Thursday, 13 February 2020
Questions without Notice
My question is to the Minister for Employment, Skills, Small and Family Business, Senator Cash. Can the minister confirmed that, despite Australia experiencing the most devastating bushfires in living memory, the Morrison government has approved only one concessional loan for small businesses in bushfire affected areas across the entire country?
As Senator Watt would know, the coalition government has announced a comprehensive package—in particular in relation to small businesses.
What I can confirm for the Senate is the following. As you would be aware, Mr President, the states—the state Labor governments in Queensland and Victoria, and the coalition governments in New South Wales and South Australia—are actually responsible for the administration of both the grants and the loans. In relation to New South Wales, I am advised that in relation to the small-business grants of up to $50,000 for businesses that are directly affected by the fires there have been 252—
A point of order on relevance. The minister is quoting figures about grants. My question was about loans. In fact, I have only asked something that the Prime Minister confirmed yesterday. She should be on top of this.
I was listening carefully to the minister—
Honourable senators interjecting —
Order! I will rule on the point of order when there is silence! I was listening very carefully to the minister. I didn't catch the reference you referred to. Immediately prior to that, the minister was talking about the grants program and its administration, which I do consider to be directly relevant. I am listening carefully, because it was a specific question. Senator Cash.
Yes, on direct relevance. We only asked about the confirmation of one concessional loan across the country for small business. We asked the minister to confirm and, as Senator Watt, I think courteously, indicated, it is the figure the Prime Minister confirmed yesterday.
On the point of direct relevance: the minister can be directly relevant to the question by talking about the concessional loans scheme and its administration, as she was earlier. But I do take the point that the grant scheme was not in the question. I remind senators that I cannot instruct a minister how to answer the question. Senator Cash.
Thank you, Mr President. In relation to the loans, senators will be aware that what the government has done is to allow access to loans of up to half a million dollars. They are being administered through the states. I can advise that in relation to New South Wales the loans scheme opened on 3 February 2020. Forty-two applications have been received and are currently under review, and the value of loans requested is around $3,300,000. In relation to Queensland, the concessional loans opened on 3 February 2020—
I grant some latitude to people restating the question. My previous ruling was that the minister can be directly relevant by talking about the specific scheme that you referenced. You are seeking to order me how to direct a minister to answer a question, which is not appropriate for me to do. There is an opportunity after question time to debate the merits of answers. Senator Cash.
In relation to Queensland, concessional loans opened on 3 February 2020. Two applications have been received and one has been approved. The South Australian government have activated the scheme. They have currently got 60 expressions of interest. And guidelines are currently being considered by Victoria and the ACT. Perhaps you could speak to those Labor governments, Senator Watt, and advise them that, yes, they can work with the Commonwealth government because they are the ones that need to activate the scheme. (Time expired)
I refer to the Prime Minister's media release of 20 January that assured struggling small businesses in bushfire affected regions that government support would be 'immediate'. Does the minister seriously suggest that only one bushfire affected small business was in immediate need of assistance?
Only those on the opposite side of the chamber, the Labor Party, would want to play politics with what is occurring in relation to the bushfires.
The bushfires that we have seen over the summer have been absolutely devastating, in particular for those who have been directly impacted by the fires and for those who have also been indirectly impacted by the fires. The government has announced a comprehensive package, a $2 billion response package, to assist those in need as a result of the devastation of the bushfires.
You see, those on the other side don't seem to understand this: the only reason that this government has been able to respond so quickly with so many different measures, and to the extent that it has been able to, $2 billion, is because it manages a strong economy.
I note the minister's comments that Labor is playing politics. I also note that this week New South Wales Liberal minister Andrew Constance said that he wants to see better support for small business affected by bushfires. He also said:
We cannot afford another disaster on a disaster. Our fragile economy is already on its knees.
Does the government believe one small-business concessional loan is sufficient support?
I completely reject the premise of your question. Again, only someone like Senator Watt, who conveniently visited seats in Queensland that we picked up, would be able to play politics with what's going on with the bushfires. I have personally spoken to Andrew Constance. Can I assure you he is fully aware of the support that both the state government and the federal government are providing.
In relation to New South Wales, at least the New South Wales government have activated their scheme and are currently considering expressions of interest. Senator Watt, perhaps you would like to speak to the Labor state government of Victoria and the Labor state government of the ACT and advise them as well that they are actually the ones responsible for activating the loans under the scheme.
We have provided a comprehensive response—$2 billion—and this is only made possible because of— (Time expired)