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Standing up for small business

I rise today to offer amendments to the Fair Work Legislation Amendment (Closing Loopholes) Bill 2023 as circulated in my name. At the outset, I would like to express my concern about the process followed by the government yesterday in amending the bill. At 11.30 in the morning, the crossbench received 32 pages of government amendments to their bill, accompanied by a 45-page explanatory memorandum. We were then required to vote on those amendments at 6.30 pm. As this rushed time frame did not permit conscientious scrutiny of the amendments for unforeseen consequences or allow for adequate consultation with stakeholders, my decision was therefore to abstain on that vote.

Today I offer an amendment to the bill that addresses the definition of a small business and thus narrows the scope of businesses to which these changes would apply. This is an attempt to mitigate adverse impacts of this bill on small businesses that are doing it extremely tough right now and that are too small to have the human resources capacity to implement the many and complex changes that would be introduced by this bill. Small businesses, as we know, employ 6.8 million Australians, which is just under half the employed workforce in Australia. In New South Wales 45 per cent of the private sector workforce is employed by small businesses. It's clear that the success of small business is absolutely vital to the continued prosperity and wellbeing of the Australian community. So my amendment is to protect small businesses from some of the changes in this legislation.

The government intends to have significant changes in this legislation apply to small businesses with a headcount of 15 people. And that's not 15 full-time-equivalent employees; it means businesses that have an overall employee headcount of 15. If someone works two hours a week as a casual they are included in this headcount. The impact of this is that these very complex industrial relations requirements could apply to my local beach cafe, a business whose owner works ridiculously long hours to serve the local community, provides employment opportunities for local people and hopefully turns a profit. They certainly don't have a human resources department to negotiate these many and complex changes to industrial relations law that are being proposed. It is too much, and it's too much at this moment in time, when small businesses are struggling in the recovery from the COVID shutdowns, struggling with attracting and retaining staff and struggling with enormous cost-of-living pressures, including soaring rents and high power bills. The effect of this constellation of pressures is that, sadly, many businesses are facing the wall, and in Mackellar we have witnessed many small businesses having to close down.

These changes right now are too much. Genuine small businesses should not be caught. So my amendment seeks to change the definition of 'small business' so that only those businesses with at least 50 full-time-equivalent employees will be captured by the government's proposed changes to the industrial relations laws. Having this cut-off so that only businesses with more than 50 full-time employees are affected means that it's more likely that only those businesses that are big enough to have the human resources infrastructure necessary to comply with these industrial relations changes will be impacted—businesses big enough that they might be able to withstand the additional compliance burden imposed by the changes. The impact of those changes will not be the final straw for a struggling cohort of small-business owners.

This is a reasonable and sensible amendment. It seeks to protect small business, which is very possible to do at the same time as raising standards for vulnerable workers. Both ambitions are achievable. So I urge the government and all the House to support this amendment. Thank you.