Budget small business measures

03 June 2015

Dr CHALMERS (Rankin) (11:14):  I take this opportunity to speak on the Tax Laws Amendment (Small Business Measures No. 1) Bill 2015 and related bill. The Australian people need to understand what just happened in their House of Representatives. Every small business around the suburbs and towns of our nation needs to understand what just happened when it came to the opportunity to vote on these important small-business measures.

Every small business in the electorates of the members for Moreton, Hughes and Farrer needs to know that the Liberal Party of Australia, after breathlessly spruiking these policies for weeks, voted against their own legislation being put. They were so desperate for division on this issue that they voted against their own bills. As I sat there listening to the contribution the Leader of the Opposition made earlier on to this debate, I thought that surely the Liberal Party of Australia will not vote against their own legislation. I was wrong. They did vote against their own legislation. I watched them walk in here, one at a time, and come over and sit on this side of the House and, amazingly, vote against the small-business measures that Labor thinks are very important to the future of our economy. Even the Minister for Small Business himself did so. It was a humiliating spectacle to see the Minister for Small Business vote against his own legislation. After going around the country—he began as a figure of fun and ended as a figure of ridicule—he voted against the bills that he himself put before the House of Representatives.

In question time, day after day, the government—whether it is the Prime Minister, the Treasurer or the Minister for Small Business—stand up and say, 'Labor must absolutely support our small-business measures,' failing to understand that on budget night itself, when the ink was not yet dry on the budget, Labor said that we would support the small-business measures in the budget. But they were so desperate for division on this issue, so desperate for conflict and a fight, that they either did not know or did not care that Labor has said all along to the small businesses of Australia that we will support this legislation. That proves the government has a political strategy but not a strategy for small business and for the broader economy. Have a look at some of the things they said about passing this legislation. In question time on 1 June 2015 Tony Abbot said:

I say to the Leader of the Opposition let us not let politics get in the way of economics. Let us not let self-interest get in the way of national interest. Let us pass this bill straight away.

That was the Prime Minister of this nation, this week. That is what he said about how important it was that the bills get passed straight away. We moved for that to happen. The Liberal Party voted against it. There is quote after quote of Liberal Party ministers saying we need to pass the bill straight away. Joe Hockey said:

So here is a challenge for the Labor Party. This legislation is going to go through the House of Representatives this week. Then it goes to the Senate. I lay down the challenge: Help us get that legislation through as quickly as possible.

Well, we have. And again, they have shown that they put politics ahead of the economy of this nation. The member for Hughes said to look at their real attitude to small business, and I think what happened this morning really did shine a big spotlight on their real attitude to small business. Small business, for the Liberal Party, is secondary to their political strategy—to their hunger and desperation—for there to be division and disunity in the House of Representatives and, indeed, right throughout the country.

Labor supports these bills because we support small business. We want to reward the effort of people who take chances. We want to reward the effort of the entrepreneurs in this country. We want to reward their effort and their enterprise. We want to give them every chance of success. That is why we have said all along that we will vote for these measures. The member for Parramatta, who joins us at the table, has been a big supporter of these measures because she is a big supporter of small business in our country. Everyone on this side of the House believes that we need to do all that we can to help and assist small business to create jobs and wealth in this country so that we can be a successful economy into the future.

Other speakers have spoken about the two main measures in these bills. The first one, of course, is the company rate tax cut and the second component is the instant asset write-off, which, in my personal opinion, is the better part of the suite of policies. I speak of the instant asset write-off with some experience, having played a small part in the government that introduced it. The Labor government introduced an instant asset write-off during the dark days of the global financial crisis, and it was a tremendously successful policy. The feedback we got from business was very positive, because it did help small business to make the investments they need in small-scale capital to succeed and to be wealth-creating, job-creating small businesses in this country. I really think that it speaks volumes about the government that they had abolished the instant asset write-off before then reinstating it. They did not just abolish it straightaway; they rubbished it as well. There are quotes, and the Leader of the Opposition went through some of them—whether it is from the Minister for Small Business, the Treasurer or others—saying that the instant asset would not work. We disagree with that. It was a tremendously successful policy then, and I expect it to be a successful policy now. That is why I want to support it. That is why I voted for it this morning. It is a real shame, a real source of embarrassment, for the Liberal Party that they could not find a way to support the instant asset write-off this morning.

Let us have a look that at the sorts of things that the Minister for Small Business has previously said about the instant asset write-off. On 17 July 2012 he said:

Cash-strapped small businesses won't be able to take advantage of an increase in the instant asset write-off because they don’t have spare cash lying around to pay for an asset in the first place.

