Senate debates

Thursday, 11 May 2017

Bills

Competition and Consumer Legislation Amendment (Small Business Access to Justice) Bill 2017; Second Reading

11:57 am

Photo of Murray WattMurray Watt (Queensland, Australian Labor Party) Share this | Hansard source

I will come to that, Senator Hume. There are times when Labor takes a different position on issues to some parts of small business. Penalty rates is an example of that. We have heard some small businesses be vocal about their desire to see penalty rates being cut. But equally—and this does not get quite as much attention—there are many small businesses out there that are quite happy to pay penalty rates to their employees. And they remain so despite the decision of the Fair Work Commission, backed in by this government.

Even in the duty electorates that I represent in Queensland there have been high-profile examples where small businesses have come out publicly and said that they want to stand by their employees. They understand that, if they pay their employees properly, and if all other small businesses do so as well, that will ensure there is a flow of money coming through a particular town that can be spent in other small businesses. It does not help small businesses to impose a massive wage cut on employees of those businesses, because all they are going to do is keep their money in their pocket and not spend it in the neighbouring small business down the street. I can think of a butcher's store near Yeppoon in Central Queensland which has come out publicly and said that they are going to continue paying penalty rates to their workers on Sundays—and good on them. Lush, who are a retail chain that sells bath products that my wife likes to go and spend lots of money on all the time, have said that they are going to maintain penalty rates for their employees. Again, good on them! They are taking a broader view than the penny-pinching view that some businesses take, which is a very short-term attitude that sees them cut back on their wages bill without understanding that what they are actually doing is cutting their own throats by reducing the amount of money that is available for their own customers to spend in their own business and in the businesses down the street.

Even with an example like penalty rates in which conservative governments and conservative parties hold up as something that all small businesses hate, it is actually not the case. There are many who understand that supporting their workers with decent wages actually enables the entire society and entire communities to prosper, which in turn creates more jobs.

I was reflecting on my very brief time as a state member of parliament in Queensland, and I well remember some of the conversations that I had with small businesses in my old electorate, particularly in the suburb of Albany Creek. There was a jeweller that I used to run into from time to time. He ran a jewellery store that was, basically, a family business. His biggest complaint was never things like penalty rates or tax issues, or the things that conservative governments trot out; his biggest complaint was that he could not get any fair treatment by the shopping centre owner, who kept on lifting his rent and lifting the payments he had to make to the shopping centre owner for utilities, whether it be electricity or water or other things. There was nothing he could do as an individual small-business owner to take on the shopping centre owner. There was no way that he would have the resources to wander into court and take up what seems to be quite a legitimate claim and quite an abuse of the law by a shopping centre. There was no way he had the resources to do that and in addition face the risk that, if he lost any legal action, he would potentially have to pay the costs of the shopping centre owner in that litigation. This bill will help people like Wayne Goddard, who ran that jewellery store, and will help many other small-business people right around the country. It will give them the ability to take up legitimate legal action against big business without the fear of having to pay a massive legal bill at the end of a case if it does turn out to be unsuccessful.

Some of the other things that small businesses raise with me as impediments to their business: I was in Rockhampton last week meeting with small businesses there, and one of the biggest complaints that they had was the difficulty they have dealing with big business and having no certainty about orders placed for their products by big business. That was what was stopping them putting people on to work for them. They did not know from month to month whether their major big business customers were actually going to keep ordering from them. We heard that from farmers. We heard that from manufacturing firms who were supplying to some of the biggest multinationals in the mining industry.

They are the kinds of things that are stopping small business from growing. We do not hear anything whatsoever from this government about how they are actually going to support them and how they are going to overcome those problems. Instead, this government, like conservative parties before them, just keep on pulling out the old bottom drawer, pulling out the tax stuff, pulling out the penalty rate staff and ignoring the fact that there are many small businesses who are quite comfortable with arrangements as they currently stand and actually have real problems, different problems, that this government are ignoring.

If you speak to any small business in the country, whether it is someone who is operating from their home or from a small shop, the first thing they are probably going to hit you up with is the NBN and the failure of this government to provide a decent telecommunications network which will allow them to operate quickly and efficiently, and communicate with their suppliers and their clients and people overseas. This government has had a gross failure in the provision of decent telecommunications infrastructure in this country, particularly through the NBN. I am sure someone must have done some kind of analysis of the impact that that has had on economic growth. They are the real difficulties that small business is facing in this country and they are the things that this government should be concentrating on.

In particular in this bill, this is another attempt by Labor to even the playing field between big and small business. It will give small businesses their day in court for the very first time, and I would hope that the alleged supporters of small business sitting opposite might rethink this and support the bill.

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