Small Business Policy

12 October 2015

Dr CHALMERS (Rankin) (13:09):  I seek leave to speak for a second time on the private member's motion moved by Mr van Manen.

Leave granted.

Dr CHALMERS:  I am really pleased to speaking today on this private member's motion about small business. Colleagues here would be aware of my passion for the 10,746 small businesses in my community and the goods and services and especially the jobs that they create.

Last week I was delighted to be the guest speaker at the Calamvale Business Network annual cocktail function, which was held at Calamvale Community College. The group meets quarterly to discuss local issues, to develop relationships and to work out ways to give back to the local community. Their contribution to Calamvale and suburbs around it is a prime example of the important work done by small businesses in my area to really strengthen our community.

That is true of the national economy as well. Small business employs 4.5 million Australians and is a serious driver of opportunity, growth and innovation. Eighty-five per cent of innovative firms in Australia are small businesses, underpinning the importance of the sector to developing the ingenuity our economy needs to power it into the future. Government has an important role to get the tax, regulation and support systems for small business right to foster new jobs, new ideas and new prosperity for the Australian economy. It is in this spirit that Labor supported the government's small business package through the House this year. We were pleased to see the government restore Labor's accelerated depreciation scheme, if only for a limited period of time, as compared to Labor's permanent measure. We also support a reduction in the company tax rate for small businesses with a turnover of less than $2 million.

But, while the government pats themselves on the back for their work, Labor believes there is more to be done to get our small business policy environment right. We have already outlined some of our key priorities for future small business policy. The Leader of the Opposition said in the budget reply that both sides of parliament should be pushing to reduce the company tax rate for small businesses down to 25 per cent. We have also announced a plan to support more start-ups, especially in science, technology, engineering and maths.

Labor will work with the banks and the finance industry to develop Start-Up Finance, a partial guarantee scheme which will improve access to finance for Australian microbusinesses. PriceWaterhouseCoopers has estimated that tech start-ups could add $109 billion to the Australian economy and create 540,000 new jobs by 2033. We believe that government has a role to support start-up formation, and to help start-ups commercialise and grow. These are some of the key small business policies that have been announced already by the Shorten Labor opposition.

We will be continuing to develop plans to improve the policy environment for small businesses in Australia. Something that I am personally passionate about is to help small businesses engage with international markets better than they can currently. As it stands, only nine per cent of Australian businesses are currently operating in Asia, and two-thirds of businesses have no intention of engaging with Asia in the near future because of the various obstacles that exist. Those obstacles are magnified when you contemplate the lack of scale that many of our small businesses have in this country. Clearly, we need to do better to encourage Australian businesses to take advantage of the huge market in our region.

Another issue relates to the flow of finance to small business. In that vein, I was pleased to spend some time with a company called Prospa in Sydney recently. They are doing a great deal to assist small business with unsecured loans, which helps businesses grow. I appreciate the time that the colleagues at Prospa spent with me a couple of weeks ago in Sydney.

A third issue for us to respond to in the future is the incredible drop in apprentices that has occurred over the last two years of this government. Between September 2013 and March this year, Australian apprentice and trainee numbers dropped from around 418,000 to 320,000. That is almost 100,000 apprentices lose in two years. We need to start investing in our workforce of the future before it is too late. That is especially true when it comes to the STEM workforce—science, technology, engineering and maths. It is another priority of this side of the House that has unfortunately been left languishing by that side.

These are just a few areas that we will need to work on to strengthen our small business sector into the future. If we are serious about having a country that is powered by enterprise, ambition and aspiration, we need to make sure that we have the ecosystem right and the conditions right for small businesses to prosper. At the end of the day, that is the best chance that we have as a community and as a country to create the sorts of jobs that we will need for the generations that follow us.

So there is a lot more that the government can do to support small businesses in my community and right around Australia. We will continue to work with all small businesses—at the peak level, with great organisations like COSBOA, and locally with each individual business to ensure that we help strengthen Australia's major source of employment, ideas and growth.