After the election, on 6 November 2013, he said:

Some of the instant asset write-off arrangements were sold as if they were great for cash-strapped small businesses. But you needed the cash to start with to make the purchase.

I do not agree with the views the Minister for Small Business has expressed about the instant asset write-off. I am pleased to see he has gone back on some of these views, but it is worth noting, for the record of the parliament, the hypocrisy of those opposite, having bagged and abolished a measure, and reinstated it, expecting the country to applaud them and pat them on the back for reinstating a successful Labor policy that we support wholeheartedly.

We all represent communities with fantastic small businesses. Many of us have 10,000 or more terrific small businesses in the communities we represent. In my case, I have 10,746 of them. More than 60 per cent of them are sole traders—people working for themselves. But there are more than 4,000 of them who employ between one and 19 additional people in their business.

I want to specifically salute them because they are a much needed source of jobs in my community, and we should not beat around the bush: jobs are not that easy to come by at the moment and my community has had persistently higher unemployment than the national average. So I salute the small businesses in my community. I salute the Logan Chamber of Commerce—Bill Richards and his colleagues—that represents them so ably. Every single small business in my community is doing the right thing by the country. They are taking risks. They are showing an entrepreneurial spirit. Many of them are employing more people from my community, and I pay tribute to every single one of those companies.

Why is this so important? The economy is going through a period of below-trend growth. Very shortly—indeed, in about seven minutes time—national accounts for Australia will be released, and they will give us a good snapshot of the last three months of economic activity. But, in the last year or two, it is a fact not an opinion that the Australian economy has been going through a period of softer growth. There are a couple of reasons for that and there are some manifestations of that. One of the reasons that the Australian economy's growth is softer than is ideal and softer than trend growth is that there has been a dramatic drop-off in confidence in the economy.

If we just take consumer confidence is one example, at the 2013 federal election, consumer confidence was recorded by Westpac at 110.6. It is now 102.4, and it plummeted into the low 90s after the 2014 budget. So we do have a confidence problem in the Australian economy. It is made worse by the Treasurer, in this place, comparing us to the economy of Greece and all kinds of other damaging rhetoric, which is having a real impact. As the Treasurer of this nation, what you say matters. When he gets up and says that the Australian economy is like the Greek economy, people in the business community listen, and when they hear that, it damages confidence. It damages investor confidence and it damages consumer confidence in our economy.

That means that we have higher unemployment than is ideal. It is a stunning fact that the unemployment rate today, under this government, is higher than at any point under the previous government, and remember that the previous government dealt with a global financial crisis. The sharpest synchronised downturn in the global economy since the Great Depression happened under Labor's watch. The unemployment rate then was lower than it is today. Having diminished confidence in the economy, having done all they could to trash confidence around our community, the least that the Liberal Party could do is to vote for their own small business bills so that we can get things in train to get that legislation in place and pass them the instant asset write-off and the lower company tax rate. But, again, the political strategy of those opposite trumped what the economy needs and, specifically, what the small businesses of this country need.

On this side of the House we want an economy that is powered by aspiration and powered by enterprise. We want people who take risks to be rewarded for those risks. We want people to take a chance. We want people to aspire to employ more Australians. Certainly, in my community, as I said, we can do with all the new jobs created, so what we need to do is support sensible measures like these. Whether they were drafted initially by the Labor Party or not, we need to get together as a parliament and pass them.

We had an opportunity to do that this morning, and those opposite missed it. It should be a source of acute embarrassment for those opposite. They could not even vote for their own small business measures this morning, because they were so desperate for division and disunity in this place. If they were fair dinkum about small business they would have voted for their own small business legislation. That they did not speaks volumes about that political approach. It speaks volumes about the character and the strategy of the Prime Minister, the Treasurer and the small business minister that when they were given that opportunity they could not take it.

This is a government that always elevates the cheap political hit over the long-term benefits of the Australian economy not just in small business but right across the board. The way that the Prime Minister has shamefully attacked our idea to teach coding in primary schools is another example. His instinct always is to attack, to diminish and to divide the country. So his immediate reaction to our sensible policy to teach kids the language of the 21st century is to diminish it and to bag it, even though, right across the country, the parents and the teachers of Australia know that it is something that is needed, and there are so many more examples of the way that they go about rubbishing any idea that does not come from a Liberal Party focus group.

This is a divisive budget. This is a divisive strategy from a divisive government. It was proved again this morning by those opposite. Every small business in every community should know that when given the opportunity to vote in the interests of small business, the Liberal Party of Australia left them high and dry.