Mr PERRETT (Gympie—LNP) (12.11 pm): I rise to speak on the Small Business Commissioner
Bill 2021. This bill aims to permanently establish a Queensland Small Business Commissioner and
supporting office. I also rise to speak in support of the LNP amendments. The explanatory notes state
that the objectives of the bill are to establish a statutory basis for dispute resolutions relating to retail
tenancy disputes, enable mediation for commercial leasing and small business franchise disputes, and
transition from focusing on the response to COVID-19 impacts on small business. The goal is to expand
the role and support for small business.
Collectively, small businesses are the biggest employer in Queensland. They are family
businesses, often run across several generations. They are owned by mums and dads. They are the
backbone of both the economic and social fabric of our communities. Without them our communities
would not thrive. In Gympie the majority of our 4,427 businesses are small and family businesses. Small
and family businesses carry an enormous risk, which demonstrates their faith in their business, their
product and their region. They invest, often with no guaranteed income. They put everything they own
on the line so that they can employ staff, pay themselves and create and deliver goods and services
needed in their region. Small businesses need a powerful voice and a strong advocate, a strong cop
on the beat, that does more than just resolving disputes and mediating tenancy disputes.
This bill fails that test. It fails to deliver the commissioner sufficient powers to properly serve the
interests of all small businesses. A lot of trust has been lost in this government. Time and time again,
the government has proved to be more obsessed with grand announcements that are repeated ad
nauseam. They are shallow announcements. Too often it is more interested in the spin than the delivery.
Too often the hype does not match the delivery.
Submissions show that small and family businesses want the commission to have the tools to
actually help. They do not want it to be just another body that adds more rules and red tape. It must be
a one-stop shop. The commissioner must not be hamstrung by red tape. The commissioner must be
independent, otherwise confidence in the commission will be compromised. The commissioner needs
increased powers to gather information. Under the current framework, the obligation to act in good faith
is used regularly by mediators to ensure constructive mediation, but that no longer exists in this bill.
There needs to be clarity around what is defined as a small business. The government might find
that hard because it prefers to deal only with big government, big unions and big business. Having a
vague definition with discretion provided to the commissioner potentially interferes in the dispute
resolution process. The bill also misses opportunities to deliver further protections for small business.
It could have provided a mechanism for small business to deal with business-to-business disputes—for
example, payment disputes involving a small business and a larger business—but it does not.
Too often with this government the rhetoric does not match the walk. Independent commissioners
are hamstrung by this government. The commissioner needs to be independent to properly advocate.
That is particularly important when state government policy or activities are involved. The commissioner
is unduly dependent on the executive for administrative support and direction. The statement of
reservation notes—
The bill fails to provide the Commissioner with the ability to:
• initiate inquiries and investigations into areas of concern for small business; and
• compel state government departments and entities to cooperate in such investigations
It also states that the commissioner should report to the parliament. These omissions undermine the
commissioner’s freedom to act in the best interests of its principal client, small business.
The Small Business Commissioner did not appear before the committee yet was present in
person to observe the proceedings. Despite having 30 minutes additional hearing time available, the
Labor chair refused the request from the deputy chair, the member for Southern Downs, for the
commissioner to address the committee.
The Small Business Commissioner must be independent of the minister. It must be independent
so that the business community can have trust in the role. That is why the LNP proposes to amend the
clauses on the ministerial direction and retain only the statement of expectations. The bill provides no
power to obtain information for the commission to influence government departments to provide
information that would enable the resolution of issues. The LNP amendments will add a clause that
gives the commissioner power to obtain information from government agencies and entities. I urge the
government to support our amendments.
Small and family businesses have been hit hard. In Gympie they had to deal with COVID-19
restrictions and rules devised in the Brisbane CBD—devised with no appreciation for their impact in
regional areas. Now Gympie is dealing with the impacts of flooding. The government restricted day trip
travel to a 50-kilometre radius that was impractical in regions such as Gympie. It made no sense for
those wanting to access the Cooloola Coast. It put enormous pressure on our businesses. At one point,
Rainbow Beach businesses experienced more than a 90 per cent decline in revenue. One reported a
97 per cent decline. Those that had to completely close experienced a decline of more than 90 per cent
in their revenue.
For two years, small and family businesses have battled to stay open. Small businesses are
struggling now more than ever. MGA Independent Retailers and MGA Timber Merchants Australia trade
under brands such as Drakes, FoodWorks, Friendly Grocers, the various IGA and Spar stores, Mitre 10,
and Home Timber and Hardware. They are a family and privately owned community business that
employs 21,000 full-time, part-time and casual employees across seven days. In their submission they
… larger retailers have managed to cope with the virus in the community better than our members as they are well supported,
equipped, and financially resourced. In comparison, it cannot be said that the same luxury is afforded to our members who rely
heavily upon services such as the Small Business Commissioners … to assist them in navigating the complexity of issues
associated with the small business.
In February the CCIQ pulse survey showed business confidence is down 16.9 per cent from the
last quarter, which is the lowest rate since September 2020. Sales and revenue were down 6.9 per cent
in the last quarter and are still falling. Employment levels were down 4.5 per cent and 63 per cent of
businesses and staff were impacted by mental health issues. Small business owners are facing a storm
of issues as they try to get back on their feet. There are issues from staff shortages, people staying at
home, testing regimes, isolation rules and a lack of building materials for repairs. Businesses told the
surveyors that problems include: people being more cautious, distressed and staying at home more; a
lack of confidence in the economy; the impact of COVID on people’s work and incomes and, therefore,
their ability to spend; and now, as financial support for businesses disappears and with restrictions
gone, employers will not invest or engage more staff because it is too risky.
For the past two years the LNP has regularly called on the government to improve the
communication and transparency around COVID-19 restrictions and health directives for small
business. We have repeatedly put suggestions on the table for a support package, including targeted
grants, payroll tax relief and sick leave cover. Revenue has been slashed and employment is down and
we have a government with no plan. The lack of action has left small and family businesses with nothing
but uncertainty. We need clear and consistent messaging to restore confidence and give business
owners hope for their future. The state government should immediately consult with businesses and
develop a plan for business recovery. I urge support for the LNP amendments to give genuine support
and assistance to small and family businesses through a properly resourced and supported Small
Business Commission.