Good evening, everyone. It's fantastic to make my National Small Business Summit debut.
What a resounding success this event is — a credit to the Council of Small Business of Australia (COSBOA) board, CEO Peter Strong and all involved.
And I'm delighted that COSBOA has picked 'collaboration and community' as the Summit theme. They're words that resonate strongly with me and with so many small businesspeople across our country.
When I took on this role more than a year ago, the Prime Minister asked me to speak with as many small businesses as possible.
It's important that Members of Parliament and Ministers meet and listen to as many people as we can. It's your feedback, your ideas, which drive the policy development we need. And it's also a constant source of inspiration for me, to hear how you want to grow and create jobs.
And that's exactly what I've heard.
In shops, offices, over farm gates and kitchen tables, I have met thousands of Australians who run or work in small businesses. This year alone, I've had the fortune of visiting more than 60 towns across Australia as part of my small business roadshow.
I can tell you that every town is unique; every community has its own ideas and aspirations.
And in each and every one of them is a vibrant small business sector creating the jobs and providing the services Australians need.
Whether it's the some of our biggest cities, corner stores and home businesses in the suburbs or in one of the many vibrant country communities I have visited, I have seen firsthand how small businesses are the engine room of our economy — the risk-takers our nation needs to survive and grow.
That's why I'm genuinely energised by what this Government has achieved for small businesses in the past year. And it's why I am determined to keep working as hard as I can on your behalf.
It's my job to work with you to make the job of running a small business easier, not harder. And I am always interested in what you have to say.
A Government which gets small business
In terms of Government action, it has been a massive year — or, should I say, another massive year — for Australia's 3.2 million small businesses.
We've cut your tax to its lowest level since the Second World War.
We've redefined 'small business' so more of you pay less tax.
We've extended the $20,000 instant asset write-off programme to help you buy the equipment you need.
We've simplified Business Activity Statements, from 1 July.
We've led the way in on-time payments to small businesses.
We've taken action to better prevent the misuse of market power – the "effects test".
We've bedded down protections against the unfair contract terms.
We've moved to establish a one-stop shop for all financial disputes.
We've made it easier for start-ups and small businesses to use crowd-sourced equity funding.
And we've continued our crusade against energy-sapping red tape. In fact, we put $300 million on the table to work with State and Territory Governments to cut even more red tape.
The topic today is community and collaboration. What better way to collaborate, as Governments, than to work together to make your job easier and easing the red tape burden?
To date the Federal Government has cut $5.8 billion on an ongoing, annual basis in red tape but so often I hear there is more to do. So I want to work with State and Territory colleagues and keep kicking these goals for small business.
Each of these measures — these practical measures — come from a Government which has been just where you are today – having a go and creating jobs. It comes from a Government which gets small business.
We get that by reducing your tax burden we're helping you invest in your dreams and grow your business.
That's why our biggest achievement – as I mentioned just before –has been cutting the company tax rate for small and medium-sized businesses.
Right now, incorporated businesses with an annual turnover of less than $25 million benefit from a corporate tax rate of 27.5 per cent — the lowest level in 50 years.
And we are raising the turnover threshold to qualify for the lower tax rate to $50 million in 2018–19.
Unincorporated businesses with annual turnover of less than $5 million benefit from an increase in the rate of the unincorporated tax discount to 8 per cent.
Before I ran for Parliament I ran my own small business – a publishing firm – in Wagga Wagga in country NSW. Starting with the spark of an idea and the determination to pay our bills, we got to work.
I have been there filling in the paperwork.
I have been there making sure we comply with regulations.
And I have paid tax as a small business owner.
So I know how anything extra goes back into the business.
I know how it helps fund new ideas, new ventures.
And I know how it helps create more jobs.
But it's not just my experience which drives this determination. I have heard it from small businesspeople too.
Wendy Silk from Donges IGA in Young tells me how cuts in the company tax rate for her family-owned supermarket will help the store employ extra casuals.
For each of those casuals – often local high school students – is a start and an opportunity.
It's more disposable income circulating through the town.
And it's a more efficient business for people such as Wendy.
So that's why small business is so central in our plan. You are the people who help grow our economy and better our community.
And it doesn't stop there.
The $20,000 instant asset write-off is another success story.
Based on the feedback from COSBOA and others, we've not only extended the program for another year but we lifted the threshold so more businesses can access it.
During my travels, many business owners have stopped me to say how much they appreciate the asset write-off.
