Small business and investment
Like many on this side of the chamber, I am scratching my head about the member for Reid's motion. I am pleased to speak about the benefits of investing in infrastructure for small and medium businesses and I thank, in a way, the member for Reid for his motion. I agree with him, as we all do on this side of the House, about the critical role small to medium businesses play in Australia's economy and the critical role of investment in infrastructure to achieving success for those small to medium businesses.
I understand the challenges that small businesses face as I ran my own microbusiness for 10 years. Since entering parliament, I have established the Parliamentary Friends for Small Business and microbusiness. I am acutely aware of the key role small and medium businesses play in the Australian economy, and the support and recognition needed from government and from parliament. Small businesses employ more than five million Australians and contribute almost 50 per cent of private sector employment. At a time when unemployment is substantially increasing, it is critical that this House acknowledges the important role small to medium businesses can play in turning this trend.
In January, the national unemployment rate hit 6.4 per cent, which is the highest rate the country has seen since 2002. Nationally, 800,000 people have been left out of work, the highest number since 1994. The numbers are no better here in the ACT, where federal government funding cuts have driven unemployment to its highest rate since 2001. That has had a huge knock-on effect on small and medium businesses. We have essentially 50 per cent public sector employment in this town and 50 per cent private sector employment. The public and private sectors are interdependent, so if you get rid of 16,500 public servants—8,500 here in Canberra—that is going to have a huge effect on small and medium businesses in this city. I know from my business 'walkarounds' and talking to businesses that they are doing it tough. They are expecting that these tough times are going to last for some time. It has essentially been since the Abbott government was elected that small and medium businesses in Canberra have been doing it very, very tough.
Labor have a proven record of maintaining strong levels of employment. In the midst of the biggest financial crisis since the great depression, we created almost one million jobs, an increase of 10 per cent in total jobs. We know that the best way to keep up a strong economy is to keep people working. Keeping people in jobs is one of our core values.
Labor also acknowledge the key role investment in infrastructure can play in encouraging growth and prosperity amongst small and medium businesses. That is why in 2008 we created Infrastructure Australia, the first attempt in this nation to apply an evidence based approach to infrastructure. Infrastructure Australia's job is to advise the government about infrastructure projects competing for public funding. It aims to give a long-term approach to infrastructure funding, looking past the short-term political cycle.
We lifted annual per capita spending on infrastructure from $132 per person a year in 2007 to $225 in 2013. The results speak for themselves. When we won the election, Australia was 20th in the OECD for infrastructure investment as a proportion of GDP. When we lost in 2013, Australia was No. 1. We are now seeing the fruits of some of the former Labor government's infrastructure funding here in Canberra with the near completion of the Majura Parkway. The highway will allow tens of thousands of trucks to avoid the city of Canberra and it will link up both sides of the city. As a result, those trucks will be able to travel on the new parkway to the east of the city. These types of investments are crucial in providing small and medium businesses with the roads, railways, ports, electricity generators and water supplies needed to promote growth and prosperity.
Despite the Prime Minister describing himself as the 'infrastructure Prime Minister', the government is moving away from the Infrastructure Australia model. Doing that is just madness. Labor is serious about providing investment in infrastructure support to small and medium businesses. We understand the vital importance of having the right infrastructure in place to ensure success for small and medium businesses. Without that, it is not possible. We have heard from my colleague here about the challenges of that poor soul running a business with no decent telecommunications connection.