the impact it may have on small business when his party, at the last election, proposed a 15 per cent GST on the performance of every small business in Australia. His party was going to impose a tax that, in administrative terms, was much more wasteful in time and effort and resources for any small business than the FBT that we are talking about today. At the last election a large number of small businesses voted for the Labor Party for the first time, because they did not want to spend every Sunday night doing the bookwork on the GST—

Senator Ian Macdonald —There was no GST on small business.

Senator SCHACHT —Those opposite were going to put a GST on every small business—on proceeds, on turnover and on every item they were selling. Those opposite have the temerity to argue here that a limited FBT, an adjustment to the FBT, will have a drastic effect on small business when they were going to tax 900,000 small businesses and have every small business proprietor spending every Sunday night doing the bookwork for the GST. When Senator Ian MacDonald, as the shadow minister for local government, was asked about the impact of the GST, he could not explain on three different times in the one day whether or not there would be a GST on water, on rubbish collection and on local government. He got his coalition in a terrible mix-up trying to explain all of that.

  That was an attack on small business, yet members of the opposition get up here and say that they are the champions of small business. I would have to say that, of all opposition senators, only one is genuine about small business and that is Senator Boswell who consistently raises practical issues about small business with me and with the government. He speaks to those issues in this place as a petitioner of small business. I suspect that Senator Boswell has not been on the front bench for a long time because he could not support a GST on small business which members opposite were very up-front about supporting.

  For those opposite to talk about the impact of FBT on small business, when we know what they were going to hit it with had they won the last election, is just extraordinary. It just proves that although Senator Ian Macdonald may have been a practitioner of small business as a lawyer, he is extremely confused in trying to understand the operation of small business in this country.