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Business Support

Cassy O'Connor MP  -  Tuesday, 14 September 2021

Tags: Small Business, Economy, COVID-19

Ms O'CONNOR (Clark - Leader of the Greens) - Mr Speaker, I welcome the opportunity to speak on this matter of public importance debate and acknowledge Ms Finlay's strong interest in and advocacy and effectiveness in this area of public policy. I do note that this is the fourth matter of public importance debate that Labor has brought on about small business. I say this in the context of the intergovernmental panel on climate change report which was released less than a month ago which has raised barely a murmur from either government or opposition benches.

Of course, we recognise the importance of advocating for small business and for there to be sustained and sustainable support for small business. I encourage Labor to move away from this narrowcasting and talk about some other issues that are also of deep concern to the people of Tasmania. The elephant in the room here is the Morrison Government's absolute abrogation of its responsibility towards businesses small and medium in Australia. As we know, Harvey Norman got $20.5 million in JobKeeper which they are refusing to pay back even though they were totally profitable. There was $13 billion which went to companies that increased sales between April and September 2020.

We had an outstanding scheme in place to support businesses and employees in JobKeeper where people were given something close to a living wage of $1500 a fortnight. It kept businesses open, it kept people in their jobs. What we now know is that it ended too early and it was massively rorted. It is the taxpayers of Australia who are paying for that massive rort and a cash splash on corporations that manifestly did not need the money. Imagine, if you just do the maths, this vast sum of $13 billion between April and September 2020, and a significant proportion of it going to corporations that did not need it. Imagine if the Morrison Government had invested that in supporting small and micro businesses across the country. We would not be hearing these daily stories of pain, of fear, of businesses closing and having to lose skilled staff.

We have had the Morrison Government buck pass responsibility to the states for keeping the business economy alive. That is what has happened here. We have heard of substantial sums of money that the state is contributing in grants towards small businesses to keep them viable.

The Greens argue this should not be the responsibility of a state government and a state budget. The Morrison Government recognised its responsibility upfront in a pandemic and then it back tracked frantically after giving away billions of our dollars to corporations that did not need it. Now they are pretending that we can safely open up and are pushing states towards ending their very sensible epidemiologically sound border restrictions.

We have the federal Attorney-General, Michaelia Cash, making threats to states like Tasmania because we have taken the advice of Public Health and kept some hard borders in place. That is how helpful the Morrison Government is being. They have removed the money and now they are making threats. That is after playing politics in a pandemic by smashing into Dan Andrew, a Labor premier in Victoria who tried so hard to do the right thing, while Gladys Berejiklian who has unleased the Delta variant on this country is let right off the hook. That is what we got out of the Morrison Government. That is why in this federal system it has been the states that have had to pick up the pieces, whether it be in providing emergency support to tenants or to small businesses, by making sure we have the Public Health measures in place that we need to have because the Morrison Government has abrogated its responsibility.

We are interested to know how the latest small business support that has been announced by the Premier this morning will be communicated to businesses and how we can make sure that it is distributed equitably to businesses that need it. Also, and I know this is usual and novel for this Government, but it would be great to have some transparency around the way that money is disbursed. As we know, last year, $26 million was forked out to businesses and no detail was provided on those businesses, despite the fact they knew it would be a public process.

In closing, Mr Speaker, I express on behalf of everyone who cares about democracy the Greens' great frustration at what happened in question time this morning when we had two pointed questions from Labor on small business support. The Premier got up and twice used it as an opportunity to hop into Labor - entirely predictable. Then he got his first Dorothy Dixer from his own side and gave the information that could have and should have been provided in the answer to the first question from Labor.

In the 14 questions in the question time today, we had four Dorothy Dix questions that took up more than 20 minutes because of the length of some of the answers. We had utter contempt for the way question time is supposed to be run in this place when there was an opportunity on the first question for that information to have been provided to the House in a relatively apolitical, reasonable and respectful way, but we did not get that. We got rubbish hopping into Labor and then another Dorothy Dix question and a very long answer that was self congratulatory and could have been dealt with in the first two questions.

I will close by acknowledging that the state Government has stepped in where the federal government has walked away. We do not know whether that is sufficient support for small businesses. What we know is that there needs to be excellent communication and there needs to be equitable access to that support. We cannot have that level of public funding being disbursed willy nilly to businesses that are favourites, for example, of the Liberal government.