Tuesday, 10 November 2020
Questions without Notice
My question is to the Minister for Finance, Senator Birmingham. I refer to the minister's comments during his appearance on Sky News on 8 October, when he said:
As Finance Minister myself, I will be acutely aware that the quality of spending is what matters when it comes to how we invest.
I thank Senator Pratt for her question. Certainly, our side of politics sees small business as being an essential part of Australia's economy in terms of the jobs these small businesses create, the innovation that occurs and, indeed, the export growth that we have seen in recent years. In my role as trade minister, I note very much that, over recent years, we have seen many thousands of additional Australian small and medium sized businesses begin to export for the first time ever. In doing so, they're generating greater wealth for our country. Also, all of the evidence shows that these small businesses tend to employ more people and grow faster.
We also respect the role of industry representative bodies. Minister Cash talks about the important role that COSBOA plays in terms of advocacy and support for small businesses across Australia. We value engagement with them; we value working with them. We want to make sure that small business in Australia has its voice heard. That's why we've acted, through this time of crisis, to make sure that Australian small businesses get the support they need. It is small businesses that will be a key driver for getting Australia out of the economic challenges that we face.
Those opposite seem to forget that we're in the greatest global depression that we've seen since the Great Depression. This is the greatest global downturn that we've seen since those times, and so we won't apologise for supporting small business, for helping Australian small business and for helping their leadership as well in terms of ensuring that the policies that are applied across this country help small businesses to grow and to create jobs, and help to ensure that we achieve the strongest possible recovery for all Australians.
Evidence at Senate estimates confirmed that long-term Liberal mate and former Crosby Textor pollster Jim Reed received more than $1 million in government market research contracts without even having to go to tender. Who recommended Mr Reed to the Prime Minister's department? Was it the Prime Minister's office?
I'm sure those sorts of questions were addressed in Senate estimates and are being addressed through questions on notice in Senate estimates. I'm confident the proper processes, in accordance with all of the guidelines, will have been followed and that those details, no doubt, will be provided.
My point of order goes to direct relevance. The minister was asked: who recommended Mr Reed, the Crosby Textor pollster, for this contract, which did not go to competitive tender? The fact that this question was asked in estimates is not a response. He is the Minister representing the Prime Minister. We want to know whether it was the Prime Minister's office.
I'm listening carefully. I've allowed you to remind the minister of the last part of the question. As I've said, as long as he remains directly relevant to part of the question, I can't direct him to answer another part. But I am listening carefully.
What I was talking about was the fact that there has been much scrutiny of these sorts of programs during estimates and I have every suspicion that, if we look at the transcripts, we will see that these questions were probably asked. These questions may have been taken on notice and will have been answered or will be answered on notice. Now, if they weren't and they need to be, I'll bring any details I can back to the chamber.
But the GO LOCAL FIRST campaign is about providing encouragement to consumers to shop locally, to support their local small businesses, to ensure the viability of those small businesses and to strengthen economic activity in the local economy and community. That's what this sort of program is doing, and I would have thought that those on the other side would champion and support it.
Can you confirm you've taken this question on notice—and can you confirm whether any of this research or polling was provided to the Prime Minister's office or to the Liberal Party; and, if so, how is it appropriate for the Prime Minister's office to fund research for the Liberal Party of Australia?
If there is anything that isn't being addressed already or hasn't been addressed through the Senate estimates process, then I will take that on notice and make sure it is addressed. But what I can confirm is important is that we absolutely back Australian small businesses to drive more consumers through their doors—
Ducking and weaving! This is on direct relevance, Mr President: how is it appropriate for the Prime Minister's office to fund research for the Liberal Party? There's no discussion of small business in this question.
On the point of order, there were several questions there; that was the last one. You are correct to say there was nothing that referenced the portfolio policy area that you mentioned. But the minister can be directly relevant to any part of the question. I will listen carefully. He has 43 seconds remaining.
If there are issues in relation to some of the elements that Senator Pratt raised, I'll bring those back to the chamber. But the point I was also making was about the value of ensuring that we do get more Australians through the doors of Australian small businesses to help them get back on their feet. Thousands of small businesses this year were closed down, mandatorily closed down by governments, to help us deal with the global pandemic. In reopening the economy, we want to make sure that those small businesses who went for months without revenue, without customers, without support— (Time expired)