Standing up for Canberra

Tax Laws Amendment (Small Business Measures No. 1) Bill 2015

Deputy Speaker, I rise today to support these bills, the Tax Laws Amendment (Small Business Measures No. 1) Bill 2015 and the Tax Laws Amendment (Small Business Measures No. 2) Bill 2015. These bills legislate a number of measures announced as part of the government's Jobs and Small Business package in the 2015-16 budget.

Before I go into the detail of these bills, and the impact of this government's savage cuts and sustained attacks on Canberra and what the bills actually mean for small business, I just want to give a word of advice to the member for Mallee. The fact that he had no knowledge of the instant asset write-off and the loss carry-back schemes that Labor introduced when we were in government to help small businesses—particularly to steer through the GFC —is absolutely breathtaking. That he is ignorant of the fact that these schemes existed—the fact that he did not know about them—does not mean that they did not exist. They existed for a number of years. They were set up to help small businesses steer a course through the global financial crisis.

It is almost like the member for Mallee sort of sticks his fingers in his ears, closes his eyes, and hums loudly—'I did not know about it, therefore it does not exist'. I do not know whether he still has his business anymore, what was it—I think a truck business, a shearing business, or was it all of the above? I am not really quite sure from the five-minute contribution he made as the last speaker—but all I can suggest is that he gets a new accountant. The fact that his accountant did not actually notify him of it is something that I would be very concerned about if I was running a small business, which I did before I came into this life. Deputy Speaker, I also remind the member for Mallee that small businesses also have responsibility. Small business owners have a responsibility to keep up to date with what is happening in the world, and to keep up to date with the schemes which are being introduced to help them out and to improve their businesses. And so, I suggest, if he goes back into that life—the trucking life or the shearing life; whatever business he had beforehand—that he listens to the news every now and then, and also that he finds a new accountant.

The first bill amends the Income Tax Rates Act 1986 to reduce the company tax rate from 30 per cent to 28.5 per cent for companies that are Small Business Entities with an aggregated turnover of less than $2 million. For all other companies over the threshold, the company tax rate will remain at 30 per cent The second bill deals with the $20,000 accelerated depreciation for small business, and it also allows for accelerated depreciation for primary producers, which is a welcome addition. This increased threshold is available to all small businesses, including those who previously opted out of the simplified depreciation rules. The second bill also amends the Income Tax Assessment Act 1997 to allow primary producers to claim an immediate deduction for capital expenditure on water facilities and fencing assets, and to deduct capital expenditure on fodder storage assets over three years. Labor welcomes these measures, which are of course great news for small business.

In fact, I welcome the opportunity to speak on this legislation, because as a former small business owner I am always very keen to speak on small business, as you know, Deputy Speaker—and I think that you had your own small business before coming into this life. I am always keen to get out there and shout out to the Canberra community about the fantastic businesses that we have in this town—businesses that have been doing it very hard since this government was elected; businesses that have seen either their growth just plateau or their turnover fall by between 20 and 30 per cent. But I will come to that later. I always welcome the opportunity to talk about small businesses and the great work that they do, the great contribution they make to our economy, and the great contribution they make in creating millions of jobs each year. That said, I probably would have been more grateful if the government had accepted the opportunity to vote on this bill and to pass this bill this morning. While it is wonderful to have the opportunity to speak about small business, what is best for small business is for this legislation to actually be passed. So while I welcome this opportunity, I would have welcomed even more the bill being passed through the House this morning.

We on this side welcome these measures because we understand that small businesses are the engine room of the Australian economy. I am acutely aware of the key role that small and medium-sized businesses play in the Australian economy, and the support and recognition needed from government and from parliament. At a time when unemployment is increasing, it is critical that this House acknowledges the important role that small to medium-sized businesses can play in turning this trend around. As I have said, before this life I had my own small business, I had it for 10 years and I absolutely loved it. I understand the challenges that small business owners are facing. Since entering parliament, I have spent a great deal of my time talking to small-business operators in my electorate of Canberra, and advocating for their needs and interests. I go out regularly on what I call business walkarounds. I go and speak to businesses in Woden, in Fyshwick and in Hume, and in Phillip, in Manuka and in Tuggeranong—in every part of my electorate. The most frequently occurring concerns that I hear from these small business owners are around what this government is doing to this town—what this government, since it was elected, is doing to Canberra, and what this government is doing to our public servants; our servants of democracy.

This government has again launched a savage and sustained attack on Canberra and on the public service. The damage that this has done to Canberra's economy is acute. Business confidence is down: it has been down since this government was elected; in fact, it started to fall in advance of the election. Those opposite say they stand for small business, but how does taking the axe to more than 8½ thousand public service jobs in Canberra help small businesses? Many Canberra businesses are struggling, and that is a direct result of the Abbott government's first budget.

