Senate debates

Tuesday, 2 August 2022


Social Security and Other Legislation Amendment (Self-Employment Programs and Other Measures) Bill 2022

6:37 pm

Photo of Deborah O'NeillDeborah O'Neill (NSW, Australian Labor Party) Share this | Hansard source

I rise with some degree of pleasure to speak on this bill, another initiative coming from the newly elected Albanese government, who are firmly focused on enabling Australians, bringing jobs into being and making sure that people who need support in establishing their own work through their small businesses get the assistance that they need. This bill, the Social Security and Other Legislation Amendment (Self-Employment Programs and Other Measures) Bill 2022, makes small but nonetheless crucial amendments to replace the New Enterprise Incentive Scheme with the Self-Employment Assistance program throughout most of Australia.

I think we can underplay the importance of how things are named. I know in the previous parliament I was very distressed that some of the bills, whose titles were determined by the then government, didn't actually say what they did. Australians understand what it is to become self-employed, with all the joys, the opportunities and the excitement but also with all the debt, the worries and the concerns. They know what self-employment is, and that is what this bill is about.

The bill clarifies that social security law, veterans entitlement law and family law operate in the same way for a new program, Self-Employment Assistance, as for the NEIS, and it also makes a few other minor amendments and clarifications to the current social security law.

Self-employment assistance is vital to help those who want to launch their own business and those who have launched their own business and, through that experience, have come to a point of figuring out that they actually need to have a few of their particular questions answered. It can be one thing to be inspired to create your own business, find out a little bit on the internet and get started, but there will be headwinds, and this program recognises that and is here to support people so that they can get the assistance that they need.

Now, clearly, it has had some impact of a positive kind on the futures of those who have started businesses in recent years. The NEIS figures show that it has helped nearly 200,000 Australians be their own bosses and put into reality their dreams of independence.

I do want to say that there has been, for far too long, an argument and an unquestioned—in some parts of the Australian community—sense that small business is represented by one party in this place. Well, that is absolutely not the case. I know, from talking to colleagues around the chamber and certainly amongst my colleagues in the Labor Party, that very many of us either grew up in family businesses, small businesses, or ran them ourselves. I see Senator McAllister here, and I know that she grew up in the Northern Rivers part of New South Wales, and, seriously, without small businesses that were functioning and operating there, people would be profoundly disadvantaged in terms of employment. Great employers create jobs.

The reality is: not everybody wants to be an employer; not everybody wants to set up their own business; not everybody has the health, the wellbeing, the disposition, the opportunity or the capital to undertake the risk of small business. Not everybody is willing to sell their house—as my father did. I cannot believe he convinced my mother to do this. Having struggled to get a house, five years after they arrived they got one, at Blacktown: 17 Curran Street; a fibro double-fronter; no furniture. They'd got a house five years after they arrived in the country. And my father convinced my mother to sell that house so that he could buy a machine, a front-end loader/backhoe, so that he could commence his own business. Not everybody has that dream and that vision, and not everybody is willing to take on the joys and the risks. But, coming from a small business family, I know how important it can be to get the right advice and the right assistance, when the time is right for that for you and for your business.

Now, Self-Employment Assistance is a fantastic program that helps jobseekers to create their own business and earn an income, to achieve financial independence. Sometimes this is born of necessity, if you can't find a job in the area that you live in and you start to figure out: 'Actually, there are a whole lot of lawns that haven't been mowed in my street. Perhaps I might go down to Mrs Jones. I'll begin to do that.' Well, there are a whole lot of questions that follow on from that: 'What are the health and safety obligations? What do I need to do to establish this? Have I got enough money for the plant and equipment? What are the protections?' People have questions.

Now, this program provides flexible services to people who are interested in becoming self-employed and people who are in existing microbusinesses. The program itself is delivered by business owners and by small business specialists. It is provided through 51 employment regions across Australia. So, if you or someone you know and love is at the point where you or they need some assistance with a small business or microbusiness, or if you have plans to start your own business, know that, right across the country, there is this program there, ready to assist you. And when businesses succeed and they grow, they generate jobs. And that is a fine thing to do—to create work for one of our fellow Australians.

The services that are provided across these 51 employment regions in Australia include 'exploring self-employment' workshops and involve five sessions that are delivered over a period of one to three weeks, providing participants with all the information that they may need about self-employment and what they need to really know to start and run a business. I'm sure that some who have already started will go in there and think, 'Oh, my goodness, I could have made my life so much easier if I'd got a bit of information!' And there would be others who would be going in with more detailed questions because they have started and they want to know how they can improve what they're doing.

