Speech to the Senate in support of Small Business

  Small business is the backbone of the Australian economy. Small business provides the jobs and wealth our local communities rely on. So it's an absolute delight to be part of a government that is seeking to assist small business to do even better within our community. In doing even better, they will employ even more people. So this is about ensuring that the Australian small business sector has the opportunity to flourish and grow, and, in doing so, provide even more job opportunities for the people of Australia.

One of the changes that Prime Minister Morrison has made is to put small business back into cabinet. I have been arguing for that for a considerable period of time, and I am delighted that small business is now, yet again, in cabinet. Every single decision of that cabinet now has to be considered with a small business champion sitting around the table. That is vitally important and one of the important changes that Prime Minister Morrison made in setting up his new ministry.

I recall how popular our policy of putting small business into cabinet was during the 2013 federal election, and we had an excellent small business minister in Bruce Billson.

Sadly, certain events overtook us and small business was removed from cabinet. But the good news is it is back where it ought to be, and I congratulate Prime Minister Morrison on that very important move. It is something I called for, as I indicated, quite some time ago. Our party's founder, Sir Robert Menzies, set up the 'We believe' document, the 17 principles on which the Liberal Party was founded. He stressed the virtues of hard work, personal responsibility, reward for effort, encouragement of entrepreneurship and small government. All these are virtues that underpin small business. These are the guideposts to which government and policymakers need to direct their thinking, to enable small businesses to flourish.

As someone who mortgaged everything—and then some—to start a legal practice which, amongst others, served the local business community and small-business sector, I understand the relentlessness, the commitment and the hard work required to establish and keep a small business going. When it comes to time obligations, you come last. When it comes to financial obligations, you come last. When it comes to staff leave, you fill in and work even harder. When it comes to worries and customer satisfaction, it's your responsibility.

Small business, can I say, is full of obligations but also rewards. Small business is the economic and social backbone of our society. That is why it's so important, both on an economic and social front, that we seek to advance the cause of small business, because too often the sector can rightly be described by the Menzies phrase of the Forgotten People. Too often you have big business, big unions and big government seeking to dictate policy. And when you have a big business, quite often facing difficulty, you will see governments step in—and, possibly, rightly so; I simply make the passing observation—to assist that business. But when a small business with only one or two employees faces difficult times, they simply close the door and let the people go. And, often, the people who were the initiators of the business are bankrupted.

What we need to do is ensure that there are sufficient incentives to allow small businesses to prosper. That is why I'm so pleased to stand and support the Treasury Laws Amendment (Accelerated Depreciation for Small Business Entities) Bill 2018, which is before the Senate this evening. To continue to extend the accelerated depreciation up to $20,000 per annum for businesses with a turnover of $10 million, really, is designed to assist those very small businesses that we all hope, or we on this side at least hope, will grow into the bigger businesses and the bigger employers of Australia. Let's remember that Qantas started with three employees all those years ago, and it's good to see that an Australian business has been able to prosper and do so well over the years.

What we need to do as a government, as a body that sets public policy, is ask: 'How are we able to assist all those virtues that underpin small business?' There should be reward for effort. There should be the capacity to assist small business to invest and, thereby, create jobs. This is a very modest measure. We know from the evidence that the average claim, in relation to this $20,000 instant asset write-off, is only $9,000.

They are small contributions but are able to make a very real difference for the small business's viability—vitally important if we are to continue to support to vital area within our economy.

Too often in these debates we hear, sadly, of envy, of jealousy, of the idea that somehow if you're in business you must be doing so much better than other people. This envy, this jealousy, is such a dark and unwelcome addition to these debates. We should be celebrating people who are willing to risk their financials to further themselves, to create business opportunities that of course provide the job opportunities that so many Australians want. This is where the engine room of jobs growth is. It is in the small business sector. By supporting the small business sector we provide job growth for the Australian people.

I recall—because I was the one who made the brave announcement for and on behalf of the coalition in 2013—that we would seek to have created within the Australian economy one million jobs in our first five years. It was ridiculed. Indeed, there was even an alleged leak from a department suggesting that this could not be achieved. Well, the news is—the evidence is in—that it was achieved, and before the five years was up. The reason was that we as a government put small business front and centre of our thinking. We got rid of red tape. We wanted to incentivise small business. Bruce Billson—I pay credit to him again—did a fantastic job as the small business minister, always advocating to ensure that the cabinet of the day was looking at the interests of small business. Sure, we like small business. We believe in reward for effort. We see the virtues of entrepreneurship and people trying to better themselves, and that is good for society as well. But one of the real benefits, of course—and our major focus—was to ensure that there was the jobs growth, which is so vitally important. We know that every job held by an Australian provides not only an economic benefit to that person or family unit but also substantial social dividends.

Every person who has a job is in a situation where their mental health, their physical health, their self-esteem, and their social interactions are enhanced and, on average, are so much better than among those who are not in gainful employment. So, leaving people on the social scrap heap of unemployment is unacceptable from a social point of view just as much as it is from an economic point of view. Changing somebody from drawing on their fellow Australians in order to make ends meet to becoming self-reliant is a virtue in itself and something that we as a government seek to celebrate and seek to advance. We seek to ensure that everybody has that opportunity of becoming self-reliant.

