RESPONSE BY ILLAWARRA BUSINESS TO COVID-19 RESTRICTIONS

Ms Bird (Cunningham) (18:22): I want to take the opportunity at the beginning of my contribution to this debate to acknowledge that it is important that we have bills before this House with the best interests of small business in mind. My area, like I'm sure those of every member in this place, is profoundly reliant on our small business operators for the employment base in my community. Recognising that, in the current context, as other speakers have said, small businesses have been at the forefront of dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic, I want to acknowledge that that is certainly the case for small businesses in my area.

Many small businesses have had to close because, due to the nature of their business, they were not able to continue. Some have had to massively adjust the way they participate in the local economy in order to comply with the health requirements. It was a huge stress and pressure on many businesses across a whole lot of sectors—and many of them are family businesses. In our area, there have been some amazing initiatives to support our local small businesses, as well as some amazing actions by our local small businesses to support others in the community who are struggling. I want to take a few minutes to give a bit of an acknowledgement about that in the context of this debate about small businesses. Firstly, I want to give a shout out to Toria Hope Kota, a community member who had the great idea of creating a Facebook page which she called Illawarra Menus.

She invited businesses who had changed their business model to take away or home delivery to participate on that page so that local community members knew what their new offering was and were able to access it. It was a tremendous success. Many businesses adapted and innovated and used this platform to get the word out to the community. A few examples, if you have a look at the post—it's very easy to find if you look up Illawarra Menus—are Samaras Restaurant, His Boy Elroy, m2 kitchen, Attaboy Restaurant, The Arthouse Cafe, D'Amato's Family Restaurant, Coniston Bakery and Crown Bakery & Cafe. There are a whole range of our local small businesses having innovative responses to this very difficult situation, and they continue to do so. They've been very active. Pubs and clubs like the Cabbage Tree Hotel at Fairy Meadow, Ryans Hotel at Thirroul, the Fraternity Club bowling club, Bellambi Pub and the Wollongong Tennis Club all reopened for take ways and deliveries and found ways not only to keep their businesses going but to utilise and keep engaged their staff so as to minimise the impact on unemployment. I want to give a big shout out to Toria and all the local businesses that make that work so effectively.

I also want to acknowledge the Illawarra Mercury, our local paper, who went out of their way to tell the stories of what was happening in our small business community. They in fact had a 'back in business' campaign supporting small businesses. I acknowledge that our print media themselves are going through fairly tough times, and so it was a great thing to see the local paper getting behind local businesses. I particularly want to single out—and I'm sure the other journalist won't be offended at my doing this—Greg Ellis. Greg is an absolute champion for small and medium businesses in our area. It doesn't matter what event I go to for a small or medium business in the local area, Greg will be there with his camera in hand getting the story and putting it into the paper. I know he's enormously appreciated by so many across our community. Thanks, Greg, for all the work that you do.

Like many others, I took the opportunity to engage with my community on platforms such as Zoom and Facebook and so forth. I want to acknowledge the Corrimal Chamber of Commerce and the Illawarra Women in Business, both of whom I did Zoom sessions with, talking about the issues facing local small businesses. I know my colleague the member for Whitlam did the same, having these conversations with our Regional Development Australia Illawarra branch and doing those sorts of connections to talk about and explain some of the initiatives the government had introduced to get feedback on what was happening quickly. I thank Paul Boltwood from Corrimal Chamber of Commerce, Glenda Papac from Illawarra Women in Business and Deb Murphy from the RDA for facilitating those opportunities. I also want to acknowledge the amazing work done by the Illawarra Business Chamber, our peak business chamber, and Adam Zarth and the team in supporting our small businesses at the time.

As I indicated, it wasn't just about supporting our small businesses. Many of our small businesses spent time supporting others in the community, as is so often the case when we have difficult times. We also saw it during the bushfires earlier this year, with so many small businesses making donations and having campaigns to help people affected by this bushfires. I have a few examples. The Rotary Club of Corrimal, with the Indian association, got massive support from small and large businesses in our area with donations to put together care packs for international students. Obviously we have Wollongong university in our area and many international students, particularly students from India where, with the nature of banking restrictions in India, they weren't able to get support from their families and were really struggling. It was a great initiative supported by our businesses locally.

Wollongong's Lower East Cafe partnered with Wollongong Emergency Family Housing, and they've been producing 40 meals a day for homeless people, a really great initiative. Centro CBD restaurant in Wollongong have provided over 1,000 meals for the frontline workers at Wollongong Hospital. So, whilst their own businesses were shut, they were turning their resources and skills to helping others. It is just an amazing story.

So, as you can see, Deputy Speaker, I am very passionate in my support for our local small businesses. For that reason, I wanted to speak on this bill, because it addresses an issue that is a serious one for many small businesses. Labor welcomes the bill, obviously, as a step in the right direction. We absolutely support the intent of the bill as a first step in improving the practices of large businesses on payment to their smaller suppliers of goods and services. Prompt payment is so important to small business. It is obviously far more important for their cash flow than it is for larger businesses. A large business may have a variety of ways that they can work around the cash flow, but for a small business the day-to-day survival and success of their business really depends on that cash flow. Unfortunately, we are increasingly seeing large businesses use small businesses, if you like, as a piggy bank to boost their own working capital provision, and that is clearly vastly unjust for those small businesses.

So this bill introduces a new payment times reporting scheme, which requires about 3,000 large businesses and government enterprises with annual turnover of $100 million and above to publicly report biannually on their payment terms and practices for their small business suppliers. Small businesses are defined in this bill as having less than $10 million in turnover, and the bill will create an identification tool to help with that process. The objective of the scheme is to improve payment outcomes for small businesses by creating transparency around that, and the government argues that, with access to information on large business payment performance being provided, the small businesses will be able to make a more informed decision about their potential customers. The government also contends that greater transparency on payment practice and performance will put cultural change pressure in place. Payment time reports will including aggregated data on the reporting entity's payment terms and practices, identify the entity and provide other relevant information. They will be published by a regulator on a central public register known as the Payment Times Reports Register, and the regulator will oversee the scheme. The scheme is intended to begin its first biannual reporting period on 1 January next year, 2021, and entities that fail to maintain their records or that provide false or misleading information in a report will be subject to civil penalty provisions.

This is part of a three-tranche scheme of measures, and I acknowledge that. I also want to make the point that the Labor Party believes that, while this is a step in the right direction, there are concerns about how effective it will be in practice. In order to tease out those issues and give them consideration so that advice can come back to government on ways in which the intentions of the bill can be ensured, we are seeking to have the matter considered by a Senate committee. I think that's a good process. I think that quite often provides good feedback to government, and I would hope that the government is open to the inquiry and to the feedback and any recommendations on improvements to this bill. I say that because I believe it is very important for the viability of small businesses. So many of us, in our constituency work, regularly deal with small businesses who are having issues with not getting paid on time and not having the cash flow they need ensured when they've done work for large businesses and need to see that payment come through. So I support the bill and I support the amendments and proposals of Labor to see it improved. I hope the government takes them on board.

Watch Sharon’s speech here.