Small business training will provide participants with the foundation skills they need to start and run a small business, and they can access accredited training and choose to do a shorter skill set or a longer cert III or IV in entrepreneurship and new business. Having been a teacher in my life prior to coming to parliament, it's amazing when young people who really were not interested in what school had to offer find their passion; they're interested in finding out what they need to do to bring their passion to life, to monetise it and be able to live their best life, employing themselves in doing what they want to do.

Returning to study for people who might not have enjoyed school is something that's happening through this program, and it's vital that we have access to training programs. That's why Labor's support of fee-free TAFE places is critical to the growth of jobs in this country—to liberate the capacity and talent of the nation by giving people the opportunity to take what they know and to build on it through further training without incurring an enormous debt, which can be the thing that stops them from following their dreams.

The other supports that are offered through this program include business plan development. That supports people to prepare a viable business plan to help their business succeed, helping them identify strategies for success and to forecast the cash flow for their business. Business advice sessions are also available, offering targeted advice relating to a participant's business idea or to existing microbusiness owners, with sessions offered over the course of an hour. Sometimes it is just a chat with a mentor that can really unplug some particularly sticky situations for small businesses. There are also business health checks for existing microbusiness owners, where a participant works with a provider to find ways to improve the viability of the business. They can be delivered in one-on-one sessions over three hours. Small business coaching is also available, and that offers 12 months of personalised mentoring and support to help participants start, develop and run a successful business.

The participants who are accepted into the small business coaching element of the program can also receive financial support to purchase up to $300 worth of business costs, such as business insurance. As I said earlier, I am still amazed that my father was able to convince my mother to risk capital from our house to commence a business, and go out and start digging trenches and building roads. As somebody who grew up in that environment, practising answering the phone for the business from age seven, it's a knowledge and skill set that many of us learned at the kitchen table and learned through our immersion in family businesses. But for many Australians that's a commencement of learning that needs to be further developed, outside the kitchen table and with other people who have mentoring capacities and the visual and technical skills to help people understand the full potential of their business. The programs that I'm describing here really provide a level playing field and provide some security and support to make sure that these businesses are set up in a way that is compliant with Australian law and gives the best chance of success. I know that any aspiring small business owner needs the right skills and tools to realise their dreams, and this program is designed to that end.

Small businesses everywhere are the engine room of growth for the Australian economy, but they are particularly vital in the regions of Australia like the Central Coast—my home. It's only a couple of hours north of Sydney but a different world entirely, where public transport doesn't exist and small businesses are the driver of our local economy. I'm also the duty senator for pretty well most of the western part of New South Wales, for the seats of Calare, Parkes, Farrer, Hume and Riverina, and also for the seat of Lyne. All of these are seats where incredible business is done and incredible wealth for the country is generated. They are replete with people commencing their own journey in small business. We need to help nurture more and more of these small businesses to keep growing our economy. They are often sites where innovation occurs.

Small businesses form 98 per cent of all existing businesses and employ 41 per cent of Australia's workforce. That's an astounding number of Australians who are engaged in small business, either as the director of the business or as an employee. So 4.7 million of us are involved in small business.

For many people small business is their pathway to the middle class, to enable them to fulfil their aspirations. It's not surprising that in the story I tell about my parents—I'll add a little bit to it! They were immigrants, first arriving here at the end of 1960, putting their shoulder to the wheel in an economy that was growing at the time, and they really worked hard to get themselves a far better life than they had left behind in England, where they met, and in Ireland, where they had been born. It's so important that we provide all Australians with free education programs that allow them to access the opportunities they need to fully contribute to Australia and our success as a nation.

The results of the program are there for all to see. There have been 198,000 people helped by the program, including 47,259 who have started a new business since July 2015. I'm pleased to say 25,249 of those entrepreneurs were women—that's 53 per cent—and 18,791 were mature-age people aged 45 years and over. The program itself also plays a vital role in helping Australians with a disability become self-employed. Disabled Australians actually have a higher rate of relative business ownership than non-disabled Australians, at 11.6 per cent compared to only 8.2 per cent of the general public. The Australian disability strategy 2021-23 actively seeks to increase that already substantial number.

If there was more time I would tell you about two fantastic participants in this program—MAZ3D epoxy floor coatings in Ryde, and Just Enough Beach hand-poured candles in the New South Wales North Coast in Yamba. They're just a couple of the thousands and thousands of companies that have benefited from taking their business and themselves through this program, through mentoring, to improve the capacity of their business. And with success comes more and more jobs. These are stories we should celebrating, and more and more the revamp of this program will provide those opportunities.

Our economy will get back on track through the hard work and initiative of people like those business owners who have already benefited. Labor certainly believes in giving entrepreneurial Australians the toolkit they need to start their own business, be their own boss and grow the jobs for future Australians.


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