The measures in this legislation are deserving of the support of this complete Senate chamber, and I would be disappointed if anybody would seek to vote against such an important measure as this—a small measure but nevertheless a very symbolic measure of our commitment and support for the small business sector. And for my home state of Tasmania: the vast bulk of businesses in Tasmania will be able to benefit from this measure. Indeed, I am told that around Australia there are about 3.3 million businesses that can actually benefit from this measure, which is so vitally important.

If I recall correctly, some 300,000 Australian small businesses have now taken advantage of this instant asset write-off, and the extension of it for the next financial year is something that I am very pleased to be able to support in this place.

When it comes to the Australian Labor Party, it is interesting to note that Labor opposed and would reverse our small business tax cuts. Labor's new tax on trusts will hit at least 200,000 small businesses. Labor's energy policy, including a 50 per cent renewable target, like they had in South Australia, would increase power bills and pose a risk to reliability not only for pensioners and for household budgets but also for small businesses—not to mention, of course, big business as well. That is why I am so pleased that the new Prime Minister has indicated very clearly that the task for the new Minister for Energy is to reduce the price of energy within this country. I am sure that the new minister, Mr Angus Taylor, is well and truly up to the task to ensure that we deliver cheaper energy, which is so vitally important not only for household budgets but also for our small business community.

When it comes to small businesses, I note that the Australian Labor Party would seek to repudiate the decision of the Fair Work Commission, which they set up, which was required to make a determination under amendments that Labor made to the Fair Work Act whilst Mr Shorten was the relevant minister. The decision was made by five appointees to the Fair Work Commission, all appointed under the previous Labor government. So Labor legislation, Labor appointees, all Labor, come to a conclusion about pay rates, and the Australian Labor Party would say, 'No, we are going to override the decision of the independent umpire.' Small business deserves to be treated better than that sort of approach.

But, of course, as we know, Mr Shorten is union-bred, union-fed, union-led and will do whatever is required to keep his power base within the Australian Labor Party, especially now that the Australian Workers' Union has been pinged for having inflated its numbers in a completely unconscionable manner. Many people suspect that that huge inflation of numbers was undertaken when the now Leader of the Opposition, the current Leader of the Opposition, was, in fact, in charge of the Australian Workers' Union. I would encourage the Leader of the Opposition to give the Australian people a full explanation as to how those inflated numbers came into being. But, of course, whilst he's at it, he might have to explain a few other things that he did whilst he was a trade union leader, such as why he didn't disclose donations that he received from certain big companies in relation to campaign donations for himself.

Now that the Australian Workers' Union have been pinged, Mr Shorten is aligning himself with the militant CFMMEU, an amalgamated union of the construction sector and the maritime sector—one of the most extreme unions, if not the most extreme union, in the country. It is a union that has been found to be a recidivist by the courts and fined millions of dollars for continually breaching the law. Of course, it is the sentiment that Mr Shorten said he wanted to bottle from their union over in Western Australia, the MUA, and bring it back to Canberra, if he were to become Prime Minister.

I say to every small business, indeed, every Australian citizen: be exceptionally careful when looking at what the Australian Labor Party promises, because what they won't tell you is the sort of manipulation that Mr Shorten has been engaged in with the trade union movement.

A movement that is not dedicated to the wellbeing of the private sector, to the small business sector, to the entrepreneur and to the mum and dad that have mortgaged their house often just for the purpose of being able to earn themselves an income. The local coffee shop and the local newsagency, those small businesses, have a true friend and a true champion in the Liberal-National Party government of this country.

The reason we champion them is that we want to support those people that seek to help themselves and that provide the backbone to local communities and the job opportunities to local communities. As my friend Senator Paterson observed in his very good contribution they also provide the sponsorship to a lot of the charities and other organisations within their communities. They are part and parcel of the social fabric and of the glue that binds our communities together. Anything that is about supporting small business I support, because I know it will help create jobs that are so vitally needed in Australia.

We have brought down the unemployment rate. When you see governments that are committed to the support of small business, as in my home state of Tasmania where you have the tandem operation of a good federal Liberal government with a good state Liberal government, you can see what can occur. Indeed, in the last four years or so in Tasmania the unemployment rate has gone from 8.1 per cent down to six per cent and it's now below six per cent. They are the sorts of things that can be achieved. And the social good of knowing that thousands more Tasmanians are now gainfully employed, are self-reliant and are able to look after themselves. And that the welfare contribution being made by fellow Australians can be reduced. That they are now taxpayers rather than being reliant upon the tax revenues of the country. That is the sort of economic and social change that we on this side celebrate and that we want to support to the very best of our abilities. I commend the bill to the chamber.

About Eric

Eric Abetz has been a Liberal Senator for Tasmania since 1994 and has served in a range of Leadership, Ministerial and Shadow Ministerial roles.

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