It has helped them replace or upgrade machinery or equipment — something they might not otherwise have the cash flow to do.
Take Kate Marland from Bundaberg in Queensland as an example.
Kate took over the family jewellery store, and did so with the ambition to expand into new markets.
Warner's Fine jewellery is a rarity — a real gem, you could say!— because they make a lot of pieces themselves.
They used the asset write-off to purchase printers and computers to better track their stock.
And that's just the start.
Kate also wants to purchase a new drill so her father can more easily make the custom products they so proudly sell.
There's no question that the write-off has helped many businesses like Kate's grow and increase productivity.
Importantly, there is a multiplier effect — money spent provides a shot in the arm for local communities.
That multiplier effect is what I relied on when I ran my own small business.
It's local people knowing local people and recommending them to other locals to get a job done.
On my nationwide small business roadshow I have met too many people to count properly. But each of them has a story which continues to drive my ambition to help the sector succeed.
Tuesday I was here in Melbourne – with a Labor MP, in fact – on a bipartisan listening tour along with the local member.
I know that small businesspeople work hard in every electorate, regardless of their local MP's persuasion.
I know each of them deserves a champion in Parliament who wants to see them succeed.
And I am determined to give the sector the voice – informed by your feedback and ideas – which you deserve.
I met Vince Spinelli, who runs the Ferguson Plarre Bakehouse in Sunbury here in Melbourne.
It's a family-run franchise, which Vince has had for six years. Fittingly, you could say he has baker's dozen employees, too.
(That's 13 for those playing along at home!)
And in March this year he wanted to refurbish the shop to cater to the changing demands of his customers.
He did so with the instant asset write-off programme.
Today, his business can keep doing what it does best and will have a bright future thanks to the support from this Government.
Inspiring small business people
Our record for small business is something of which I am very proud, but the biggest motivator for me is meeting you and listening to your stories.
Stories of new ideas and ventures.
Stories of hard work and determination.
Stories of community.
For example, those small business people in Murwillumbah on the Tweed River in north-eastern New South Wales whom I met recently to see how they're recovering after the devastating floods earlier this year.
When I met some of the traders on Prospero Street, they were getting back on their feet, but their outlook was remarkably positive.
They are real community-minded people.
They appreciate the fact you've got to take the good with the bad — when business is doing well, the town is doing well, and vice versa.
However, it doesn't take a disaster for community spirit to shine through.
When I spoke with Graham Parker of SportsPower in Benalla, Victoria he said seeing kids get their first pair of footy boots makes it all worth it.
A simple thing, but not a day goes by without meeting a small businessperson who inspires me and who keeps me working so hard to be your advocate in Government.
In fact, women entrepreneurs is a group I see as a constant source of inspiration.
The Productivity Commission says the majority of business owners are male, but female owners are becoming more common in new businesses.
So the tides are turning. And, let me say, we're tracking better than most countries.
In communities across the length and breadth of our country I have met so many women in business who are using the internet and new markets to create new business ventures and new jobs.
Last Friday night I had the delight of judging the Australia Post Regional Pitchfest final in Wagga Wagga alongside another country entrepreneur doing great things, Jane Cay of Birdsnest.
As the finalists from across the country came through pitching their new ideas – from computer coding for kids to disruption in the real estate industry – the passion of these entrepreneurs were clear.
But I was struck by the story of GG's Flowers in Canberra.
Run by Nip, a young go-getter, it is a social enterprise bringing flowers and gift baskets to customers across the capital.
And – inspired by her sister Gayana, who has down syndrome – Nip now provides jobs for ten people with a disability across Canberra and is growing even more thanks to the Regional Pitchfest experience.
Nip is exactly the kind of person I meet across Australia who makes me determined to work hard.
She has an idea. She has a passion. And I want to work to ensure she has a bright future.
Connecting through the many networks for women in business, growth in connectivity and socially-conscious consumers, women entrepreneurs today are at the cusp of something very exciting in our community.
But there's still more to do.
Building on momentum to improve conditions
Whether you are getting back on your feet like the folks on the Tweed River or breaking new ground like Kate Marland, I am determined to provide you with the best possible conditions.
We need to build on the momentum of the past few years.
National Business Simplification Initiative
That's why I'm a strong advocate of the National Business Simplification Initiative.
It's a great collaborative example of Governments supporting a better and simpler business environment.
Or, to put it another way, it's government getting out of the way and letting businesses do what they do best.
For example, we've been working with the NSW Government on a project to reduce the time it takes to set up a café, restaurant or small bar in Parramatta.
