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Tuesday, 24 November 2015
Page: 8749

Competition Policy

Senator McKIM (Tasmania) (14:17): My question is to the Minister representing the Treasurer, Minister Cormann. Minister, in your government's response to the Harper review, announced this afternoon by Treasurer Morrison, you have refused to back an effects test as recommended by Professor Harper—instead totally squibbing it by washing your collective hands of the issue with a proposal to engage in yet more endless review and discussion. Minister, is this not just a transparent attempt to postpone a decision until after the next election? Do you accept, Minister, that the time for a discussion on an effects test is over and that the time for action has arrived?

Senator CORMANN (Western AustraliaMinister for Finance and Deputy Leader of the Government in the Senate) (14:18): The answer to the question is no. We have not refused to back anything; we are backing everything. As I said in my response to the question from Senator Bushby, we are specifically supporting, in whole or in part, 44 of the 56 recommendations—and we remain open to the remaining 12 recommendations, on which there will be further consultation. We have not taken anything off the table. We are doing some more work in relation to a particular part of competition policy reform which is particularly contentious, where there is a diversity of views across the broader community and indeed across business. You would have seen Professor Harper earlier today acknowledging that, even in the work that his review did, they changed that recommendation between the draft version of the report and the final version of the report. He supported the proposition that the government outlined, which is that we will do some further work to ensure we get the final approach absolutely right. It is very important to get the final approach to any possible improvements to section 46 of the Trade Practices Act right—and that is something the government is totally committed to.

Senator McKIM (Tasmania) (14:19): Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Why has the government chosen to ignore the views of small businesses in Australia, the ACCC, consumer groups and primary producers? Why does the government not believe in helping all businesses in Australia, big and small, to compete on a level playing field?

Senator CORMANN (Western AustraliaMinister for Finance and Deputy Leader of the Government in the Senate) (14:19): Contrary to what Senator McKim appears to suggest, there is not actually a homogenous view. There is a diversity of views. The government, in response to some of the recommendations made by the Harper review, has decided to do some further work. That is because we want all businesses across Australia to have the best possible opportunity to be successful, and we want to ensure that the competition policy framework that is ultimately implemented will help to strengthen growth and strengthen the opportunities for all businesses to be as successful as they possibly can be.

Senator McKIM (Tasmania) (14:20): Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question. The former small business minister, Bruce Billson, recently said that no change to section 46 would be 'a triumph of lobbying over logic' and 'a triumph of backroom political machinations over good economic policymaking for our country.' Can you confirm that you have turned your back on small business and regional Australia—not to mention your mates here in the National Party?

Senator CORMANN (Western AustraliaMinister for Finance and Deputy Leader of the Government in the Senate) (14:21): No, I cannot confirm that. The coalition government, the Liberal-National Party coalition, is of course a strong supporter of small business. Bruce Billson, whom you referenced, was the best small business minister that Australia has had in a very long time. Under Labor I think we had about six small business ministers in six years.

The last budget was a demonstration of how committed this government is to supporting small business. We delivered serious and significant support to help small business to be as successful as it can be. We have not made a final decision in relation to our approach to section 46.

What we have said today—and we believe, responsibly—is that the future approach to section 46 warrants further work. We are committed to doing that work in an orderly and methodical fashion. That will progress in the next few weeks and months. (Time expired)