Good morning, everyone — it's fantastic to be here to speak to you for the first time as Small Business Minister.
I've been in the job for several months now. And from the get-go I said I wanted to be a champion for small business owners everywhere.
To that end, I want to share the success stories. I want to feel the struggles. And I want to draw my knowledge — and my energy — directly from some of the hardest working people in this country.
As the first Minister for Small Business Minister who comes from regional Australia and is a member of The Nationals, I know how important it is to get out and about and listen to people.
In our biggest cities and smallest towns are stories of extraordinary possibility. There is an amazing spirit of sacrifice and risk-taking. There are many dedicated hours of hard work, of paperwork, of over work, all in pursuit of a dream.
It's these stories I want to harness and encourage; that I want to hear; that I want to champion. And we all know you don't hear these stories at Parliament House!
In my time as your Minister, I have travelled to every state and territory and learnt so much about small business in our country. Every day I get a new idea and every day I am inspired. And it is that which drives me most as Australia's Small Business Minister.
Everyone's story is different but everyone's dreams are similar. We all want a strong small business sector with vibrant local communities full of jobs and opportunities for ourselves, our children and our grandchildren.
Together with James Pearson, the CEO of the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, I've met small business owners of every stripe.
There was Yvonne and Jill from Bennetts department store in Geraldton, where every customer is treated like a VIP.
There were the people at FCT Flames in Adelaide, where a team of 28 are exporting flame and special effects technology across the globe.
And there was Don Pitt from Launceston, whose family has been in the menswear business for more than 50 years.
They are all good, decent people — as are all the small business owners I meet — with great stories to tell, and even greater feedback.
Whether it was lowering taxes, or lifting trade barriers, or scrapping red tape, they spoke with the passion and conviction that is second nature to those who have taken a risk to chase their dream.
Australian Small Business Advisory Services (ASBAS)
So it has been a busy few months.
There's nothing quite like hitting the pavement and hearing directly from small business owners.
Numbers can, of course, tell you one story.
How many small businesses …
The number of employees …
The net value of those businesses to our economy …
But numbers don't show the blood, the sweat and the tears that go into making small businesses the backbone of our economy. Nor, quite frankly, the huge rewards it can deliver.
That's something the Australian Small Business Advisory Service, and its 38 outstanding providers, know well.
You're in the business of listening. Each day, you sit down with Australians and listen to their ideas and goals.
You pinpoint the challenges, dissect the limitations, and come up with a game plan to help business owners — or those aspiring to be one — to take the next step, to start a new story.
You do it, and you do it well. And I want to thank you for that.
In particular, your passion and commitment has meant the Government's Business Solutions funding round — which began in 2014 — has taken the ASBAS program to new heights.
It is now more collaborative and more dynamic than ever before, delivering more than 43,000 services since March 2015. And it has laser-like focus on the issues that matter most for small business owners:
- funding avenues and financial analysis;
- building your business;
- making the most of your talent and team;
- management capabilities; and
- digital engagement implementation.
That is just as it should be. And you can be sure it's netting results, too.
Sprout Artisan Bakery
Take, for instance, Sprout Bakery in south Brisbane.
It's quite a story.
Lutz Richter grew up in Germany. It was there that he learnt the secrets to making delicious sourdough bread. And he got pretty good at it.
So good, in fact, that he took his trade to Ireland, where his bread was served at the famous Clarence hotel — which was then owned by U2's Bono and The Edge.
In time, Lutz made his way to Australia and found himself in Queensland.
Lutz found it difficult to get a foot in the door and in 2014 was relying on Newstart.
Eventually, however, Lutz and wife Rebecca were introduced to the team at the Greater Brisbane Small Business Advisory Service. And everything began to change.
With the service's advice, Lutz and Rebecca decided not open a shopfront — something with high overheads — and instead focused on the farmer and producer-market scene.
Two years later, and they're sending about 1,000 baked items to the Brisbane Farmers Market every Saturday — as well as supplying bread to cafes and restaurants all over Brisbane.
Their success is also being tracked on social media — another part of their business that ASBAS helped them develop.
And with that success baked-in — and their passions ignited — Lutz and Rebecca are now ready to commit to a shopfront, and write the next chapter of their small business story.
Northern Australia Tourism Initiative
Now, I love hearing those kinds of stories — and telling them. They reaffirm my belief in small business, and why I'm in this gig.
They're also the type of stories the Government looked to when, earlier this year, we announced funding for an ASBAS Northern Australia Tourism Initiative.
