Standing up for Canberra

Small Business Under Threat From Liberal Job Cuts 2013

It was one of the highlights of my life. I had 10 years of a very successful business. I know the joys of having a small business. I also know the trials and tribulations of having a small business. I know the risks involved in running a small business but also the real pleasure that you get out of having a small business, the flexibility it provides, the financial security it provides —the challenges, I admit, but also the great sense of achievement that you get from having a small business.

So it was interesting, given that the member for Brisbane actually has experience of her own small business, that a lot of her speech was focused on the carbon tax, or the carbon price, as I prefer to call it— the carbon price I thought had been put to bed, given that the sky had not fallen in, given that Whyalla is still there, given that people are getting up in the morning in Whyalla, working during the day, having a nice time on the weekends and going to bed at night. Whyalla is still there, humming along, and the sky has not fallen in. I was a bit disappointed that, given that the member for Brisbane was talking about a very significant issue —that is, small business and the support that we are providing for small business—she had to focus on the hoary chestnut of the carbon price.

I was just going through this one-page document—it is one A4 page, if you look at it this way—on what those opposite plan to do to help small business create stronger jobs growth. Apart from the wonderful photos that are in here and a lovely little dinkus here of 'costed, fully budgeted', I thought it was interesting just going through each point, because most of this is happening under a Labor government. There is a point here that says that small businesses already employ half of the workforce in Australia, and yet one of the objectives here is to achieve an annual growth rate in the numbers of small business—essentially, to achieve what we have already achieved—in terms of making half the workforce part of the private sector. Here it is: 'We want small business providing more than half the jobs in the private sector.' But, in the first paragraph, they have actually said that that is already happening.

What is also interesting about this document is the fact that those opposite want to cut red tape and they want to cut green tape. A large part of my time here in parliament has been spent speaking on regulations that are being streamlined or consolidated in the business sector. I gladly get up and speak on that type of legislation because I understand the burden that overregulation and overlegislation put on running a small business, particularly a microbusiness. So, when I look at these objectives, I just think: 'Well, that is already happening, so that box is ticked. "Half the Australian workforce" is ticked.'

Then I notice that here there is an objective of achieving an annual growth rate in the numbers of small businesses of 1.5 per cent—that is new businesses starting up, I am assuming. I read a report that last year found that Australia's new business growth is actually among the best in the world. Australia recorded the third highest number of new ventures among the world's G8 economies. Apparently, during 2009-10, Australia's performance saw a 14.7 per cent increase in start-ups, despite many countries around the world struggling with the impact of the GFC. So that box is ticked.

So I am just going through all of this and wondering: what is actually new in this little one-page document, what has not been achieved by Labor or is not being worked on by Labor? I think we can take it for what it is: a little, nicely laid out A4 document. But that is about the bulk of it.

Labor have done extraordinary work in supporting small business since we came to power. Most importantly, we saved this country from the global financial crisis. Anyone in this room who has travelled overseas in the last five or six years would understand what the impact of not surviving the GFC actually means, not just for individuals, not just for families, not just for communities but, most importantly, for micro and small businesses.

I was in the States last year, going around talking to people and to small businesses about the impact that the GFC had on them. It was miraculous that these businesses had survived. There they were. They were doing it incredibly tough. Most of them had sales, with 70 to 80 per cent of their goods on sale at sale prices. The business on one side of them had been closed down. The business on the other side had been closed down. What really disturbed me the most and drove home how wonderful and successful Labor has been in saving Australia from the GFC was the fact that there were new businesses. Young people, mainly women, were trying to set up new businesses; they had just got their foot in the door with businesses, and then they had no business because of the GFC and they had to close it down. They had made all that investment in setting up a small business. They had stuck their neck out. They had taken risks. They had done what every entrepreneur and everyone with an enterprising spirit should do. They had tried to set up those small businesses, but because of the global financial crisis it all ended in tears and debt, and it also affected their entrepreneurial spirit and their spirit of innovation.

This is something that those opposite just do not understand, and I find it absolutely extraordinary. If they went overseas, if they bothered to look beyond their own backyard to see what is actually happening throughout the world, particularly the impact on small businesses, they would understand what fantastic work Labor has been doing in this country not just in terms of saving us from the GFC but also in terms of low unemployment and low interest rates—the fact that families with a $300,000 mortgage are now paying $5,000 less a year on their mortgage.

This is incredibly positive for the economy. This is incredibly positive for small business. That $5,000 is going either into savings or back into the economy— into buying a new washing machine, buying a new refrigerator or buying new shoes for school. I find it absolutely gobsmacking that those opposite can be so blinkered in terms of not accepting how monumental it is that we have survived the GFC—and not just that we have survived it but that we are in such good shape.

The other thing that we have been doing, as well as saving this country from the GFC, is investing in skills. We know that there has been a significant underinvestment in skills, and so we have put the effort into investing in skills, particularly in apprenticeships and trades. Those opposite neglected this for the whole time they were in government and, as a result of that, we are facing a skills shortage of monumental proportions. It is absolutely outrageous that when we came to power there were so few apprentices and there was so little investment in trades. Thanks to us, there are significant investments here—$1.56 billion over four years—to skill up our workforce. In addition, we have invested in our Australian Apprenticeships Incentives Program, which provides $483 million in support for small and medium enterprises to encourage employers to employ and train an apprentice or a trainee. This is vitally important to keeping this nation skilled; it is vitally important to ensuring that we have the trades to build this country for the future— the trades to build the roads and the bridges and all the other infrastructure for the future. This is vitally important.

Those opposite made the underinvestment over the years. Do not talk to us about how valuable small business is to you when you underinvested in skills and you underinvested in education. You also underinvested in infrastructure. Such investment now has provided thousands and thousands of construction jobs around this country. Do not talk to us about the importance of small business to you, particularly when you deny the value of this country surviving the GFC and the impact and benefit of that for small business.

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