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Wednesday, 5 February 2020
Page: 157


Senator BRAGG (New South Wales) (10:27): I rise to speak on the Treasury Laws Amendment (Combating Illegal Phoenixing) Bill 2019. This is very much another demonstration of our commitment to small business. Of course we've always been committed to ensuring integrity and probity in Australian law, because for 75 years we have stood for middle Australians and for workers, not for any vested interest. So, this has been a common thread in Australian liberalism: probity in Australian governance and legal arrangements. We can talk about the royal commission into the painters and dockers, which had a good look at the bottom-of-the-harbour tax schemes that the Fraser government dealt with, or we can talk about the very significant CLERP reforms that Peter Costello spearheaded as Treasurer, which rewrote Australian corporate law, or even more recently our support for small business, which, as Senator Patrick very rightly said, ensured that small business gets paid on time. The Commonwealth is now paying small businesses much faster than it was in the past. I think if you do an e-invoice you can get paid in five days now. So, this is a common thread and a common commitment: to root out wrongdoing in a targeted way, as we have throughout our history.

At the end of last year, we had a very similar discussion about ensuring probity and good governance throughout our economy in the form of the ensuring integrity bill, which was about strengthening laws so that Australian workers and small businesses can benefit from a certain and strong legal environment. We do think that workers' entitlement funds and the like should be managed properly. We think that there is no room for any form of malfeasance, and we certainly won't stand idly by and watch companies be stripped of, frankly, their requirement to do the right thing. That is the most important thing—because so many of these tradies and suppliers you'll find have actually performed the work and done the job and then these businesses take off.

Effectively this bill will help address illegal phoenixing, which is a very, very significant part of our economy, sadly, at almost $5 billion at the highest estimates. So the bill includes new offences and new civil penalty regimes. It effectively does four things: it amends the insolvency practice rules to restrict the voting rights of certain creditors; it increases funding to the Assetless Administration Fund; it establishes a phoenix hotline to make it easier to report suspect behaviour; and it establishes various task forces.

As I say, this is a common thread of Australian liberalism: always standing up for the workers and small-business people. We don't stand for rip-offs and rorts, and that's what you see across our legislative agenda on almost a daily basis here in this place.