My parliamentary colleagues on both sides are well aware of the fact I have a distinct passion for small business. Before entering parliament, I ran my own small business for 10 years.
I am fortunate to have 25,000 small businesses in my electorate and across the ACT. That is about one small business for every 12 people so small business is a hugely important part of the Canberra economy, and Canberra is luck to have such a thriving small business community.
The disparaging comments that no-one in Labor has any small business background are complete nonsense. There is me; there is my colleague here. There is also the member for Blair. There are three of us on this side speaking on this motion who have had their own experience in small business. The member for Blair was in business for 25 years. I was in business for 10 years and the member for Robertson was in business for more than a decade so we have significant experience in this area and it is complete nonsense to suggest that no-one on the Labor side has any small or micro business experience.
Since elected, I have spent a great deal of time trying to improve the dialogue between small business and both sides of politics. I set up the Parliamentary Friends of Small Business with the coalition, and we have all found the discussions with small and micro businesses incredibly useful. I think that understanding the needs of small and micro business needs to be enhanced not just on this side but also on the other side. From the conversations I have had with those people who attended this bipartisan group from the other side, they have found it incredibly useful and it has enhanced their understanding of small and micro business.
A few weeks ago I hosted a small business forum here at Parliament House with the Parliamentary Secretary for Small Business and representatives from the Canberra small business community. It was a really useful opportunity for the Canberra small business community to explain to the parliamentary secretary the challenges they are facing in getting access to government contracts. We all know that there tends to be a favouritism towards primes. And I am concerned—as they are and as are many people on this side—that SMEs are being locked out of the government procurement process. So we had expansive discussions on the government procurement process generally, on tenders and on compliance, and it is the first of many conversations that we will be having in the government procurement arena.
In the conversations I have also had with the small business community—when I am not in this House I go out and speak to small businesses in Canberra day in day out—they tell me either that the market is steady or that it is growing. And that is as a result of the economic fundamentals that we have established for Canberra and also the nation: growth, growth, growth; jobs, jobs, jobs. We have created a million jobs in this country, and we have created the right economic environment for these businesses to be able to grow and thrive and prosper and to employ people. So, the conditions have been good over many years since we were elected. But what the small business community is most concerned about at the moment, in all the conversations I am having with them, is the huge hole that is going to be punched in their potential client base, in their potential market, in their potential business existence post-September. They are particularly concerned about coalition promises of axing 15,000 Public Service jobs—well, between 12,000 and 20,000 Public Service jobs; let us just settle at 15,000. That is whole areas of my community that will be gone, wiped out, in terms of jobs. If you want to have a significant impact on small business or microbusiness in Canberra, 12,000 to 20,000 jobs is going to do it. I do not hear much expression of concern about what your plans for the future are for the Canberra business community, getting rid of 12,000 to 20,000 public servants. We saw what you did to this community in 1996. We saw how you caused an economic downturn. You stopped growth. House prices plummeted. Remember 1996, Canberra.