Excise and Customs Amendment Bill 2011

As a former small business owner, it is a great pleasure to speak tonight on the Excise Amendment (Reducing Business Compliance Burden) Bill 2011 and the Customs Amendment (Reducing Business Compliance Burden) Bill 2011. Both bills are significant in that they deliver on Labor's commitment to reduce compliance costs for excise-liable businesses. Every business person wants to do the right thing in ensuring they meet the commitments required by legislation and regulation. Any mechanism which can reduce compliance costs is a welcome relief.

As a business person you are trying to make money. You want to be marketing yourself, doing the thing you love, the thing you have set the business up to do or you want to be enjoying yourself with your family. Any mechanism to minimise the onerous burden of administration is always welcomed by small business. Small business owners just want to get on with doing business.

These bills will allow small businesses to defer the settlement of excise and excise equivalent customs duties from a weekly cycle to a monthly cycle, as the former speaker mentioned. I welcome the comments by the member for Casey that these are welcome and sensible reforms. These bills will clarify administrative arrangements for periodic settlement permissions.

Excise tax is on certain goods produced in Australia, including alcohol other than wine, tobacco, fuel, crude oil, condensate and lubricants. Where such goods are imported into Australia they are subject to excise equivalent customs duty. Labor is determined to reduce red tape for small businesses and to ensure that they have more flexibility. This is what these bills set out to do. Put simply, the flexibility to choose the particular seven-day cycle that best suits the business's commercial practice will reduce its administrative costs.

These bills will reduce the business compliance burden and allow small businesses to apply for permission to defer their excise settlement to a monthly reporting cycle, with a further 21 days from the end of the month to remit their tax liability. This will considerably reduce the administration and cash management burden on small businesses. Furthermore, small businesses will be required to lodge only 12 returns per year, as the member for Casey mentioned, as opposed to 52 returns per year under the current arrangements—very welcome relief for small businesses.

These bills are all part of Labor's plan to help small businesses and support the economy. Only the Labor government is standing up for tax relief for Australia's small businesses. This is because we recognise the contribution of small business to Australia's economy. It is the backbone of the Australian economy. Small business comprises about 96 per cent of all business and provides 47 per cent of the nation's jobs. We know that small business operators' time is precious—as a former small business owner I know my time was precious—and we want to help them focus on their core business: their livelihood, making a living, doing business.

This is why Labor will help small businesses get the support they need to stay competitive, through reforms such as our clean energy future plan. The carbon pricing scheme will allow us to help small business and build our economy now. We are able to do this because we successfully bullet-proofed the Australian economy and kept it out of recession during the worst economic downturn in three-quarters of a century. Thanks to Labor's efforts the Australian economy's fundamentals have remained strong, with outstanding growth, outstanding low unemployment, record investment and a budget position that is the envy of our peers around the world. That is why we are able to help small businesses now, while those opposite will force small business operators to wait and wait for any tax relief.

Moving to a clean energy future now will allow us to increase the instant asset write-off from $1,000 to $6,500 for depreciable assets from the 2012-13 income year. This instant asset write-off will improve business cash flow by providing an immediate income tax deduction for the cost of eligible assets. Increasing the amount businesses can write-off immediately to $6,500 will increase cash flow and help small businesses to grow and invest in new equipment so they can keep up to date with the latest technology—again, vitally important to success in small business. I know many small businesses in my electorate of Canberra will benefit from this initiative.

As someone who has gone through the risky, frustrating but deeply rewarding process of starting a small business, I know how mindful we, the Gillard government, need to be of continuing to support the private sector in Canberra, which employs well over 50 per cent of the territory's workforce. This means we need to give priority to establishing a framework that aims to minimise red tape, reduce business compliance costs and build on Canberra's many competitive advantages.

The government is introducing other reforms that will allow us to better support small business. The minerals resource rent tax, which is giving all Australians a fairer share of the mining boom, will allow Labor to cut the company tax rate for more than 720,000 small companies in 2012-13—a significant number of small businesses. What this will mean for the many small businesses in electorates like mine is that there will be even more incentive for them to invest in our local communities, invest in technology and invest in a range of other mechanisms. More investment will in turn drive long-term economic growth, and this will mean more jobs and higher wages for Australians.

