Proudly supporting small businesses

I commend the member for Hindmarsh for his motion. As we know, the coalition, the minister, the small business minister in particular and every member on this side, including those who are sitting here, well understand that small business is the engine room of the Australian economy.

I am the daughter of small-business owners and I am in small business myself, so I certainly understand what it takes to be in small business and to build a business from scratch. We know that this measure is so important, particularly to a lot of rural and regional communities right around Australia.

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. Between the two, they employ nearly 70 per cent of the nation’s private sector workers, or 59 per cent of all Australian workers. We understand on this side, after the neglect of Labor, how important small business is.

We also know that small business has never had a better friend in Canberra than the Abbott government. We have delivered a new way for small businesses to interact with the Commonwealth, with real powers, through the transition of the Small Business Commissioner into the Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman.

For those of us who have actually owned small businesses, it can often be frustrating for smaller businesses to make sense of the often complex information and broad array of services the government offers. The government is actively and practically helping businesses to help themselves.

The ombudsman will provide straightforward advice that will help businesses understand disputes and how they can be avoided in the future—practical, simple solutions. Part of the responsibility of this Commonwealth-wide advocate for small business and family enterprises is as a concierge for dispute resolution services and a contributor to the development of small-business-friendly Commonwealth laws and regulations.

That is really important when you are the people on the ground in your small businesses, with the limited amount of time that you have and the workload that you carry, and also the personal investment that you place in your business.

The ombudsman will seamlessly link with the government’s Single Business Service to help small business easily find out about other government services and programs, including general business advice. I encourage small businesses to look at the Australian tax office small-business assist 24/7 service and its after-hours call back service.

This is very important for small business people who work in their businesses as well as on their businesses. Time is so critical—we have understood that in the measures we have taken. That the ATO has small-business fix-it squads and small-business assistance visits is very practical for small businesses.

We have also set up a new unit to provide specialist service on contracts and to ensure small businesses are not disadvantaged as part of Commonwealth departments’ tendering and procurement processes. The Abbott government has allocated $2.8 million over four years to deliver on this important commitment, which will help small businesses access Commonwealth contracts.

Small businesses are constantly telling us on this side that contracting documents and accompanying obligations, including requirements to have very expensive insurance, can be overly complex and difficult to manage. The $2.8 million in funding in the next four years will set up a Department of Finance unit to work directly with small businesses to develop procurement guidance material tailored specifically for small businesses.

The federal government has also moved on its election commitment to extend unfair contract term protections from consumers to small businesses through the white paper. While the Australian Consumer Law currently protects individual consumers from unfair terms in standard-form contracts, it does not currently provide such safeguards for small business. Small businesses, like individual consumers, are often offered pre-prepared contracts on a take-it-or-leave-it basis and can lack the resources to effectively navigate or negotiate these contracts.

They are also time poor and they have invested so much—it is their life, almost—in their small businesses. You meet so many small-business people for whom it is their one chance in life. They are having a red-hot go. What we want to see is more small businesses, more people, investing in themselves and their futures, so the measures taken by this government are very important to small businesses on the ground.

I commend the member for Hindmarsh on his motion. I really encourage all of the small businesses in my electorate—those who invest in themselves. They have a go, they put their hand up and, as I have heard the Minister for Small Business say previously, they invest everything.

They put their houses on the line and often their cars. As he said previously, they sometimes even mortgage their kids to get into small business and just have a go. That is the passion of small business, which is why I am proud that we have a government that is supporting them.