Bills - Competition and Consumer Legislation Amendment (Small Business Access to Justice) Bill 2017 - Second Reading


Senator IAN MACDONALD (Queensland) (10:30): I am pleased that the Labor Party—at least their rhetoric—is about giving small business a fair go. I applaud that stated aim. I am pleased that Senator Gallagher, who has introduced this bill, has talked to small business in Canberra—one of the most privileged cities in Australia, I might add, and good luck to them—but I wonder how many small businesses Senator Gallagher has spoken to in Rockhampton, Mackay, Ayr—where I live—Townsville, Charters Towers, Clermont, the Bowen Basin towns, Dysart and Moranbah. I wonder how many small businesses she has spoken to there, because, if she had spoken to small business there, she would understand they are really struggling because of the downturn in the mining industry and the relentless campaign by the Greens to stop coalmining—a campaign which seems to be supported in this chamber by Labor senators and, I am disappointed to say, Labor senators from Queensland.

Small business in the towns that I mentioned in my home state of Queensland are desperate to see the Adani mine go ahead, and the only thing holding it up at the moment is the uncertainty on the native title issue, which has been addressed by the government and by Indigenous leaders across Australia. Agreement has been reached to fix that issue, but it is essential that it be done urgently and immediately, which is what Indigenous leaders want and what the Queensland state Labor government wants. If the native title issue were made certain, Adani could go ahead with more confidence and small businesses in those northern towns would be delighted because it would be a lifeline thrown to many of them who are now looking at their life savings and their small business going down the drain. So, Senator Gallagher, I urge you, if you are serious about small business, to slip up to Central and North Queensland, talk to small businesses there and see how important Adani is to them.

The government has asked the Labor Party to sit tomorrow, on a Friday. I appreciate that is a holiday for most Labor senators. We just want them to give up one day of their holiday and sit tomorrow in this chamber so that we can fully debate the native title amendment and hopefully have it passed, because the Labor Party say they support it. Certainly, the Liberal and National parties support it. I understand One Nation supports it and I understand that the Liberal Democrats support it. So it should fly through the chamber if we have a whole day's debate on it tomorrow. Will the Labor Party sit and pass that legislation, which will help Adani, which will help small business, which Senator Gallagher has spent 20 minutes telling us she supports? Will they sit tomorrow? No—tomorrow is their day off. They have a long weekend. They do not want to work tomorrow. One can only ask why. Clearly, within the Labor Party there are deep divisions over the Adani issue and the Labor Party are doing everything in their power to delay this so that Adani will walk away and the mine will not go ahead. Could I ask Senator Gallagher again: what will that do for small business in Rockhampton, Gladstone, Clermont, Moranbah, Dysart, Ayr, Bowen, Home Hill, Townsville and Charters Towers? They are looking to Adani to save their businesses.

It is not only the Labor government in Queensland that is very keen to see this happen; Labor mayors of Townsville, Rockhampton and Gladstone are also urging that this native title issue be made certain so that Adani can go ahead and small business will be able to look to a bright future. I hope Mayor Strelow, the Townsville mayor and Mr Burnett in Gladstone—Labor mayors—will be on the phone to Labor Queensland senators saying, 'Please give up a day of your long weekend and sit tomorrow so that we can pass this legislation, so that we can give certainty to the native title owners in that area, who desperately want to see this go ahead.' Why? Because it means jobs for their people. They understand this. That is why they have, by an overwhelming majority, already supported this. It is very important for Indigenous businessmen, and there are a number of very good Indigenous small-business people in North Queensland. They are looking to the Adani project to give their small businesses a boost. But what does the Labor Party do? It takes a day off tomorrow when we could be dealing with the native title legislation and having it passed through this parliament.

Again I plead with Premier Palaszczuk: 'If you are serious'—and I think you are because I know your government desperately needs the revenue from Adani—'please give your Queensland Labor senators'—and there are only four of them so it will not cost you a lot of money in phone calls—'a call and tell them Queensland is desperate for this.' Remember, the Senate is the states house. Labor senators from Queensland should be standing up for their state. This is not a Liberal-National Party person saying this; this is the Labor Premier of the state of Queensland desperately wanting this passed, and yet the Labor Party senators in this chamber want to ensure they have a long weekend by having tomorrow off.

I am pleased that the Labor Party are talking about helping small business, but the example I have just given clearly is like so much the Labor Party do: it is not what they say—talk is cheap; it is what they do. All those small businesses in my home state of Queensland are desperately awaiting this, and what do the Labor Party do? They turn their back on them. I appreciate that Labor has no senators outside the south-east corner of Queensland and their small business minister comes from Canberra, but I urge Queensland Labor senators to get out of the south-east corner and I urge the shadow minister to get out of Canberra and talk to small businesses in those areas and see what they say about Adani and the native title thing. If you were serious in your job, you would do something to make sure that that goes through.

The government on Tuesday night announced a budget that will set the growth in the years ahead in a positive way for Australians. In this budget the government has continued the very substantial concessions to small business in last year's budget. If the Labor Party want to help small business, they will do two things: (1) allow the Adani bill to pass through the parliament tomorrow, by sitting an extra day, and (2) support the budget legislation when it comes forward. As we all know, the Labor Party have not been very good at passing budget measures in the past, but we do ask them to support the extended instant asset write-off that was announced in the budget on Tuesday night. The budget extends the $20,000 instant asset write-off for a further 12 months to 30 June 2018. The turnover threshold will also be lifted to $10 million. This measure will substantially improve the cash flow for small business, helping them reinvest in their businesses, replace or upgrade their assets and employ more people.

