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Thursday, 12 April 1973
Page: 1402

Mr ANTHONY (Richmond) (Leader of the Australian Country Party) - I should like to speak for a few moments on this subject and say how much I welcome the tabling of this report. For various reasons the report was not tabled during the lifetime of the previous Government. I had charge of this report and I believe that the tabling of it will be of great value to small businesses. I believe that it demonstrates recognition of an excellent job done by Mr Wiltshire, the Chairman of the Committee. In 1968 the then Minister for Trade and Industry, Sir John McEwen, announced the appointment of an expert group set up to assist the Department of Trade and Industry in exploring ways of providing guidance to small industry management in order to help improve efficiency. The previous Government's decision to act in this field was in recognition of the vital role of small business in the Australian economy particularly in respect of the preservation and stimulation of competition which is the mainspring of efficiency and also by providing a wide range of employment opportunities and scope for innovatory talents, personal initiative and judgment. It is clearly in the national interest that small business management should receive guidance as to the best way to deal with its problems. The members of the Committee, particularly the Chairman, deserve to be congratulated for the excellent job they have done in bringing down this report on the way in which small businessmen can be helped to improve their efficiency.

The Minister has questioned the sincerity of the previous Government in setting up the Committee.

Dr J F Cairns - I changed that word.

Mr ANTHONY - I thank the Minister for saying that he has now changed that word. 1 am sorry that I did not hear him say it. I can assure the Minister that the previous Government was very genuine. I pose this question: I wonder just how sincere the present Government is in showing a willingness to help small businesses because many of the actions of this Government in recent weeks have hurt both large and small industries and will continue to hurt them. I think of revaluation and also the Government's obvious inability and what seems to be a lack of willingness to try to get at the basic cause of inflation - that is, excessive wage rates - in the community. One must really ask whether the Government is fair dinkum when it says that it wants to try to control inflation and thereby help the small business firms which feel the impact of these inflationary pressures very severely indeed. If the kind of treatment that this Government is handing out to the small business of farming is any indication then the rest of the business community has not really very much to look forward to.

The previous Government set up this Committee under the chairmanship of Mr Wiltshire because it recognised the great importance of small business to the Australian community. As the Minister for Overseas Trade and Minister for Secondary Industry (Dr J. F. Cairns) said in his statement, in 1967-68 factories employing 100 or fewer people accounted for over 96 per cent of all factories in Australia. So small business is really big business in this country and it demands close attention by this Government. The Committee found from its investigations that problems encountered by small business are pretty much the same as in every country. The importance of small business is obvious from the figures which the Minister quoted and which were taken from the Committee's report. Small business is a major component of the industrial and commercial life of every country and the problems and difficulties arising from smallness are universal. In many countries the government provides assistance for small business and the form in which it is offered varies from one country to another according to the social organisation and the temperament of the people concerned. In the report there is a recommendation on the forms of assistance which the Committee considers would be ideally suitable for the Australian environment.

The importance of small business must be viewed in purely statistical terms. It provides opportunities for the expression of independence, initiative, enterprise, the play of competition, the encouragement of special talents and technical skills and a counterbalance to the concentration of economic power. Our industrial structure relies on the supporting facilities which small business provides. There are considerable areas in manufacturing and service industries where the owner-proprietor type of business provides a more economic form of organisation than does a large company structure. Some small businesses have within them the seeds of growth into new large industries. In some cases owners of small businesses think that the shortage of funds is one of their significant problems and that their size and legal status place them at a disadvantage vis-a-vis large enterprises with public company status. They therefore hold the view that government should assist by making a review of income tax retention allowances and granting more liberal investment allowance and other forms of financial incentives. I hope that when the Government is reviewing its policies in relation to export incentives and investment allowance it will remember that many small businesses owe much to the previous Government's initiative in bringing these things forward to enable them to grow into enterprises of some standing and significance.

The small business sector of Australian industry is of national importance, as I mentioned. It has great potential for economic growth and for efficient development. I believe more attention could be given to means whereby this important part of the national economy might be assisted in its development. The provision of assistance which is acceptable to small business will require a thorough understanding of the real nature of small business, the people involved and their problems. I believe that the report that has been tabled today, if studied by students of business and by small business itself will enable them to have a much better understanding of what small business really means. I believe that educational and training institutions have not directly concerned themselves enough with these, matters and without the help and encouragement along the lines now proposed in this report much might bc forgotten or neglected if these institutions do not h.'Ip by providing the interest and attention that is needed.

An important role for the Government to play is that of a catalyst stimulating and motiving the managers of small businesses and all bodies capable of serving them such as industry organisations, professional bodies and the educational institutions that I mentioned. The Government will need to coordinate the activities of such organisations and provide the essential support facilities. No private body is likely to take on this role, noT would a private body be likely to have the necessary status and authority to motivate such dispassionate bodies into implementing necessary courses of action without the encouragement and support of the Government. I believe that the Government can satisfactorily and effectively undertake the function of acting as the necessary catalyst to help the development of small business fcl this country. I believe that if the Government is genuine in its attempts the report will serve a very useful purpose.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

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