PARLIAMENT HOUSE, Canberra: As I go around my electorate, the overwhelming response I hear is that small businesses are doing it particularly tough at the moment. Across the retail precincts, we are now seeing some shops vacant when we have not seen vacancies for years. Individual shop owners tell me that customers are few and their sales are down. Indeed this is borne out in official data which shows retail sales falling to two-year lows. Manufacturing is also hurting and we witness a further net decline in jobs. There are over 1,000 manufacturers in my electorate and they tell me that they are hit particularly hard by the high Aussie dollar and the carbon tax. Small businesses related to the construction industry are also finding it tough, as housing approvals dropped 17 per cent in July. I could go on across nearly all other sectors of the economy.
The government is fond of quoting our national growth figures, but the growth is nearly entirely driven by the mining states—Western Australia, Queensland and the Northern Territory—while the rest struggle. As policymakers we need to make it easier for small businesses, but at the moment the government is doing the exact opposite. The carbon tax, for example, is adding 10 per cent to 20 per cent to wholesale electricity charges and making other inputs more expensive. The Fair Work Act is discouraging businesses from employing, particularly on the weekends. Changes to superannuation are adding costs to doing business. The elimination of the entrepreneurs tax offset is increasing the tax burden by 25 per cent for very small businesses. And there are new layers of green or red tape almost daily.
Australia has now dropped from 40th in the world to 80th in the world in productivity over the last five years, according to the latest rankings by the Global Economic Forum. In rankings on the burden of regulation, we have dropped 28 positions. Tim Reed, the CEO of MYOB, which is headquartered on the edge of my electorate and who sells to thousands of small businesses, says that the government has created an atmosphere of ‘fear and uncertainty’ among the nation’s small business owners.
This government, because of its overwhelming domination by former union officials, thinks money just grows on trees, when we know that the money is made by business owners who frequently put their houses on the line in order to build up their enterprises. These business owners ought to be rewarded, not seen as a money pot for the government and penalised for being successful.
We need a fundamental change in policy with regard to small business. We need to eliminate the carbon tax, bring greater flexibility to workplace relations, cut red tape and put small business success as a central economic objective again. Unfortunately, however, a change in approach is not going to occur immediately and will only occur with a change in government.