Senator RENNICK (Queensland) (17 March 2021, 17:17): Well, well, well! The fox is in the henhouse. Here we go. We’ve got Labor suddenly worried about small business. Get real! This is the fox that wants to destroy small business. This is the party that wants higher taxes. This is the party that wants higher energy prices. Just before, I put forward a motion to support nuclear energy, which would give us clean, green, baseload energy. No. What do they do? They want to vote against it, against another way to lower energy costs. If the Labor Party were really serious about small business, they’d vote with us on these IR reforms, which would help improve flexibility and give employees and employers the opportunity to get back to work—but, no, not the Labor Party.
Let’s look at the Labor state premiers. What have they done? They have destroyed confidence and they have replaced it with fear. They have used COVID as a method of command and control. That is Labor’s modus operandi all the time—to instil fear into everyone. I happen to know someone from the music industry. I’ve been talking to them very closely. They need open borders, they need consistent restrictions and they need some of those restrictions lifted. When you’ve got restrictions that vary between states, people aren’t going to travel, because they don’t know if they’re going to get back home. The Labor Party keep going on about how businesses are going to hit the wall, how we don’t really care. It’s an insult. They’re trying to attack the coalition, but I’ll tell you who they’re really attacking. They’re attacking the taxpayer. In the last 12 months, the taxpayer has forked out a total of $250 billion to support small business and their employees. At some point—this is what Labor don’t seem to understand—we have to start moving forward. JobKeeper and JobSeeker were all about protecting people while we locked down to get on top of COVID. That was in order to stay locked down. Now that we’re on top of COVID we have to open up and we have to increase activity.
Senator O’Neill stood there and said we don’t listen. We have been listening. The overall feedback we’ve been getting from employers is that they can’t get employees back to work. Part of the reason for that is a lot of employees have stayed home because of JobSeeker or JobKeeper. In regional Queensland they are screaming out for employees. While we continue to keep JobSeeker and JobKeeper going, it’s going to encourage people to stay at home. Now we need to get people back to work. We accept that there’s going to be an adjustment here somewhere, but we stand committed to supporting both employees and employers in Australia.
Labor are all about fear and negativity. I’ll tell you what business rely on most—confidence. It is all about confidence. The Labor Party over there are constantly talking down the economy, constantly talking down the government, constantly talking down our recovery, constantly talking about how bad everything is and making personal smears and the rest of it. That destroys confidence. That is the difference between this side of the chamber and that side of the chamber. We on this side of the chamber are optimists. We’re positive. We’re glass half-full people. We’re not all negative and dreary—’The sky is falling in.’ No. We say: ‘Get out from under the doona. Get out there and enjoy the sunshine. Let’s get on with it.’
I have talking points here. I didn’t bother printing them all off, because there are 16 pages of talking points about just how much we have supported small business in the last 12 months and, to be quite frank, since the start of this country. Our whole party was founded on the ‘Forgotten people’ speech. It was all about small business. We on this side of the chamber understand that small business is the heart of capitalism. Small business is the heart of individualism. Small business is the heart of autonomy, independence, freedom, making up your own mind and choosing what you want to do with your life. Small business is the backbone of this economy. We have stood here shoulder to shoulder with small businesses to make sure that they survive.
The fox comes in here, into the henhouse, and pretends that it’s a chicken too—’Bwok, bwok, bwok’. No, I don’t think so. We can see the fox here, and it is on that side of the chamber. The Labor Party hate small business. They have always imposed more regulation. They have sold the infrastructure that small business relies on to provide them with cheap energy and cheap water. You only have to look at what the state Labor government have done. They’ve sold all of our infrastructure to foreign owners. They do not build dams. Not only do they not build dams but they tear dams down. They have shut down small maternity wards in regional Queensland.
People don’t want to go to regional Queensland. You won’t get doctors going to regional Queensland. I was at the rural doctors lunch yesterday and the rural doctors were saying how families just won’t move to regional towns because they don’t want to go to a town where there are no good health services. You only have to look at Queensland Labor’s record in shutting down over 30 maternity wards—many in towns that now have populations that are bigger—to know that Labor do not care about the little guy. I’ll make an exception for Senators Sheldon and Sterle. I know those two guys care about the little guy, but the left wing of the party are all about telling small businesses how to live their lives and what they should be doing, increasing regulation and increasing taxes. That is not the way forward. I’m going to read out all the support that the coalition government has provided to small business. For a start—
An honourable senator interjecting—
Senator RENNICK: We don’t have enough time. I’d have to move a motion to get the rest of the MPI time to go through it all. I’ll go through a couple of pages. There are 16 pages here. There has been billions and billions and billions and billions and billions and billions of dollars of support courtesy of the taxpayer, who just happens to be small business, and courtesy of course of our children, who are going to have to pay some of this COVID debt off. We need to get business moving forward again so that we start paying the debt off and don’t leave it to our children. It’s the coalition government that has cut the tax rate for small and medium business from 27.5 per cent to 26 per cent. We’ve got a long way to go, because with holding rates we’ve got to lift. I’m working on that one; don’t worry.
What else have we done? We’ve also accelerated personal income tax. That matters. I’ll tell you why. The lower the income tax is for individuals when you give a pay rise, the more money they get to keep in their pocket. That is a future benefit that flows through to the economy. We’ve also expanded small business tax concessions. Small business now can get an immediate write-off of 150 grand. I know farmers especially like that one because they can go buy a new tractor, new plough or whatever. So that’s a really good one. As well as that, we’ve simplified our credit framework and improved access to finance. We’ve been supporting small business research and development, increasing the refundable research and development tax offset to 18½ per cent and removing the annual cash refund cap for small claimants.
The other thing we’ve done is reform Australia’s insolvency framework. We’ve enabled small business to get paid faster by introducing a payment times reporting framework and the procurement connected policy. That is really important because it is incredibly important that small business gets paid as quickly as possible to keep the cash rolling in. We’ve supported small business with tax disputes. We pushed back on the ATO. Like all bureaucrats, they tend to get a bit carried away and a bit Orwellian and dystopian in the way they like to bully small business. We’ve said: ‘Enough’s enough, boys. Just remember who’s paying your wages.’
We’ve reduced the regulation and compliance costs. We’ve increased digital capability. We’ve invested in the mental health of business owners. We’ve worked to get our workplace relations settings right, which comes from these industrial relation laws, which are actually going to give more flexibility to both the employer and the employee. We’ve encouraged Australians to go local first. We’ve got to keep working on that. We need to do more work there, but we will go and do that. For this recovery scheme, we’ve increased the split from 50— (Time expired)