As part of our broader response to the Northern Australia white paper, we set aside more than $4 million so that new and existing ASBAS providers can help out tourism-related businesses in that region.
It was an important move. There are about 100,000 small businesses in northern Australia — and many of them are working in the tourism space.
The Government wants to see them grow, to realise the potential of this amazing area — everywhere from Karratha in WA to Cape York in Queensland. And this initiative, with its access to low-cost business advice, will help them on their way.
With all of that said, the ASBAS program is just one part of the Government's strategy to make Australia the the best place to start and grow a small business.
We have a big agenda to help get us there, and I want to take this opportunity to run you through some of what we're doing.
And I'll begin with our tax plan for small business.
In the Budget — for the second year in a row — we proposed to cut the tax rate for small business, this time from 28.5 to 27.5 per cent.
And we went further still by proposing to extend eligibility to businesses with an annual turnover of up to $10 million.
These are changes which will benefit about 870,000 businesses — ones that employ more than 3.4 million people.
These businesses will also be able to access a range of other tax incentives, such as simplified trading stock rules and the Pay-As-You-Go instalment payment system.
And we're extending the unincorporated small business tax discount to those earning less than $5 million a year, and upping the discount to 8 per cent.
Lastly, we're simplifying the reporting requirements for Business Activity Statements, meaning small business owners can focus less of form-filling and more on what they do best.
So that's a quick snapshot of what we're doing on the tax front — in effect, putting more money in the pockets of small business owners.
We want to reward them for their hard work. And we want to help them grow by getting their ideas off the ground.
That is why, in addition to our tax plan, the Government has launched a billion-dollar National Innovation and Science Agenda — a package of measures that will promote entrepreneurship.
It means it'll be easier than ever before for Australians to try something different. We're clearing the roadblocks so they can take a risk and help grow our economy in the process.
Let me break some of that down.
Our budding businesses will find it easier to raise equity finance thanks to a 20 per cent non-refundable tax offset for investors. There'll also be a 10-year exemption on capital gains tax if investments are held for at least 12 months.
That's also why we're introducing Australia's first dedicated framework to make it easier to access crowd-sourced equity funding.
This new way of fundraising means entrepreneurs can raise funds online from lots of people in return for equity in the company — a 'say and a stake', in other words.
There are other things, of course. There's new arrangements for venture capital limited partnerships; increased access to company losses; and new rules for intangible asset depreciation.
It's a broad-ranging package. And these changes will help Australians looking to have a go, as well as small business people who are already out there pursuing their dream.
Another area the Government is working to help business is competition.
It's the key to a strong economy — boosting growth, creating jobs and rewarding those who always push to do more and to be better.
We want more, not less competition. But to work, it has to be fair competition — there has to be a level playing field.
That's something I'm very passionate about as Small Business Minister.
So, too, are my colleagues. It's why in our last term of government we launched a root-and-branch review of competition policy.
Now the result, as some of you may know, was the Harper Review. Fifty-six recommendations, all of them aimed squarely at revitalising and reshaping competition in this country.
The Government committed to most of them, and earlier this month we released exposure draft legislation for public consultation.
And for me, there's none bigger than the reform to replace the misuse of market power provision — or Section 46 — of the Competition and Consumer Act.
I've long thought this needed changing. And the Review agreed, finding that Section 46 in its original form breeds anti-competitive conduct.
It creates a roadblock for new and innovative firms, delays the entry of new technologies into Australia, and hampers growth.
But with our changes, this will change. We'll prevent those with substantial market power from anti-competitive conduct.
It'll mean businesses, large and small, will be on an even footing. They'll compete on their merits.
And they will be assisted in this with other changes.
For instance, we'll broaden the definition of 'competition' to include potential imports of goods and services — reflecting the full range of competitive pressures facing Australian businesses.
And we'll introduce more flexibility into the notification process for collective bargaining by small businesses.
So let me wrap this up by thanking you for welcoming me here today.
This Government believes in small business. We believe in the men and women who take a risk, give their all, and contribute so much to our economy.
They deserve our praise, our respect and — most importantly — our support.
That is what the ASBAS program is all about — and why the Government continues to barrack for the fantastic service you provide.
I've no doubt that you will continue to give your all. And in return, I'll be a loud and unrelenting champion for small business, with a big agenda to match.
By working together, I believe we can create more good news stories. And, soon enough, we'll be saying with confidence that Australia is the best place to start and grow a small business.