House debates

Wednesday, 1 September 2021

Matters of Public Importance


3:27 pm

Photo of Stuart RobertStuart Robert (Fadden, Liberal Party, Minister for Employment, Workforce, Skills, Small and Family Business) Share this | Hansard source

It's all hyperbole today, the same rubbish talking points we've heard, year in, year out, from an opposition with no ideas. Today's matter of public importance, a matter that the Labor opposition believe is of such importance at a time when the national accounts have come out showing our economy in such strength considering the position we're in, is to talk about a failure to manage the economy! So let's speak about the economy, not gesticulating and hand waving like the member for Whitlam does, thinking that blustering noise and volume alone substitute for hard facts and realism. Let's go to the hard facts from today.

From the national accounts: nominal GDP growth was strong for the financial year and increased 4.1 per cent ahead of the budget forecast of 3¼ per cent. Real GDP grew by 0.7 per cent in the June quarter, a staggering 9.6 per cent higher throughout the year and the strongest through-the-year rate on record. Growth was stronger than market expectations and ahead of what was forecast, with reputed economists forecasting a 0.1 drop to a 0.7 realisation. Our economy is now 1.6 per cent above it's prepandemic level, with the recovery continuing to lead the pack ahead of advanced economies. And this apparently is the failure of the government's economic approach—extraordinary!

Household consumption increased 1.1 per cent to the June quarter, contributing 0.6 percentage points to GDP, up 15.4 per cent through the year. Consumption increased in 12 out of 17 categories. New business investment rose by 2.3 per cent in the June quarter, with continuing strength in new machinery and equipment investment, increasing 2.4 per cent to a staggering 19.5 per cent higher throughout the year. Since the October budget, investment in new machinery and equipment has increased 22.4 per cent, a staggering increase right across the board, from tradies to small and family businesses through to the medium- and large-business sector. It is the strongest period of growth since 2002, but those opposite believe that it's a failure of the government to manage the economy. It's the strongest period of growth since 2002, with almost 115,000 jobs created in the quarter and the unemployment rate now below pre pandemic, below March 2020. This is the only industrialised nation on earth that's got more of its citizens in employment now than pre pandemic. Apparently, though, there's a failure of the government, except we're the only industrialised nation on earth to have more of its citizens employed. I say to those opposite: wake up, and have a look. Household gross disposable income continues to be supported by the government's tax relief, with a further $3.8 billion flowing to more than 11 million households.

We have a vaccination program that continues at enormous speed, with over 300,000 doses administered per day. Today it is likely we'll move towards 20 million doses having been given. This is one of the reasons that we've laid out a national plan. The state premiers and the territory leaders have agreed to the national plan, and we call on all of our state and territory leaders to continue to adhere to the national plan. The national plan is our national hope. It gives hope to individuals in our small- and family business sector. It gives them the confidence to plan. The current phase we're in has got a range of measures, including lockdowns that are hurting so much. As we move to 70 per cent of adults aged 16 and over having been fully vaccinated, we'll move to a transition phase and then, at 80 per cent, to a consolidation phase. The consolidation phase is about living with the virus and minimising serious illness and deaths. Measures may include lifting inbound and outbound travel restrictions for vaccinated Australians and students, workers and humanitarian visa holders being able to return. There will be baseline community restrictions only—that is, getting back to life and allowing us to plan. That's why the national plan is so important.

Whilst right now there are restrictions imposed through state based public health orders, the federal government is stepping up and providing much needed support. Despite the national accounts to June showing the strength of our economy and the record numbers of Australians getting jobs, the support continues to roll out. As at midnight on 31 August over 1.8 million Australians had received a COVID disaster payment, with $5.14 billion going to citizens in need and 52,000 claims for COVID disaster payment being processed by 31 August 2021. Since 1 July, 1.7 million claims have been granted for New South Wales alone, and the list goes on. The support measures for business, especially the small to medium enterprises and the small and family businesses, are extraordinary. COVID-19 disaster payments are lump-sum payments for workers unable to work, with eligible workers now receiving up to $750 a week, if they lose 20 hours or more, and $450, if they lose between eight and 20 hours. Small-business support is also offered outside of New South Wales across every state and territory on a fifty-fifty funding basis with the Commonwealth. We're helping businesses to employ staff by providing wage subsidies of 50 per cent of an apprentice's or a trainee's wage, with $3.9 billion in the Boosting Apprenticeship Commencements scheme. Upwards of 200,000 apprentices are coming through the scheme, which is expected to support over 70,000 employers. It is the single biggest kick-up that we have looked at in the last decade across the apprenticeship space.

We've introduced new insolvency frameworks to help small to medium enterprises to restructure. Through the Coronavirus SME Guarantee Scheme, we're providing guarantees of 50 per cent to lenders for new unsecured loans, and guarantees of 80 per cent are available for firms that were previously on JobKeeper through the SME Recovery Loan Scheme. We're increasing the instant asset write-off threshold from $30,000 to $150,000 for assets that were previously purchased. Business investment and economic growth are benefitting from advanced depreciation. We're providing temporary full expenses incentives and cash-flow support through temporary loss carry-backs. Increased mental health funding support for small-business owners is, I think, one thing we can all genuinely agree is so important in terms of mental health support for those who are finding it difficult. There is targeted assistance for severely impacted regions. We are extending digital solutions, including the Australian Small Business Advisory Service, to include general business advice for ongoing digital. We are backing in the Go Local First campaign to encourage businesses. On top of that: for small to medium-sized enterprises, from 1 July this year their tax rate went from 30 per cent to 25 per cent. It will progressively go down from 30 per cent over a number of years, but it is now down to 25 per cent. That is extraordinary for small businesses.

We're improving payment times by ensuring that bills are paid on time. From 1 July we are paying invoices of up to a million dollars within 20 days. That's the government's commitment to what it's doing with small businesses. We are requiring large businesses and certain government enterprises with a total income of over $100 million to report on how and when they pay small businesses. We will change the law so that the ATO cannot commence recovery against small business whilst there's a dispute in place. This government has put in place a small-business court within the AAT, where there are no lawyers. If you're going up against the ATO, there are no lawyers, there are judgements within 28 days and there is a set fee under $1,000 so that someone can go in and get quick justice.

This is what this government is doing to stand up and support small and medium-sized enterprise businesses. We're not sitting on our hands, looking at the current account numbers coming through and going, 'Those numbers aren't bad; the economy and the fundamentals are strong.' We are continuing to do more and more to assist. We're reducing regulatory compliance costs. We're moving through our automotive franchising reforms, and the franchising reforms have moved through in the last few weeks. And we're continuing to provide funds for financial counselling and assistance.

We will continue to secure our recovery. We will continue to lean in strongly to support the economic fundamentals of our nation. Those opposite would have you believe that 115,000 more Australians employed now than before COVID—the only industrialised nation on earth to do this—is a fluke. Those opposite would have us believe that the strength of our economy, as shown in the national accounts, is somehow a fluke. I've got news for the opposition: it's careful economic management that's delivered those results for Australians.


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