Minister, you’re here as part of a forum today? A roundtable?
Yes, it was a really good roundtable. We had a number of small business owners and operators from Port Pirie and around the district who came to talk to us on their views about what we should be doing as a Federal Government.
They also came to listen to the Australian Taxation Office representative and the Australian Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman. This is a rare opportunity for a country community to hear from and give their feedback straight to Government agencies and people who are very influential in the bureaucracy.
And what did you hear from them?
Certainly payment terms and times was something that came up. It’s simply not good enough that big business is using small business as a bank and taking upwards of 60, 90 days to pay their bills. Let alone the South Australian Labor Government which in the 2015-16 financial year had $561 million of bills due over 30 days. That is simply not good enough for a Government to be doing that.
What does that mean?
So they were in arrears, essentially. The small businesses bill the Government and the Government took more than 30 days to pay. The South Australian Government should be paying within 30 days or paying interest.
The Federal Government already is. 97 per cent of our bills to small business are being paid within 30 days or we pay interest. It’s time for the South Australian Government to follow that lead.
There was a small business owner here who is owed $60,000 by the South Australian Government. Now, they have to run the vehicles – and they have a few big vehicles which no doubt takes a lot of fuel – and that’s as well as having staff to pay. That’s as well as having electricity costs to pay. All those bills which normally come in for a small business. And then they have to wait more than 30 days – in some cases a lot longer – for the South Australian Government to pay what is owed to them. That is simply not good enough in this day and age. Small business should not be used in this way.
Kate Carnell, the Australian Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman, did an inquiry into payment times. Following that inquiry, the Business Council of Australia has launched a voluntary code where they are asking for big business to sign up to the code which says they will pay within 30 days. Many big businesses have done just that.
But if more big businesses and Government’s don’t improve their act, the Federal Government may have to look into harsher measures. That’s why I have asked Treasury to see what we can do to help more small businesses get paid on time. Because it is not good enough in this day and age, with so much technology around that makes payment easy and instant, that some people are taking so long to pay small business.
What about power issues? I know they come up quite a bit.
Oh absolutely. Power supply, reliability and affordability is an issue I have heard across South Australia. There’s a State Government here that has an unrealistic, ideological approach to energy security. We as the Federal Government are now very much focused on energy, to find short, medium and long-term solutions.
We know what we need to achieve in the long-term and we have announced some measures about that. And I know that for small businesses energy security, reliability and affordability is absolutely critical.
There are 3.2 million small businesses in Australia and as Australia’s Small Business Minister I am trying to reach as many of them as I can through this roadshow to hear what they have to say.
I have to say that the fact I am the first Small Business Minister who is a country MP I think gives me a unique perspective and certainly helps me focus on coming to places such as Port Pirie because – having run my own small business in a country area – I understand not just the challenges, but the opportunities running a small business in the regions can offer.
That’s why I am coming to places such as Port Pirie and even smaller and I can’t wait to meet even more small businesses and hear even more feedback.