House debates

Wednesday, 14 May 2008

Statements by Members

Small Business Field Officers Program

9:54 am

Photo of Nola MarinoNola Marino (Forrest, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to voice my concerns about the government’s announcement that the Small Business Field Officers Program will be scrapped and funding will cease on 30 June 2008. Australia’s 65 small business field officers operating out of the area consultative committees have proven to be a lifeline for many small businesses struggling to find their feet. They have helped businesses right across the country, and now regional Australia will lose this important network of experienced men and women, withdrawing yet another service from the ACCs. Small business field officers offer a crucial support network, providing free business advice, referrals and tips on how to expand and even how to export goods. They provide a vital resource for the many small businesses who want to know where and how to access relevant information and support.

Small businesses make a huge contribution to our nation’s economy. In my electorate of Forrest there are over 13,000 local small businesses. At a time when small business confidence has plummeted to a 15-year low, the government has scrapped this vital free service and advice and has, instead, pledged funding to the existing state run business enterprise centres. As it happens, Bunbury has its own Bunbury-Wellington Business Enterprise Centre. Therefore, this centre will be the only point of call for many small businesses throughout the south-west to seek advice.

The previous federal government’s Small Business Field Officers Program was a free service offered to small businesses. Now, the federal government will fund local state-run business enterprise centres. I note that its pre-election promise was to fund the Bunbury-Wellington Small Business Centre to the amount of $250,000 per annum. What commitment will there be from the state government to continue to contribute their funding and their own share of operations to assist small business in the region? Will federal Labor in fact be taking over the operations of the business enterprise centres, as it will eventually be left with funding 100 per cent of the activities once the state government withdraw their funding? Will the business enterprise centres offer free advice, which was previously available under the Small Business Field Officers Program?

The state business enterprise centres have to be self-sustaining and have to pay their own way. Therefore, there is a fee for service. Regional small business operators will be justified in their belief that federal Labor does not value their contribution. The cancellation of the Commercial Ready grants for small businesses to turn ideas into products further impacts on regional small businesses. This is a huge issue for my electorate and certainly a major issue for all small business throughout Australia.