'Since the 2013 election almost every facet of the ACT's economy has spiralled. Building approvals in the ACT are down by 41 per cent in the year to March 2015, whereas nationally the number of residential building approvals increased. While we are down by 41 per cent, nationally it has increased by 23.6 per cent. Our GDP increased by 0.7 per cent in real terms in 2013-14, compared to 2.5 per cent for the rest of the country. In the retail sector, through the year to March 2015 ACT retail trade turnover increased by 4.1 per cent, whereas nationally it went up by 4.5 per cent. More concerning, in January a survey of 1,000 businesses found that the territory had the lowest business confidence in Australia, with 31 per cent of businesses expressing grave concerns. According to the Canberra Business Council chief executive at the time, Chris Faulks, who has just been replaced by the fabulous Robyn Hendry, formerly of the Canberra Convention Bureau:

"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 rising unemployment levels will be a concern over the next three to four years …"

As you can see, the Abbott government's track record on small business in this town is absolutely appalling. You cannot be proud of what you have done to this town since you have been in government. You cannot be proud of what you have done to this city—the nation's great national capital. This is the national capital, too, that Sir Robert Menzies strongly believed in. He had a great vision for this city. This government has decimated it. And it is true to form. We saw it in 1996 under the last coalition government. We saw it then when business bankruptcies and non-business bankruptcies went up. Businesses closed down, people left town and house prices plummeted. We had 15,000 Public Service jobs cut here in Canberra, 30,000 nationally. It sent us into an economic slump for five years. It took a long time for us to recover from what you did to this economy last time. And you are doing it again now.

You have a complete contempt for the Public Service, a complete contempt for Canberra and a complete contempt for your own workforce. These are the servants of democracy. These are people who serve you, provide advice to you, write your submissions, write your question time briefs and your policy. These are people sitting over there, who serve you with loyalty, integrity and professionalism. And how do you repay them? You get rid of 8½ thousand of them just in the first year of being in office. And who knows what is going to happen. You have eight functional reviews actually taking place or planned in this budget. Who knows what is going to happen in terms of jobs. To me, 'functional review' is code for job cuts. That is what a 'functional review' means. It is code for job cuts. You are already doing functional reviews in health; you are already doing functional reviews in education. What is going to happen with those jobs? You have already decimated those departments, so who knows what is going to happen with these latest functional reviews. This government has taken the axe to Canberra. And, as I said, true to form, in 1996, when the coalition was last in office it decimated Canberra. We went into an economic slump for five years. You need to talk to businesses.

The Prime Minister was out this week and, from memory, I think he was out last week, in Fyshwick. The Prime Minister was with the member for Eden-Monaro in Fyshwick. I do remind the Prime Minister that Fyshwick is not in the electorate of Eden-Monaro. Fyshwick is actually in my electorate. He was out there talking about these fantastic new small business initiatives which, as I and my colleagues have said, we support. He was out there talking to franchisees. He was at, I think, a coffee shop last week talking to business people. Apart from actually advocating these small business measures which, as I said, Labor supports, I wonder if he actually discussed what the business environment was like for these businesses here in Canberra and what taking the axe to 8½ thousand public servants had done to business. I wonder what their growth figures have been like over the last 18 months since this government was elected. In my business walk-arounds, in my conversations with business people in the many forums I run for the community and where business is also involved, I know from those conversations that, as I said, growth has either plateaued or fallen by about 20 to 30 per cent since this government was elected. Business confidence has absolutely fallen. It has fallen through the floor since this government has been in power.

I wonder whether, again, they closed their eyes, put fingers in their ears and hummed loudly when the reality of doing business in Canberra was actually discussed with the Prime Minister and, curiously, the member for Eden-Monaro, even though the suburb of Fyshwick is actually not in the electorate of Eden-Monaro but in my electorate. I wonder what they actually said. Did they actually ask: 'How's business going? Have you had growth recently? How's it been going since we've been in government? How's it been going since we axed 8½ thousand Public Service jobs? How's it been going since our GDP has had this minimal growth rate? How's it actually going for you? Are people coming and buying coffees? Are people coming and buying furniture?' I would say that the answer is probably, 'No. Prime Minister, we are doing it tough. Canberra businesses are doing it tough.' If he was actually listening to these businesses, businesses that are run by Canberrans, that employ Canberrans, that are proud Canberrans, he would have heard that things have been really rugged for these businesses since this government was elected. He should be ashamed of it. He should be ashamed of the fact that he has a complete contempt for this city, this nation's capital and the Public Service. He has a complete contempt for our servants of democracy.

As I said, these are people who serve you so loyally, so professionally and with such integrity. All they get are not only job cuts but also attacks on their pay and conditions—attacks on their below-inflation pay offers. Basically, the message has been sent from public servants that they are not happy about it and it is going to be very interesting to see whether any enterprise agreements get through this first term of the government. But there are attacks not just on the pay but also on the conditions. These are proud public servants and proud servants of democracy. The Prime Minister's workforce, the ministers' workforce, this government's workforce have also been accused of being double dippers, of being rorters and fraudsters, as a result of the government's revised view—although it is very difficult to keep up with what the view is at the moment—on paid parental leave. We have had so many positions on paid parental leave—like we have had so many positions on the GP tax—who knows what the current position is? All I know is that the current position is attacking the workforce that serves the Prime Minister, the ministers and this government. It is attacking them, it is accusing them of double-dipping and it is accusing them of being fraudsters. It is an absolute outrage. The government should be ashamed of what it has done to small business in Canberra.

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