Senate debates

Tuesday, 2 August 2022


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

1:20 pm

Photo of Catryna BilykCatryna Bilyk (Tasmania, Australian Labor Party) Share this | Hansard source

The bill before us today, the Social Security and Other Legislation Amendment (Self-Employment Programs and Other Measures) Bill 2022, makes some technical changes regarding employment programs, which I will deal with later in my speech. But first, I would like to state how annoyed I get during debates in this chamber when senators on the other side make accusations that Labor members and senators do not understand what it's like to run a business. They obviously say this in an effort to reinforce the misguided, and patently false, notion that the coalition are the friends of small business and Labor are not. This is clearly wrong, and I will challenge that notion later in my contribution.

Before I do, let me tell you what I find particularly infuriating about that claim. It's actually based on complete ignorance of the backgrounds of senators on this side of the chamber, including me. When we have debates about early childhood education and care, I often mention my more than a decade as an educator. I was a family day care educator, and, like many family day care educators, I was in charge of my own business. Also, I come from a family where my mother owned her own small businesses for 40 years. I know there are others on this side who have had similar types of engagement with small business.

I grew up in small business. I know small business. So I really would like those on the other side to please stop telling us we don't understand it. I understand the challenges and I understand the benefits. In the early childhood education sector you have all the usual challenges—collecting fees from customers, paying the bills and promoting your business—but on top of that you've got a whole set of regulations, from three levels of government, that you've got to comply with to ensure you're delivering safe and high-quality education and care. You have to deal with all this administrative work on top of your core business as an educator.

I don't have any quibbles about the regulations. It's an industry that deals with children who are vulnerable and at a crucial stage in their development. But it was tough. Through the industry I got to know many other educators, all of whom were running their own family day care businesses and facing similar challenges. So it really does get on my nerves, I have to say, when I am told that only the coalition cares about small businesses or Labor doesn't understand the challenges of running a small business.

I'm happy to help anyone who comes to my office seeking to take on the challenge of running a small business. My staff and I are often encouraging constituents to call or visit their local business enterprise centres and avail themselves of the free advice and assistance on offer there. At this point, I'd really like to give a great shout-out to my local enterprise centre, the Kingborough & Huon Business Enterprise Centre, of which I've heard excellent reports from the constituents I've referred there. Their previous manager, Scott Dufty, who has served for a number of years, has recently retired, so I wish him well on his future endeavours. I also congratulate Kerry Muller on his promotion to manager. I was really pleased to catch up with both Scott and Kerry at an event recently where the centre was celebrating the renewal of their government contract to deliver enterprise centre services.

My office has also helped small-business people to access business grants or other forms of financial assistance. I've established my office as a delivery partner in the No Interest Loan Scheme, NILS. NILS is commonly thought of as a program that low-income earners access so they can buy large household items, like a car, TV or fridge, but one of the services NILS also offers is no-interest loans to start a new microbusiness, and we have helped a few NILS clients with business ideas to lodge their applications. Those are just a few of the practical ways that I help people to establish small businesses or to thrive in their existing businesses.

So, when it comes to the bigger picture of what small business needs to succeed, Labor in government have a proud record of supporting small business. We recognise how vital small business is for the Australian economy, with 2.4 million small businesses throughout Australia employing 4.7 million people. It was the Rudd-Gillard Labor government that introduced the loss carry-back initiative, which allows small businesses to invest in their operations and then carry back their losses to earlier years, getting a refund for tax paid on previous profits. The Rudd-Gillard government also increased the instant asset write-off from $1,000 to $6,500. That meant a small business could invest in an asset, like a coffee machine or a bench tool, and instantly deduct it. We also introduced a measure that allowed businesses to instantly write off the first $5,000 of a motor vehicle purchase. We introduced these measures understanding the importance of cash flow to small businesses, allowing them the opportunity to access the tax deductions from capital purchases more quickly. Two of my brothers—well, they've both just recently retired—ran their own businesses for 30 or 40 years and, I've got to say, they found all of these things very advantageous to them.

Shamefully, the coalition, under the leadership of Tony Abbott, stripped away this valuable assistance, returning to the original threshold of a thousand dollars and subjecting small businesses to an effective $5 billion tax increase. But they must have seen the value in the measure, because they increased it again in 2015, at the same time trumpeting what a great help it would be for small business. So we introduced it, they cut it, and then they reintroduced it to say what heroes they were—what a backflip! Maybe they just couldn't cope with Labor getting the credit for doing something to help small business.

The previous Labor government also established the Fresh Ideas for Work and Family program, a $12 million grants program to help small businesses meet the set-up costs of family-friendly working arrangements.

In the current parliament, it's exciting to see that a Tasmanian colleague of mine—Julie Collins, the member for Franklin—has been appointed Minister for Small Business. My electorate office is in Ms Collins's electorate and I work very closely with her, and I'm sure any small business owners who know her as well as I do will be reassured that the portfolio is in good hands.

Labor's commitments to small business in government are outlined in our Better Deal for Small Business, which we took to the last election. This plan includes guaranteeing that the government considers the specific needs of small business during times of crisis; creating a mechanism to ensure that small businesses are paid within 30 days; making unfair contract terms illegal so that small businesses can negotiate fairer agreements with large partners; driving a genuine collaboration with small businesses and government to cut paperwork, target support and reduce the time that small businesses spend doing taxes; delivering simpler, more accessible and fairer outcomes in workplace relations by drawing on Labor's history of working with unions, workers and industry; and reducing small business transaction costs at the point of sale.

What I can add to that list, although it relates to business in general, is Labor's commitment to establishing Jobs and Skills Australia and tackling the skills crisis by investing in university places and free TAFE. The COVID pandemic has laid bare the depths of the skills crisis across this country. Labor in government had a proud record of not only investing in skills but also having the mechanisms to work with employers, employees and unions to identify the skills gaps. I know about the great work of industry skills councils through my work as a union representative on two industry skills councils. Shamefully, these bodies were scrapped by the Abbott government, but I'm excited to see that this capability will be returning when we establish Jobs and Skills Australia.

Another great Labor initiative for small business was the New Enterprise Incentive Scheme, or NEIS, introduced in 1985 by the Hawke government. This initiative is particularly important to mention because it relates directly to the bill we're debating now. Through NEIS, individuals can receive a package of services that help them to establish a new business. More recently it also helped existing business owners impacted by COVID-19 to continue running their business or refocus their operations to meet new areas of demand. Since NEIS was introduced it has helped over 198,000 people—198,000 people! There are a number of supports available through NEIS, including accredited small business training, help to develop a business plan, personalised mentoring from a NEIS provider—


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