Small Business Speech

I commend the member for Reid for this motion. I think there are no truer words than the first line in his motion that ‘small and medium businesses are the engine room of the Australian economy and employment’. We in rural and regional Australia understand this particularly well given that so many small businesses are the ones that keep our small rural and regional communities operating.

They are also the businesses that support local community service organisations, emergency service organisations and sporting clubs. They are the people who contribute prizes, donations or in-kind support. It is always our small businesses that are the ones providing an enormous amount of support. They are the heart and soul of the Australian economy.Of the over two million actively trading businesses in Australia, almost 96 per cent are small businesses and 3.8 per cent are medium businesses. Small and medium businesses combined employ 70 per cent of the nation’s private sector workers or 59 per cent of all Australian workers. Small businesses alone—those with fewer than 20 employees—account for 46 per cent of all Australia’s workers in the private sector. That is close to half of all the workers in Australia. This is why small business is so important to the coalition government and why we have made many moves to make life easier for small business.

I also want to use my time to recognise the absolute passion that the member for Dunkley, the Minister for Small Business in cabinet, has for this particular portfolio. He has been consistent in this role, starting as the shadow minister, and has taken on some very tough issues for small business in Australia. I commend him for his efforts. From our point of view, taking such a serious approach to small business as having a small business minister in cabinet shows the dedication we have. That was after a succession of small business ministers in the previous government—I cannot recall whether it was five or six.

But we do have an enthusiastic and very dedicated small business minister and he is delivering a new way for small business to interact with the Commonwealth, transitioning the Small Business Commissioner into the Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman, with real powers. The minister has set up a new unit to provide specialist advice on contracts and to ensure small businesses are not at a disadvantage in Commonwealth departments’ tendering and procurement processes. These are practical outcomes. Of course, the government has allocated $2.8 million over four years to deliver on this important commitment, which will help small businesses access Commonwealth contracts.

The government has also reduced the compliance burden that employers face—one of the real issues we hear constantly from small businesses when they are making superannuation contributions for their workers—by having the Australian Taxation Office take over the running of the Small Business Superannuation Clearing House. Another step has been to ensure small business people who call the Fair Work Ombudsman receive priority service, with reduced waiting times.

We will undertake the first comprehensive review of competition laws and policy in more than 20 years. I spoke about the commitment of the small business minister taking on the tough issues, and this is one of them. There is always more to do and we need to build a platform small businesses can use to succeed. Of course, that is based around infrastructure. This government is the infrastructure government, and small business needs us to successfully deliver. Small businesses need to be able to get their raw materials or inputs to their premises in a fast and efficient manner and they need to be able to get their final product out equally efficiently. Good transport infrastructure is vital, especially for small businesses whose products are exported, and there are many of those, particularly in Western Australia.

They also need access to secure power supplies at a reasonable and competitive cost. For Australian businesses to compete in the future, our focus is definitely on competitive power prices. We need IT infrastructure, and this government’s plan for broadband has a strong focus on regional internet access for small businesses. The hollow internet promises of Labor have been exposed and we now have a realistic proposal for broadband into the future