Joanne Ryan MP
Federal Member for Lalor
Joanne Ryan MP

Small Business Measures Budget 2015

I rise, as have previous speakers, to speak on the Tax Laws Amendment (Small Business Measures No. 1) Bill 2015 and the Tax Laws Amendment (Small Business Measures No. 2) Bill 2015. And, like my colleagues, I stand to say that I support both of these bills, as Labor supports these bills. Of course we support the 1.5 per cent company tax cut for small business and the $20,000 accelerated depreciation for small business and primary producers, and we have been absolutely clear about this. As the Leader of the Opposition, Bill Shorten, said this morning, we were not going to delay for a minute on this bill. And Bill Shorten made clear in his budget reply speech that we support this bill. But what a farce we have had in the past week: member after member on the opposite side calling for us to get out of the way and get this done immediately. Then this morning when we tried to immediately pass this bill, at the first opportunity the government blocked Labor and voted against its urgent consideration.

I came down for the division after listening to approps last night and this morning in the Federation Chamber. Member after member from the benches opposite was exhorting Labor. They all had a piece in their approps speech exhorting Labor to get out of the way, to let this go through immediately, without delay—member after member after member. And what did I come down for a division for? I was shocked to find that we were dividing on our move to get this bill out of the way, right away, at the first opportunity. And I was shocked because I had heard Tony Abbott, the Prime Minister, in question time saying, 'I say to the Leader of the Opposition, let us not let politics get in the way of economics, let us not let self-interest get in the way of national interest'—puffing himself up, getting to his last line—'Let us pass this bill straightaway.' He was leaning across the dispatch box, looking into the eyes of the Leader of the Opposition as though there was a problem on our side of the House with this bill. Then the member for small business—I mean the Minister for Small Business; I always get it confused, whether he is a member for small business or the Minister for Small Business—

Mr Husic: The small minister for business!

Ms RYAN: Yes, thank you very much, member for Chifley. He gets up at the dispatch box and says that the only thing that stands in its way is Labor: 'We need no more of this shiftiness, no more game playing, no more of Labor's blah, blah, blah. Do you know what the small businesses of Australia are saying, Bill? Pass the budget measures.' That was the Minister for Small Business, across that dispatch box. 'No more game playing', he said. Then this morning we had the government playing politics with people's lives, missing an opportunity to use government to change people's lives for the better, playing politics with people's lives. Then in a moment of chagrin we had Minister Pyne tweeting:

Labor are a joke. Ending the debate on small business won't get the bills to the Senate any faster - the Senate isn't in session!

I was stunned when I saw the tweet, absolutely stunned, because what had he done? He had exposed his own tactics. He had exposed the fact that for day upon day we have listened to this. And here he was, the manager of government business, saying that we were playing politics, that we cannot move it to the Senate yet, so what is the big rush in here, what was the pressure in question time, why were those opposite not missing one opportunity to suggest to the Australian public that members on this side, that the opposition, somehow had a problem with this bill, somehow did not support small business? It is outrageous, absolutely outrageous.

Of course we support these measures, because they reinstate sensible Labor measures. Of course we support them. Interestingly, though, there was a bit of to and fro today about why the government blocked it. Perhaps it is because once upon a time they did not believe in these measures; in fact, they opposed two of these measures and completely scrapped the third when they came into government. So, it is a very confusing day for the Australian public. They are not quite sure what that government stands for. Then again, the electorate is getting used to that. Most days they do not know what this government stands for, because you cannot trust this government to do what they say they are going to do.

There is a lot of scurry around why small businesses are not out there borrowing money. The government would like to blame Labor and suggest that somehow they thought Labor was going to block this measure in the Senate. We made it clear that that is not what we were going to do. It was made perfectly clear. I would suggest that the reason small business was worried is that they have learnt that they cannot trust this government. They have learnt that this government will say one thing and do another. They heard the Treasurer say in his budget speech that the government was going to do this. They may have even seen it in the budget papers. But trust is low out there. Trust is low in my community; it is incredibly low in my community. But my community knows where I stand on small business. It knows that I know the value of small business, and it knows that Labor knows the value of small business, because we spend time on the ground in our communities every day with people who run small businesses, with people who own small businesses and with people who work for small businesses. Despite the brouhaha and protestations from those opposite, Labor members know and appreciate small businesses in their communities and electorates, because we live and work every day with those people. We stand beside them at the football club. We cheer our kids on, with them, at junior sport. We share meals with them around our kitchen tables and at community events—because they are our families and our friends.

