Tuesday, 3 December 2019
I rise to speak on small business, the backbone of the Australian economy. Unlike Labor, who govern only for the unions, we govern for all Australians. If you listened to the speeches last week you would have thought the unions were the only part of the Australian economy, but this is not true at all. As a matter of fact, the people who underwrite wages, penalty rates and leave entitlements in this country are, indeed, our small business owners. Not only do they employ more people in this country than any other sector does, their taxes go a long way to paying for Newstart and other allowances.
In the eyes of the Labor Party, these people do not matter. Why? Because they aren't union members. Indeed, in their eyes, they are the forgotten people. As the Treasurer said on budget night this year, people running small businesses put their livelihoods on the line. They start early and finish late. They are the front desk and the back office. They pay their workers first and take their own wages last. Nine out of every 10 jobs are in the private sector, with small- and medium-sized enterprises employing more than seven million Australians. Small- and medium-sized business are responsible for more than three-quarters of the output in agriculture and more than half the output in construction. Those Australians who are bold enough to start a small business don't get the luxury of penalty rates, long service leave, superannuation or even public holidays, on many occasions. Many work seven days a week and many have mortgaged their house against their business.
It was heartening to read last week a piece from the Treasurer highlighting that the Liberal-National government is establishing Australia's first Business Growth Fund. It will be modelled on similar initiatives in the UK and Canada. The fund will have $540 million at its disposal to invest in small- and medium-sized businesses and will fill a gap in the market. With a $100 million commitment from the Morrison government and $440 million from the four big banks, the importance of small business to our economy cannot be underestimated, and we know that. The Liberal Party, after all, is the party of small business. But many in this place put the cart before the horse. Those opposite call for the government to intervene to drive wage growth, but you will find that wages will only grow when small business starts to grow. The horse is the small business; without the horse, the cart goes nowhere.
Red tape is a significant constraint on Australian small to medium enterprises, and the Liberal-National government has cut nearly $6 billion of red tape since 2013. Let us include in this the confusing labyrinth of industrial relations law that can deter mum and dad businesses from recruiting. I remember in July last year Maurice Blackburn Lawyers, a law firm well known to Labor, fell foul of wage underpayment. To quote from the Sydney Morning Herald article published on 20 July 2018:
The latest casualty in the war on wage underpayment is an unlikely candidate. In an exquisite irony a law firm that holds itself up as the champion of workers’ rights, and is vocal in its criticism of underpayments at other companies, has underpaid hundreds of former and current part time workers, including university students, almost $1 million.
Four hundred Maurice Blackburn staff were affected. If a major law firm can't get it right, let alone one whose bread and butter is employment law, what hope does small business have? We even had the national broadcaster in January admit that it had underpaid casual staff, and it launched a review of casual workers employed between November 2012 and December 2018. The affected employees were paid a flat rate instead of penalty rates and overtime based on hours worked, leaving many worse off.
The Liberal-National government will continue to focus on implementing its agenda to keep our economy strong and to deliver 1.25 million new jobs over the next five years. This government will ensure that all hardworking Australians pay lower taxes to ease cost-of-living pressures. If Labor wants to see wage growth and better working conditions, then they should support measures designed to make it easier for small business to grow, because when small business is strong wages will be strong and Australia will be strong.