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Thursday, 13 October 2011
Page: 7347

Senator RYAN (Victoria) (13:30): It is a pleasure to rise to speak upon the Business Names Registration Bill 2011, the Business Names Registration (Transitional and Consequential Provisions) Bill 2011 and the Business Names Registration (Fees) Bill 2011. These bills represent a worthwhile objective, and that is to rationalise an important procedural element for businesses that are active across state borders. There are an increasing number of businesses that perform this way, and this represents a positive attempt. The bills are a combination of several years of activity, including work started under the previous coalition government, to achieve this objective. I also make the point that this is actually a rare attempt at reducing red tape and compliance from a government that has seemingly been relentless in its increasing burdens placed particularly upon small- and medium-sized businesses. So we as a coalition support this bill, but we do have our concerns with it.

The Senate Economics Legislation Committee report highlights a number of these concerns, and I will let my colleague and Deputy Chair of the Economics Legislation Committee, Senator Bushby, speak specifically to a number of the concerns he eloquently outlined in the minority report on these bills, but a couple of the concerns I will highlight now. There is an issue here with respect to the rushed time line for this legislation. We support the legislation. We understand that it needs to be passed now, but it has become apparent that there is in fact a drafting error in the legislation that causes a problem with the operation of the consequential and transitional provisions, which will require another bill to be put to parliament next year to clarify that error. That error is reflective of the rushed nature at the last minute of parts of this legislation.

We will not, however, in any way oppose the bills. We appreciate that there needs to be complementary state legislation and that COAG has agreed to implement that legislation, so we will be supporting the bills' passage. But we point out that that was an entirely avoidable problem that did not need to be presented to people and businesses across Australia.

There is an issue here also for microbusi­nesses, because microbusinesses have not always had to register an ABN. But we now have strict liability offences about operating a business without a business name. I have my concerns increasingly that we are almost creating a situation where one needs the permission of authorities to operate a small business, and I do not think that reflects the historical place of small business in Australia. I do not think it represents our economic model. Again, it is something we have some concern with, particularly with the burdens placed upon microbusinesses, but we accept that there needs to be some regulation of business names across state borders in the increasingly national economy.

Also there is some concern about how we are going to deal with names that are very similar. There might be a John Smith Plumbing in Victoria, and I venture to say that there would be a John Smith Plumbing somewhere in Queensland. We do not yet have the details exactly about how all of these are going to be rationalised. We have been told that there are likely to be geographical identifiers attached to the database to enable people to continue to operate under the names that they may have operated under for a long time. That is fine, but we would like more protocols made clear to us about how we are going to deal not only with conflicts about names but also with the situation when people seek to register a business name that may be very similar to another or when a name might contain a term that some would find offensive and that might not be ideal for a business. We have not yet had all the protocols about that outlined to us, so we do not exactly know how it is all going to operate.

That said, amongst a number of other concerns, we are aware that this could lead to substantial cost savings for businesses across Australia—for some of them, at least, who have to register in multiple jurisdictions where the costs are very different. That is a particular benefit for small business. But we are concerned with a number of issues. We are concerned that there has been a drafting error that will require another bill to come before the parliament to fix up a mistake that did not need to be made in the first place, and I am sure that Senator Bushby in his Economics Legislation Committee report outlined a number of others. The coalition will be supporting these bills.