The results, so far, are promising in streamlining approvals across three layers of government.
Combined with other measures by ServiceNSW, we are reducing the set-up time from 18 months to three.
And what does that mean?
It means businesses can put more time and effort into growing and employing more people.
Moreover, we've focused the simplification initiative on small, achievable projects — in specific sectors; in specific locations.
For example, there are other projects underway for Western Australia and Tasmania, where we'll be looking to reduce regulation to support tourism.
Now, while we are pushing ahead on many fronts, we're also aware that uncertainties are holding some small businesses back.
Energy costs are a case in point.
Take Debbie and Mark Ahern, who run Debbie's Seafood & Deb's Fish Café in Mackay, Queensland.
Like most small business owners, Debbie and Mark want to keep doing what they do best, which is running their business and creating jobs.
But the fact is uncertainty in the energy sector is holding them back.
Being in the seafood business, Debbie and Mark use a lot of refrigeration and, as such, energy costs are something they keep a close on eye on.
They told me power prices should be more competitive; that prices need to head downwards.
Debbie and Mark's feedback is similar to what I've heard from small businesses right across the country.
That's why we have a plan to help deliver energy security for Australians.
A plan which gives business and consumers the confidence they deserve, want and expect.
We are taking this issue very seriously and we are working with the energy retail bosses to get a better deal for Australians. This is something which the Prime Minister, the Energy Minister and I are very, very passionate about.
From investing in Snowy Hydro 2.0 at Tumut – the town in the Riverina which the Prime Minister visited yesterday – we will deliver reliable and renewable power to half a million homes.
And our action with energy retailers is working for you now.
I know the Energy and Environment Minister Josh Frydenberg is speaking later tonight. He and I are working closely on this issue for small business and I know Josh understands the importance of this issue to so many of you.
But I will say, looking further afield, is that cyber security is a big deal for the Australian economy and small businesses.
I very much welcome COSBOA's action plan in assisting your members in dealing with the cyber security challenges.
The Australian Cyber Security Centre says experiencing a cyber security incident is not a matter of if but when, and what type.
The WannaCry and Petya ransomware campaigns drive home the reality that cyber criminals can and do cause widespread and indiscriminate damage, including to Australian small businesses.
That's why the Government is moving to assist small businesses so they can better secure themselves from cyber threats.
We are providing grants of up to $2,100 to co-fund small businesses to have their cyber security tested by CREST ANZ-approved service providers.
The grants — expected to open for applications this financial year — will allow around 5,000 small businesses to test their cyber security resilience.
We are also in the process of rolling out a series of cyber security webinars for small businesses.
The next webinar — taking place on 15 September — will cover the operational basics of cyber security.
Looking at the bigger picture, the Prime Minister recently announced plans for a special Cyber Resilience Taskforce.
The taskforce is leading new areas of work focusing on tackling cyber-crime, supporting small business, securing critical infrastructure and building cyber resilience.
There's a lot happening in the area of cyber security and I'm pleased COSBOA is taking an active role.
Threats obviously come in many shapes and forms, but none are worse than a tax grab on trusts.
I commend the work of your CEO Peter Strong in calling out the short-sighted tax grab on trusts.
I am a country MP. I grew up on a farm and my community is home to a vibrant agricultural sector.
I understand how farmers use trusts to manage in the good years and the bad.
But I also understand how small businesses on the other side of the farm-gate use trusts to manage in years which aren't so good as well.
You feel the ups and downs of seasons like any farmer.
You are at the mercy of changing markets and conditions too.
And the Liberals and Nationals have your back as discussions loom about how small business trusts ought to be used to fund further spending.
We stand proudly in your corner, fighting for you and helping you to create jobs.
We want you to do your best to keep our economy growing.
We want you to keep Australia at the forefront of international competitiveness, of ideas and of success.
And we back you all the way.
So let me finish by thanking COSBOA and all the sponsors for putting on a great Summit.
This evening, I've covered some of the big issues effecting small businesses.
But if I can leave you with a final thought, it's this:
You are the ones who create the jobs.
You are the ones who give people a start.
You are the ones who keep our economy strong.
You are an inspiration not only to me but also to your local community.
I'm keen to hear more of your stories, and to take your ideas direct to Parliament.
It's my job — the Federal Government's job — to make your job easier.
We are, after all, the Government for small business. And I am always interested in your ideas.
Together, we can keep small business in the driver's seat of our economy.