Tuesday, 20 September 2016

Speech in Parliament: Tax Laws and Amendment (Small Business Measures No. 1) Bill 2015, Tax Laws Amendment (Small Business Measures No. 2) Bill 2015 - 3 June 2015

Mr TONY SMITH (Casey) (17:27): It is a pleasure to speak on the Tax Laws Amendment (Small Business Measures No. 1) Bill 2015 that is of so much benefit to small business. I will deal with some of the measures within this package of bills that is coming alongside these shortly. But I cannot resist starting where the member for Chifley left off. The member for Chifley gave the parliament a lecture on the importance of start-ups, and we wholeheartedly agree start-ups are important. I know the member for Chifley pretty well. The member for Chifley follows these issues closely. But the member for Chifley, unfortunately, airbrushed away some of Labor's history. He lectured this side of the parliament on start-ups when it was his side of the parliament that did all they could to stop the start-up sector with respect to employee share ownership. I say to the member for Chifley you were—

Mr Husic: We did the wrong thing.

Mr TONY SMITH: That is an interjection I am happy to take. Let's put it on the record. He said: 'We'—being Labor—'did the wrong thing,' and that is a good acknowledgement. I think you are the first member on your side to acknowledge that. We had the legislation on employee share ownership just a week or so ago, and I will check the Hansard whether you acknowledged it then, but speaker after speaker airbrushed away the catastrophic damage your tax changes in 2009 did to the start-up sector and employee share ownership more generally. I welcome the fact that you acknowledge you did the wrong thing. You were not there at the time, but you were there for a few years in government where at no point did I hear one single Labor member say, 'We did the wrong thing and we've got to fix it,' and fix it when you had the chance, and you have the chance. Maybe you were arguing this in the party room—maybe you were—but, of course, the start-up employee share ownership killer was your shadow Treasurer. He became Treasurer. If he thought he had done the wrong thing, you would have thought that the first thing he would do was do something about it, but he did not. I think the member for Chifley is passionate about this area, as am I, but at least acknowledge that failure. Acknowledge the six lost years—and that is what they have been: six lost years.

Now we are rectifying and rebuilding what Labor wrecked. I am the first say I want to go further—of course—but when it comes to these small-business measures, Labor airbrush away the history of their failure on employee share ownership and start-ups. They were not listening to or quoting the start-up sector then. You would not find too many quotes of the start-up sector from Labor members during their six years in government.

Mr Husic: Or from you.

Mr TONY SMITH: That is absolutely not true. You will find lots of quotes from me.

Mr Husic: No, sorry, your side.

Mr TONY SMITH: You will see me, because you will go back to your office. I know you will; you are a diligent—

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Mr Whiteley ): Order! We are not having a conversation. We will have comments through the chair.

Mr TONY SMITH: It is friendly banter, Mr Deputy Speaker, but we will follow the procedure. You are a diligent member. You will go back and read the Hansard, and you will see me pleading with your shadow Treasurer in the days after that catastrophic budget to stop, to pause and to rethink. You will see your side defiantly moving on and causing the damage it caused.

When it comes to this bill and the bills that will follow it, those opposite say they support them—and that is great—but they distort their own record. It does them no justice to say that the instant asset write-off is something they did when the amount they were talking about was $6½ thousand compared to $20,000, trying to pretend it is the same. As everyone in small business knows, it is a monumental difference. The head of the Council of Small Business Organisations of Australia said it best on budget night. In an interview with Macquarie radio, he said: 'The $20,000 is big. That was unexpected and unseen. No-one saw that coming, but it's everything else that goes with it and it's the message out to small-business people we are thinking of here, and that's what the government's done, in a way I've never seen before. And all those things you bring up, Ross, you're right to bring them up. They're very important in the real world of running an individual business.'

The tax cut for all small businesses under that $2 million threshold is comprehensive; it is real. The instant asset write-off for items up to $20,000 is a huge benefit. Those opposite say that they had an instant asset write-off and refuse to acknowledge its smaller size and its smaller benefit. But there is another thing they refuse to acknowledge. They paid for that by jacking up income tax on small businesses, because they abolished the entrepreneurs tax offset. They abolished it, as the very dedicated and passionate Minister for Small Business pointed out in this House, back in 2011. They abolished the entrepreneurs tax offset, which was a modest 25 per cent rebate, for the 400,000 smallest businesses. So what Labor actually did was put up income tax for 400,000 small businesses—the smallest; the micro-businesses. They were those start-ups—people starting out back then.

Then, of course, we had the Leader of the Opposition's budget reply, where he said our 1½ per cent cut to company tax was not enough. He said that Labor would go to five. Of course, in doing so he did not have the comprehensive policy to benefit, in a tax sense, all small businesses under that $2 million threshold. Apart from having no real costing around it or how he would deliver it, what we do know is that he left out the majority of small businesses—because about two-thirds of small businesses are not incorporated. That clearly shows how we had a comprehensive package, with a 1½ per cent cut for those that are incorporated and, for the small businesses that are not, which is the majority, a tax discount of five per cent up to $1,000, which roughly equates to that same 1.5 per cent. But the Leader of the Opposition left those small businesses out. You could say he left them out because he does not know they exist. That would be a harsh criticism—and do you know what, Mr Deputy Speaker? I am not going to make that criticism. I am going to make a harsher one. He left them out so he could make his speech sound better by saying he would have a five per cent cut in the corporate rate and make all small businesses think they would benefit from something he is never going to deliver and something that is not comprehensive.

These measures are the most significant small-business measures in any budget in living memory. They are critical measures to help start small businesses, to support existing small businesses to grow and create more jobs, and to strengthen our economy at a critical time of economic transition. There are measures there for those just starting a small business to be able to instantly write off their costs of setting up. There is the tax cut for small business that this bill deals with. There is the instant asset write-off. And, as the small business minister outlined last week at the National Press Club, there are other measures for the farming community as well.

Some of us have electorates that are partly suburban and partly rural. I represent the Yarra Ranges and the Yarra Valley, and, on the ground, the small business owners see this as a breath of fresh air. I was at the Wandin football club on the weekend. Knowing you, Mr Deputy Speaker Randall, you would have been at a local football club somewhere in your electorate, over the other side of the country. Wandin were playing Monbulk in the seniors. This is a country league football-netball club. I wandered up to watch some of the netball, and a small business owner asked me about these incentives and where he could get more information, and said, 'That is absolutely fantastic!' Those measures are going to help enormously and they are going to be a real benefit to his business and to his staff, and of course they will have flow-on effects to the other small businesses in and around the electorate.

Those opposite would do themselves a favour if they acknowledged these good measures without distorting their own record and without failing to acknowledge the areas in small business policy in particular where they took the wrong decision. We have said many times in this chamber that we are the party of small business. And the member for Chifley spent some time on this. Those opposite will criticise what we say. But I say to those opposite: you need a long memory in this business. And I am saying to them: the Labor Party is not the party of small business. The reason I can say that in a compelling way—because it is not just my opinion—is: Labor has long thought this. And I will finish on a quote from your former leader, Kim Beazley, who said, back in 2000, when he was leading the Labor Party: 'We have never pretended to be a small business party, the Labor Party; we have never pretended that.' He was right then. He was telling the truth. So you can take his word for it, because you will never take ours.

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