The Turnbull government has also committed budgeted money—budgeted money, as opposed to what you will hear from Mr Shorten tonight, who will throw around promises of money without paying for those promises; he will no doubt put it on the big credit card that Labor is very good at operating—to reduce red tape by providing up to $300 million to states and territories to remove unnecessary regulatory barriers. This builds upon the $5.8 billion of red tape reductions delivered by the coalition government.

While I am on this subject, I divert slightly to the low-value GST bill which is currently before the parliament and on which the committee has reported with some comments by the chair. It is a committee on which the government has a majority, but that does not stop us Liberal and National Party senators from criticising or making suggestions to government legislation where we think it appropriate. Senators may have read where the government majority committee unanimously has recommended that the starting date of that bill be delayed by one year to allow agencies and businesses to get ready for it.

The committee also raised an issue in the context of small business and having the shippers actually collect the new tax on goods under $1,000 rather than the vendors, for many reasons which I will not go into here. But I think the government has a different view—although the committee is seeking clarification of this—in that, because the shippers already collect the money for goods over $1,000, why can't they do it under for goods under $1,000? That is a question that the committee has raised, and I look forward to the government explaining that. It seems to me that it would be better to continue in the same vein. I only mention this because I think any senators who go and talk to small businesses outside Canberra will understand that small businesses have been doing it tough in the face of competition from overseas suppliers of goods.

You can understand why buying your goods online overseas is attractive to many Australians, because they do not have to pay the 10 per cent GST. They can get the same goods from the shop downtown, but they would have to pay the 10 per cent GST. Whether you like the GST or not, it is there and it is part of Australian life these days. But, if you buy overseas, your overseas competitor does not have to bother about that 10 per cent. So, for a start, the overseas competitor can sell the goods at 10 per cent less. The low-value GST bill is a way in which the coalition is trying to help small businesses.

I walk around many towns in Central and North Queensland and it is really distressing to see the number of closed shops and to think that many people have put their life savings into these small businesses and they have gone bust. There is a lifeline in Queensland, and that is called Adani. That must go ahead for many reasons but certainly small business in those areas would be delighted to see that happen. I just cannot understand why the Labor Party will not sit tomorrow so that we can debate the Native Title Amendment (Indigenous Land Use Agreements) Bill, which is the last real hurdle holding up Adani going ahead. If we could deal with that tomorrow—the Labor Party say they agree, One Nation agrees and the Liberal Democrats agree—we could get that bill through, Adani could have confidence to go ahead, and small business in central and north Queensland would be delighted. But we cannot get the Labor Party to sit tomorrow—I don't know, they might be used to three-day weekends! But please, why don't we sit tomorrow? You have paid for it, and we could deal with that bill, debate it fully, and hopefully get it passed.

If anyone happens to be listening to this debate and they happen to be from Queensland—and they will understand just how important this is to Queensland, particularly to Queensland's small businesses—then I would ask them to get on the phone and ring the four Queensland Labor senators. There are only four of them; it will not cost you much in telephone costs. But get on the phone to them. It might be a trunk-line call because they are all in Brisbane, and if you do not happen to live in Brisbane there might be a little bit of extra cost, but there are only four of them. Get on the phone to them and say: 'This is important for small business in Queensland, this is important for Indigenous small business in Queensland and this is important for Indigenous workers in Queensland.' It is important for all workers. It will mean 10,000 new jobs in an area which is currently struggling with substantial unemployment following the mining downturn a couple of years ago.

This bill, the Competition and Consumer Legislation Amendment (Small Business Access to Justice) Bill 2017, will not really do anything for small business—

Senator Gallagher: That is not what they told me!

Senator IAN MACDONALD: I am sorry Senator Gallagher; perhaps they do not understand that what you are doing is encouraging more litigation. As a former lawyer, I tell you that if you start on litigation, the only people that will win are the lawyers. Yet this is what the Labor Party is doing; perhaps these days they have a lot of lawyers who are members of their party. That might be why they think it is a good idea.

The government has embarked on another course which we think will help small business. One of the provisions of this bill obliges the Australian Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman to provide legal advice on the prospect of obtaining an order of no costs. That is not good public policy—we should not have government agencies giving legal advice of that nature. If a party took up litigation on the basis of such advice from the ombudsman, and if the courts did not grant this order in their favour, can the party withdraw from the litigation without cost penalty? It is also not clear what liability the ombudsman's office would have for providing legal advice which turned out not to be accepted by the court. So there are a lot of flaws in this bill; unfortunately, time does not allow me to go through all of them.

The government is trying to help small business by giving confidence to the Adani mine, which will really help small business. We are also bringing in tax cuts whereby 3.2 million small businesses will pay less tax as of this current financial year, and more small businesses will be able to access small business tax concessions as a result of the change to the definition of small business, raising the threshold from $2 million to $10 million. Those tax cuts were legislated for in May this year, and that will really help small business. We are reforming the competition policy, as suggested in the Harper review in section 46 on the misuse of market power; we are levelling the playing field for small business, to encourage competition and greater productivity; and we have extended the unfair contract term protections to small business entering standard form contracts—that provision commenced in November last year.

It is no good for Labor to bring forward these bills which they know will not be passed. It is no good for Mr Shorten to get up tonight and promise money he does not have. If they want to help small business, Labor need to support the government's proposals for small business in the back tax—and please, can I ask the Labor Party: if you are serious about small business, sit tomorrow! Curtail your long weekend, and do what you are paid to do: come into this chamber tomorrow and debate this, so that we can get this bill through. It not only benefits Adani, workers and Indigenous people, it also benefits the steel mill in Whyalla—I cannot understand why any South Australian senator would oppose that.

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