I rise today to pledge my support for small businesses right across this country. Members know of my love for small business. I ran my own small business—my own microbusiness —for 10 years before entering politics. And members know of my love of Canberra small businesses, which I meet with regularly.
My love for small business is one reason why I fought so strongly against the government's budget last year, because I knew the damage it would do to the Canberra business community. I met with businesses during my business walk-arounds in Fyshwick, Phillip, Woden, Tuggeranong and Manuka. I chatted to the barber in Tuggeranong whose business is just behind my electorate office and whose business was on the brink of collapse. The main reason these businesses were doing it so tough was the Abbott government's cuts to public sector jobs.
We have lost more than 8,500 public servants from Canberra since the Abbott government came to office. And those who were lucky enough to hold on to their jobs are living and were living then in constant fear of losing them. What happened last year? Canberrans closed their wallets completely after the budget and, as a result, Canberra's businesses suffered. As a result, we saw building approvals in the ACT drop. Our GDP and retail growth was lagging behind the rest of the country and business confidence was the lowest in the country. So I wholeheartedly refute the part of this motion that claims the government 'has started to arrest the decline in the small business environment overseen by the previous Labor government'.
This government is the cause of the decline in small business activity in my electorate. And since the Abbott government handed down its Growing Jobs and Small Business package in this year's budget, our economy still has not recovered. On a national level, gross domestic product grew just 0.2 per cent in the three quarters to the end of June, compared with 0.9 per cent in the first quarter. On a local level, the September figures from the ACT Treasury show our housing and construction industry is still suffering with the number of new building commencements down more than 14 per cent from March. The ACT's tourism sector is also struggling, with our room occupancy rate also lower than it was in June. Our population growth has halved since late 2012.
Our employment figures continue to dive, with unemployment also in the red. It is not just unemployment in the ACT that is rising. Australia's unemployment rate reached 6.3 per cent in July. The truth is it would take years for our economy to recover from these Public Service job cuts, just as it did in 1996 under the last coalition government. It took five years for Canberra to recover from the Howard government's slash and burn to 15,000 public service jobs here in Canberra and 30,000 jobs nationally. That saw businesses close down, business bankruptcies go up, non-business bankruptcies go up, local shops close down, people leave town and house prices plummet. That is what the coalition did to this city—the nation's capital—in 1996, when it got rid of 15,000 public servants. You cannot suck 15,000 jobs out of an economy without it having an enormous impact not just on small businesses but also on housing prices and population growth. As I said, what happened to Canberra? It sent us into an economic slump for five years. The latest round of the coalition government's cuts to the Public Service is also having an enormous impact on our economy, as I have just outlined.
I am not going to stand here and commend the Prime Minister, the Treasurer and the Minister for Small Business on their management of the economy as those opposite have done. I am not going to commend them after they have doubled the deficit to more than $35 billion. I am certainly not going to commend them for sacking 8½ thousand public servants in Canberra alone. Their track record on small business in this town is not one to be proud of. If they actually spoke to their ACT senator and got his thoughts on it, they would get that feedback from him. It is not a record to be proud of. As I said, you cannot take 15,000 jobs out of an economy without it having an enormous impact on small business—as happened in 1996—and you certainly cannot take 8½ thousand Public Service jobs out of an economy, as we have seen over the last two years, and expect it not to have an impact on small business. It has had an enormously detrimental effect on small business.
In fact, the track record of the coalition in Canberra is not one to be proud of, full stop. They have a complete disdain and contempt for Canberra, a complete disdain and contempt for public servants and a complete disdain and contempt for Canberra small businesses. I am thinking here about the barber at Tuggeranong. Their empty words about how wonderful the government is just do not cut it.