In Lalor there are 11,000 small businesses. I would suggest small business is the largest employer in the electorate of Lalor, and many of these are owner-workers running a business that allows them to draw a salary. In fact, nearly 7,000 of the small businesses in Lalor have no employees. In this debate about small business we should note that many who would once have worked for a company are now companies themselves operating with an ABN. Many of them are modest earners, tradespeople working on small margins in the affordable-housing industry. They are retail owners, food businesses, and those working in hairdressing and personal training. They are operating on small margins. Many of those in my electorate are drawing very small salaries and are recipients of the family tax benefit. So they stand to win on the small-business measures but will have it taken by the other hand, by this government, off their kitchen tables.

When I stop for a chat with small businesses they are concerned about lots of things. They are concerned about staying afloat while they wait for overdue payments, the cycle that is late payments creating late payments down the line. What causes this late-payment cycle that chokes the cash flow, that threatens the viability and profitability of the small businesses in Lalor? Uncertainty and low consumer and business confidence. That is what causes those cash-flow problems, both of which have been festering under this government and its priorities, that have been spelt out so clearly in their first and second budgets. Both these budgets have packed inside them detrimental impacts on our local economy.

The debt-and-deficit emergency damaged confidence, and the cruel measures, the cuts, outlined to family budgets—in a community already under pressure from low-employment levels and job insecurity—means limited disposable income. That impacts on our local businesses. People are not buying new furniture. People are thinking twice about getting that landscaper in to do their garden. There are thinking twice about starting that renovation, getting their nails and hair done or taking the family out for meals and movies.

I welcome these measures because they may give a gift to our local economy. I welcome these measures because they might help everyone in Lalor. Everyone who sits on this side of the chamber sees the value of that. However, moving through the electorate over the weekend I found there were other views, some of which those opposite might be interested in hearing. Some small-business owners who have low turnover and uncertain work also have young families. There are very concerned about the cuts to the FTB. They have also seen the schoolkids bonus cuts and the changes to pharmaceutical benefits.

In 2014, at one point, it was calculated that the changes to the GP tax threatened $11 million out of our local economy. That is still on the table—coming through the back door—so they are worried about that. Small-business people understand the economy and they know that cuts to the tune of $84 a week for a family earning $60,000 with two children are going to hurt their small businesses. Others are not sure about borrowing money to purchase, because they are worried about what will happen in two years. They are worried this could be a short-term sugar hit and this government will leave them stranded. They are worried about the risk—that trust factor—coming in again. Some of the local businesses I spoke to last weekend knew that these were Labor initiatives, because they had looked forward to those Labor initiatives. In fact, one I spoke with had to redo his tax return after clumsy handling by the government, last year, when it did not believe in these measures. But today it does. Some of them know exactly who they are dealing with, in terms of this government. The local economy is of very big concern for local businesses in Lalor.

I and others on this side of the chamber really hope that these measures go some way to building confidence in the local economies across this nation, because that will help families and working Australians. Others understand a bit more about this government. They are worried that they have limited investment in road and rail infrastructure. They know that business would be better with fewer clogged roads. Lots of people in the electorate of Lalor are employed or own businesses that work in transport and logistics. They understand what clogged highways mean. They understand that if public transport were better and workers were on trains to go to the city—and not on the roads next to them—they might be able to run their small businesses more efficiently. These are important points. Those in Lalor understand that this government is giving eight per cent of the infrastructure budget, over the next four years, to Victoria. It has 25 per cent of the population and eight per cent of the infrastructure spend. They are very right to feel dudded.

Small business also wants employees who are ready to work. In my area they are puzzled that the apprenticeship support programs valued by small businesses—that supported our young apprentices, locally, to get through their apprenticeships with mentoring and support or by buying tools and other equipment—have been cut

They are puzzled that the trade training centres program has been cut. My community needs a real commitment to education, skills and jobs. These measures will not deliver sustained improvement in these areas. This government needs to get to work—it needs to get to work around jobs, around skills and training, around supporting apprentices so they complete their apprenticeships without taking on a debt burden. People in my electorate are very interested in Labor's plans for education and skills.

In conclusion, I would reiterate that the economy in my area has been suffering under this government. Businesses in my area understand that Labor reacted with stimulus when the GFC hit, that a deficit was created to save business, to save this nation's economy. This time they are asking: 'Are we going into more deficit?' Has this government doubled the deficit to save the Prime Minister's job?


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