Good afternoon, everyone — it’s great to be here on what is a big day for the National Electrical and Communications Association.
Your National Excellence Awards will be a celebration — and not just about what’s happened over the last year.
They’ll also be about the last one-hundred years, when the fledgling Electrical Traders and Contractors Association began what has been a remarkable run.
A lot’s changed in that time, of course. You’ve grown; you’ve evolved. And you had to, given the rapid developments in your industry.
But one thing that hasn’t changed is your commitment to four core values: respect, excellence, integrity and loyalty.
And that, too, is something worth celebrating.
Those are the values that guide you when speaking to — and representing — contractors across this industry.
It’s an example worth following. And it’s exactly those values that I have top of mind as Small Business Minister.
That’s because small business deserves nothing but the very best — and that’s something I’m sure all of you here can appreciate.
Small business: the engine room
I mean, let’s be honest, it’s hard work being a small business owner.
I know - I’ve done it myself.
And over the last couple of months I’ve been travelling around Australia, listening to many Australians who are doing the hard yards.
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.
All of them are good, hard-working people. They’re proud of what they do. They know the huge rewards running a small business can bring — to them, and to their families and communities.
But it also brings struggles and pressure. It involves sacrifice. And they told me about all of that.
I’m very conscious of this — as are my colleagues. That’s why the Federal Government is so focused on small business.
We think anyone who’s willing to stick their neck out deserves a fair go. And that benefits everyone.
After all, when small business is strong, so is our country.
Small business is the engine room of our economy. There are more than 2 million of them, and they’re the source of four in every 10 jobs.
So we want to dial-down the struggles and the pressure. And we want more people to share in the rewards small business offers.
In fact, we want Australia to be the very best place — bar none — to start and grow a small business.
And we’ve got a big agenda to do it.
That’s what I want to talk about now. We have achieved much during our time in Government and many of these are in areas I know are of particular interest to most of you.
I’ll begin with unfair contracts.
Now, I know that when the NECA released its 2016 policy statement, at the top of the list was unfair contract terms.
Well, it was also one of the top items on my list when I was appointed Small Business Minister in July. And just last week, we extended unfair contract terms to small businesses — something that previously was only available to consumers.
It’s all about giving small businesses a ‘fair go’. They’ll now have a level playing field, with extra protection when dealing with ‘take it or leave it’ contracts.
To get into the detail, small businesses will be able to have an unfair term in a standard form contract declared void if — at the time of agreement — it has fewer than 20 employees and the contract doesn’t exceed $300,000, or $1 million for contracts longer than 12 months.
It’s an important change — a much-needed change. It will assist many of you when you’re negotiating with head contractors, and give business owners more time to invest in their success.
Australian Building and Construction Commission
That brings me to my next point: the Australian Building and Construction Commission, or ABCC.
Many of you know — better than most Australians, in fact — that unlawful conduct on building sites is beyond the pale.
It’s costing jobs, it’s costing money, and it’s got to stop.
It’s why the Government went to the election with a pledge to reintroduce the ABCC, with our bills introduced to Parliament a little over a week ago.
If they’re passed — as they should be — it’ll mean taxpayers, consumers, workers and businesses will benefit.
There will be other benefits, too.
The bills will also allow the relevant minister to issue a building code; provide for the appointment of a Federal Safety Commission; and prohibit coercion, discrimination and unlawful industrial action.
So stayed tuned as the Government continues to work with the Senate crossbenchers to push the bills through — and make sure that building and construction work happens in a way that’s worthy of Australians.
Registered Organisations Bill
It’s a similar story on the fair work front.
In August, the Government introduced a Registered Organisations Bill. This, it’s hard to believe, was the fifth time we’ve done this.
To give you the quick take, the bill is all about restoring honesty and fairness to the workplace relations system.
And we have to do this given what was highlighted by the recent Royal Commission.
Wrongdoing persists — and it’s everyday Australians who are losing out.
The Government believes anyone who joins a union, or an employer association, deserves to have confidence in their conduct and administration.
In fact, they should display the values — respect, excellence, integrity and loyalty — that have defined this association’s approach for 100 years.
If NECA can do it, so should everyone, and the Government will continue to push for this reform.
Small business tax cuts
Now, all of this is hot on the heels of another outstanding Budget for small business.
On the back of the 2015 Budget — which had small business owners everywhere cheering — the 2016 Budget was an encore performance.
The Government announced that we will once again reduce the tax rate for small business — this time from 28.5 to 27.5 per cent.
At the same time, we’ll expand the threshold for businesses able to access this rate from an annual turnover of $2 million to $10 million.
These are changes that benefit about 870,000 businesses — ones that employ more than 3.4 million people.
When enacted, these businesses will also be able to access a range of tax concessions and simplified processes to those with an annual turnover of less than $10 million.
This means 90,000 more businesses will be able to access immediate deductibility for each asset costing less than $20,000.
That means if you’re a farmer in need of a new mower, you’ll benefit.
If you’re a café owner in need of new tables and chairs, you’ll benefit.
If you’re an electrician in need of a cordless power tool, you’ll benefit.
Now that’s what I’m talking about when I say this Government is helping to make Australia the best place to start and grow a small business.
Of course, that’s not all we’re doing for small business. As I’ve said, we have a big agenda — and it’s too big to tick off every item today.
But before I wrap up, I want to give a nod to a few highlights.
We’re simplifying reporting for businesses with a Single Touch Payroll system. This will make it easier for employers to report Pay-As-You-Go withholding obligations and super contributions to the ATO at the time payments are made.
This is progressing well. Large employers — or those with more than 20 employees — will adopt this system from 1 July 2018, while next year the ATO will run a pilot for smaller employers.
It’s another ‘look and see’ area that, ultimately, will help reduce compliance costs for these businesses.
The same can be said for the Government’s broader crusade to cut the red tape that’s bogging down small business.
Three years ago, we committed to reducing the costs of complying with red tape by $1 billion every year. And so far we’re well ahead of target, removing more than $4.8 billion worth.
And I can’t stress enough how important that is.
The first two words I consistently hear coming out of the mouths of small business owners is ‘red tape’. It’s one of their bugbears — and that means it’s one of mine, too.
Small businesses simply don’t have the time or specialised staff for that kind of time-consuming paperwork. We should be making life easier, not harder, for them. And it’s why I’ll continue to push for our targets.
Finally, I want to flag wage subsidies.
These are in place to encourage businesses to employ certain job seekers — from young people, to parents, to the long-term unemployed.
In short, they’re important — and we want the system working top notch.
So with that in mind, the Government has streamlined existing wage subsidies so they’re easier for employers to access. In fact, they’ll be available from day one of a job seeker’s employment.
Not only that, employers will be able to choose when instalments are paid — fortnightly or monthly, for instance — and over what time period. Furthermore, subsidies will be provided over six months rather than 12.
And I should also mention that from January, employers can claim a Youth Bonus wage subsidy — of $10,000 — if they hire a young job seeker who has been in employment services for six months or more.
I want to thank you all for welcoming me here today, and for giving me the opportunity to take you through what the Government is doing for small business — much of which will directly help those of you here.
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.
And just as with NECA, we will continue to treat them with respect, excellence, integrity and loyalty.
So thank you again, and enjoy your celebration tonight. With 100 years under your belt — and a proud track record — you deserve it.