I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak on this motion because there is no underestimating that micro and small businesses are the engine room of our economy, and they deserve support and recognition from government and from parliament. We need to ensure that we develop the policy environment for them to thrive in. Micro and small businesses employ more than five million Australians, and they contribute almost 50 per cent of private sector employment. Labor is committed to engaging with small businesses and small business groups, and micro businesses and microbusiness groups, right across the country and taking feedback on potential new small business policy ideas.
Members will be aware of my passion for small and micro business, because before entering parliament I ran my own small business for 10 years. Since entering parliament I have established the Parliamentary Friends for Small Business and microbusiness with the member for Herbert—and I just want to do a plug for tomorrow night's Shop Small event. I have also established the Labor for small business group here in Canberra. Also since entering parliament I have spent a great deal of time talking to the small business operators in my electorate of Canberra and advocating for their needs and interests.
Since being elected, I have conducted what I call business walk-arounds, where I go out to the community— usually industrial enclaves in my community in Hume, in Fyshwick, in Phillip, in Woden, in Weston Creek— and I talk to the small and micro businesses about the issues that they are concerned about. Quite often they can be ACT government issues. They can be federal issues. One of the many challenges that small businesses have here is the notion of harmonisation, because Queanbeyan is not very far from the border here. Usually businesses do cross-border activity, so the issue of harmonisation is usually front and centre for a number of businesses in my community.
But the most frequently occurring concern I hear is the concern about Public Service jobs cuts and how the uncertainty this government's budget has placed on Canberra is leading to an economic downturn. According to the Canberra Business Council chief executive, Chris Faulks:
The big issue for the Canberra economy is the ongoing fragility of business and consumer confidence, which impacts on consumer spending and business investment.
While I welcome the allocation of $8 million in the budget to establish the Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman, which is essentially a transition of a concept we introduced, I would like to see the government take the concerns of micro and small businesses in my electorate seriously. Those opposite say they stand for micro and small businesses, but how does taking the axe to Public Service jobs help small businesses in Canberra? Many Canberra businesses are struggling, and that is a direct result of the government's cuts to the Public Service.
The budget outlined the biggest staff cuts to the public sector since the 1990s. Let me remind you of what happened to Canberra in 1996. The Howard government slashed 15,000 jobs here in Canberra. That meant 15,000 people no longer spending on Canberra's micro and small businesses, buying their products and using their services. Non-business bankruptcies jumped sharply in 1995-96 by 38 per cent and again in 1996-97 by 17 per cent, while business bankruptcies jumped in 1996-97 by 38 per cent.
I was affected too because I lost my job, so I know firsthand the devastation of mass job losses. I recall in 1996 going round to local shopping centres, and they resembled ghost towns. The newsagent had closed. The hairdresser had closed. The video store had closed. The milk bar had closed. They closed because incomes and wage earners simply disappeared. They left town. We had a mass exodus from Canberra as a result of the 15,000 job cuts here in Canberra in 1996.
Labor is serious about small business. It was us that introduced the instant asset write-off threshold. We also introduced the loss carry-back scheme. I know from speaking to micro and small businesses in my community that that was greatly appreciated. It was Labor that commissioned the first national Small Business Commissioner in this country because we knew that micro and small business needed a direct national voice to government.
I know that Canberra businesses are suffering as a result of the mass job cuts here. I know that they are very concerned about what is to come in the future, particularly with MYEFO. I ask those opposite to think about Canberra small businesses when they are introducing these cuts.