Those opposite have made it clear that they have no intention of cutting the company tax rate and will make small business wait even longer for any tax relief. When you consider that they cannot even agree on when the budget will return to surplus, that is hardly surprising. They have no plan to return the budget to surplus, unlike the Gillard Labor government, which is committed to returning the budget to surplus in the 2012-13 financial year. This is a key policy priority for the Gillard government, unlike those opposite. They also have no plan to help small business with tax relief and no plan for the general Australian economy. Rather, they want to slash $70 billion from the budget and cut 12,000 public sector jobs.

Where that $70 billion and those 12,000 jobs will come from is anyone's guess, but I will tell you now: the last time those opposite slashed public sector jobs—30,000 public sector jobs in the mid-nineties under the Howard government—Canberra went spiralling into recession. I know because I was one of the 30,000 cut. Ironically, Canberra went into recession at the same time as the rest of Australia was growing. We lost thousands and thousands of jobs, house prices plummeted, businesses closed down and people moved out of the town. It went through a serious recession when the rest of Australia was growing. This is the future that those opposite want for Canberra—this is the future that they paint for Canberra. They talk about the 12,000 Public Service jobs—they almost brag about it—that they are going to cut, and then they have the $70 billion black hole and now they are looking at cutting about $15 billion of government programs. This is significant money. These are working families in Canberra; this is the future that those opposite want for the people of Canberra. It ain't that pretty. This is what those opposite consider to be good economic management—slashing jobs and taking Canberra back into a recession.

I want to get back onto the issue of helping small businesses. We are doing this in yet another way by simplifying the depreciation of assets, creating a single depreciation pool. This will reduce compliance costs by removing the requirement to calculate depreciation allowances and track assets for depreciation, making asset ownership more attractive than leasing or debt financing. This is good for business and good financial management. Those opposite, on the other hand, have given no commitment to simplify depreciation arrangements, showing that yet again they are not interested in reducing red tape for small business or making life easier for those many thousands of small business people who make such a vital contribution to our nation's economy. Small business must be able to flourish and succeed, and the Gillard government is assisting that process by giving business certainty. That is so important for business. If you are in a business, it is worthwhile making those investments to be successful in the future because you are going to flourish and succeed. We understand the importance of small business, particularly in an electorate like Canberra, as a means of diversifying our economy and creating jobs. Small business provides many vital pathways for people entering the workforce, many for the first time, and increasingly it is offering flexibility for parents, particularly women, re-entering the workforce.

I have held a number of seminars in my electorate for people who are wanting to start up a small business. I give them the basic tools in terms of marketing, insurance, how to get an ABN and how to structure their company, if they are going to do that, or how to be a sole trader. The number of women who attend those seminars is phenomenal. I would say probably 75 per cent who attend are women. They all want to have an e-business, a website business or a business that they can operate around their family commitments.

Small business is a vital part of the Canberra community. We need to reduce the burden on these small businesses in as many ways as possible, particularly in regard to the administration of small businesses. I know that the member opposite is a very successful businessman. He knows that, when you are in business, you want to be out there doing business, marketing, making new contacts and networking rather than sitting at home doing the paperwork, and any spare time you have you want to spend with your family for some work-life balance. Anyone who is in business knows that it is tough going. It is incredibly rewarding but you do work very hard and you are always grateful for anything that is going to reduce the time you have to spend on administration because essentially it is dead time—you cannot make money and you cannot enjoy the time with your family. That is why I welcome these initiatives and these bills, and I commend the government for introducing them.

We are also making it easier for women to return to the workforce through our improved childcare rebate, which gives back to families 50 per cent of their out-of-pocket costs on early childhood education and care. This historic increase in the childcare rebate continues to make a difference for families, who will receive a record $18.1 billion in direct payments from the government over the next four years to help them meet the costs of care. Encouraging more women back into the workforce is a wonderful Labor initiative and it is absolutely vital to everyone I talk to in my electorate. A very large proportion of women in Canberra work and everyone I talk to has particularly welcomed this childcare initiative.

The business seminars I organise are very well attended by women. I am going to be conducting a number of them this year. It is really rewarding meeting these people, having been in business myself. It is a great joy to have your own business and it is really rewarding to talk to people who have a fantastic idea and are on the brink of establishing a business. They want to market it and share it with Canberra and the world through the internet. It is incredibly rewarding to be with these people, particularly women. That is why we need to have in place as many mechanisms as possible to allow women to return to the workforce.

These bills will greatly reduce the business compliance burden on small businesses. This is obviously just one of the many ways the government is supporting new businesses and helping existing businesses to succeed. I commend the bills to the House.

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