Small business lifted up by new government

Small business is the engine room of the Australian economy, and as such it is the heart and soul of employment. 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 business alone—those with less than 20 employees—account for 46 per cent of all of Australia’s workers in the private sector. This means that small business alone employs 38.5 per cent of all Australian workers. This is why small business is so important to a coalition government and why the federal government has used the budget to assist small business through unfair contracts measures, through a small business and family enterprise ombudsman, through the new unit to provide specialist advice on contracts, tendering and procurement with the Commonwealth department, through tax office compliance and the tax office taking over the running of the Small Business Superannuation Clearing House, and through a comprehensive review of competition policy—the most comprehensive review in 20 years. Small businesses will now get the same protections as consumers when it comes to unfair contracts imposed by bigger businesses. We have provided $1.4 million to extend unfair contract relief from consumers to small business. Small businesses have been subjected to unfair terms in standard form contracts, often presented on a take it or leave it basis. They have had insufficient ability to stand up to big corporations and to demand changes to contracts. The legislative reforms will make unfair terms in standard form contracts with small businesses void, and will help to provide a more level playing field for small businesses.

The $8 million to establish a small business and family enterprise ombudsman is part of our election commitment to establish a one-stop shop for small business. We committed to doing this during the election—a single entry point for small business to provide an easy way to find out about services and programs. The ombudsman will act as an advocate and cut compliance burdens and reduce red tape, meaning small business can get on with the job of attending to their customers.

Another key budget initiative is to set up a new unit to provide special advice on contracts and to ensure small businesses are not disadvantaged, as part of Commonwealth departments’ tendering and procurement processes. Small businesses have said contracting documents and accompanying obligations, including requirements to have very expensive insurance, can be overly complex and impose barriers to tendering for contracts. The coalition government has allocated $2.8 million over four years to deliver on this important commitment, which will help small businesses access Commonwealth contracts. The $2.8 million in funding over the next four years will set up a Department of Finance unit to work with small businesses to develop procurement guidance material tailored specifically for small businesses. This work in the budget complements previous work by having the Australian Taxation Office take over the running of the Small Business Superannuation Clearing House, an online service helping small businesses meet their superannuation guarantee obligations by allowing employers to pay super contributions in one transaction to a single location, to reduce red tape and compliance costs.

The coalition government will also undertake the first comprehensive review of competition laws and policy in more than 20 years. The root and branch review delivers on a key election commitment and will help identify ways to build the economy and promote investment, growth and job creation. The federal government has provided the states and territories with draft terms of reference for the competition review, and hopefully we will see that report within 12 months.

These are some of the ways we are working to assist small business. For many on our side of politics who come from a small business background, these are very practical measures that will assist small business. I know they are being welcomed by the small business sector. Quite differently to what we saw under the previous government—when we had, I think, about six small business ministers—we have a small business minister who was a shadow minister and is committed to small business, as are we on this side of politics.