Monday, 21 June 2021
Appropriation Bill (No. 1) 2021-2022; Consideration in Detail
We know that the key focus of the Morrison government is job creation, and the Finance portfolio and what it delivers as part of this budget are central to that. So it's a pleasure to be asking a question of the Minister for Finance, represented in this place by the Assistant Treasurer. Unlike those opposite, who often forget this fact, we know it is the private sector that creates the majority of jobs. We are here to institute policies that support the private sector—small and medium businesses in particular—to generate jobs and opportunities and to create wealth in our communities. Obviously, those policy settings are on the right track.
There are more Australians in jobs than before COVID, an extraordinary achievement which is the envy of the world over. Our unemployment rate is down to just 5.1 per cent, and this is good news for all Australians. When it comes to delivering for jobs the Minister for Finance, like the Assistant Treasurer and many others in the Morrison government, has a firm track record of backing Australian businesses to create jobs. The Minister for Finance, in his role as the Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment delivered multiple free trade agreements and no doubt was involved in laying the groundwork for the recent FTA with the UK. These are agreements that give priority access to Australian businesses to overseas markets and that boost jobs domestically. I know the Minister for Finance as well as the Assistant Treasurer are acutely aware of the responsibility that we have to continue to put Australian businesses front and centre of the policy decisions that we make and to eliminate barriers to enable them to continue growing and employing our fellow Australians.
Here in Australia we have a thriving manufacturing industry, exporting goods all over the world. We are innovators, creators and entrepreneurs. The Morrison government is focused on ensuring that we continue to have the skills to do this now and into the future. This year's budget delivers $1.3 billion to the Modern Manufacturing Initiative, which will help us achieve this aim. Our initiative will support business collaboration, help to enable more businesses to bring new products to the market and integrate our local SMEs into global value chains. We will be co-funding capital investments that help manufacturers scale up, invest in new technologies, create and maintain jobs, reskill their workers and develop new products.
This leads me to a topic that often gets raised by small and medium businesses in my electorate of Ryan, and that is procurement and the ease of doing business with the federal government. This is something that the finance minister has paid particular attention to as part of this budget and more broadly. We need to make sure that, when small and medium businesses engage with Commonwealth agencies, there is a streamlined process that reduces costs and red tape and makes it easy to do business. The often repeated refrain of small and medium businesses in the Ryan electorate, as I'm sure it is around the country, is: 'The government expects us as SMEs to be at the vanguard of making sure that we pay our suppliers on time and that we pay the subbies on time. We would expect the same best practice from the government.' That is indeed what we have set about doing.
As part of the COVID recovery plan we have updated the Commonwealth procurement rules in the government procurement market. As part of the new rules, there's an exemption that will allow agencies to directly engage SMEs for procurements, valued at up to $200,000, which will reduce tendering costs. These, in the life of the federal government, are the smaller value contracts but are incredibly important to the SMEs, and they can mean a real step change for their business if they can do business with the federal government, particularly if it hasn't meant the cost of a very long and arduous procurement process which often favours the primes. They instead allow small businesses to get their foot in the door on government work.
Quicker payment times will also be provided for. Having many former small and family business owners in the coalition, we understand how crucial managing cash flow is and how getting paid on time is such a vital part of managing any balance sheet. Taking away barriers and reducing red tape to the costs of tendering will mean more small and medium businesses engage with the Commonwealth government. In this budget, we are committed to further support in this area. We will create a series of scans of commercial interactions between Australian manufacturers and government agencies to identify areas in the procurement process that can be improved. That is what good government does: it seeks to continually improve its processes. So my question to the minister is: can you please elaborate on the government's approach to partnerships with the private sector that deliver innovation, support new technology and boost the skills of Australian workers?