Statutes Amendment and Repeal (Budget 2015) Bill


Mr GARDNER (Morialta) (11:42): I am pleased to rise to speak on the Statutes Amendment and Repeal (Budget 2015) Bill, which of course puts into legislation some of the measures that were identified in the state budget. As other members of the opposition have done, I will be supporting the bill. It is our habit to do so, on both sides of the parliament, in relation to budget bills. That does not mean that it would not be appropriate to pass comment on some of the measures and some of the ways it could be improved, particularly considering the issues that confront South Australia.

I think all members of parliament in South Australia at the moment would be reticent in their duties if they had not identified unemployment as the most significant and pressing danger for our communities. The very impact of somebody having or not having a job has an extraordinary consequential impact on their family, their confidence, mental health and wellbeing and that of their family. I often think that, as my father used to say to me when I was growing up, and he spent his entire life either working for the country in the Navy or working in business and for his last 40 years employing other people, the best thing you can do for somebody is give them a job. Everything that flows from that is so important for what they can do, their self-worth and their ability to contribute to the community.

When we have the highest unemployment rate in the country, when we see ourselves as the state that is going backwards while the rest of the country, by and large, is going forward, despite the pressures obviously created by the constriction in the mining industry in Australia, it behoves us all to have unemployment at the front of our minds and to be thinking about ways that we as a parliament can tackle unemployment is critical. There are some measures identified in this bill that will go some way towards addressing it, but nowhere near enough, not the sort of measures that are going to inspire confidence in the business community such that every small business in South Australia might consider employing somebody for one day a week. Even if only that was done that would go a long way towards addressing the crisis we are currently facing.

This budget bill, while reducing some taxes over the period of the forward estimates, goes nowhere near dealing with the pressures of the cost of doing business in South Australia right now. It is all very well for the government to aspire to becoming in the middle of the pack as far as Australia's taxation impact on businesses goes, rather than at the bottom of the pack where we have spent so many years. It is all very well to have that as an aspiration, but what we need to do, given that we are in a jobs crisis in South Australia, is give businesses the opportunity to employ people now.

During the election campaign one of the things that frustrated me no end was the concept put forward by the Premier on a regular basis that—and I will paraphrase what he said because I do not have the quote in front of me, but if anyone feels aggrieved by my misrepresenting him they can identify the exact words he used and explain how they are not the way I explain them—effectively, in the opposition's calls for the handbrakes to be taken off the economy, for taxes to be lowered upon business, that would somehow line the pockets of businesses which he characterised as not being interested in employing people.

I want to relate my experience of how a family business deals with the tax pressures put on them, and that is indeed in my own family business that I grew up in, ensconced in, and it was the most important part of all our lives. It occupied most waking moments of my father's day and, when I was not at school, my mother's day as well. We spent an awful lot of time there helping out when we could. It was the topic of discussion at the dinner table, it was all our lives.

The political awakening for me (and I outlined it in my maiden speech, but it is very relevant to this bill) was when I was about 13 years old, in the early 1990s, and we were in the middle of the recession we had to have, according to Paul Keating. The business was starting to recover from some really tough times. The business was called Ultraviolet Technology of Australasia, manufacturing water treatment equipment in Adelaide's eastern suburbs in our factory at Glynde and supplying industrial chemicals to businesses that used such.

We had at the time I think about 12 or 13 staff. The staff at the business fluctuated. In the leanest times we went down to about nine or 10, and in the most prosperous times for the business it would have been approaching 20, but it was always in that area. The payroll of our business was always in the vicinity of the payroll tax threshold, whereby businesses start to pay payroll tax once they go over. In the early 1990s we had unemployment rates in the 11 or 12 per cent range. We took it very seriously that we never wanted to fire staff if the business could sustain them, because it was very hard for people to get jobs.

I remember in particular one family dinner back in 1992 or 1993 and our accountant, who of course was a family friend (as so many family businesses take the opportunity to use professional services where they can get them), was around for dinner, as he was every couple of months, and we were discussing what to do in the coming months in relation to the business. There were opportunities for two contracts in particular to supply wastewater treatment facilities to two very significant orders, but doing so would require taking on three extra staff to fulfil the contract by the time it was necessary. The accountant was making the point that it would push us over the payroll tax threshold.

Consequently, it was deemed that it was in the best interests of the business at that time to actually refuse one of those orders so that we would not be pushed over the payroll tax threshold, which would have a detrimental impact on the business and which at these times, as were all businesses, was on a very fine line. We could not afford the risk of being caught up in that payroll tax system.

So when the government gives payroll tax relief to businesses, but then takes it away again—it announces payroll tax relief for a little bit of time during the election campaign but it will end on 30 June next year—that has a massive impact on jobs, because those businesses that are contemplating taking on extra staff will always take into account the tax environment they are in. Meanwhile, their competitors interstate, who are contemplating extra staff and dealing with areas where there is more confidence and a more favourable tax system, are also going to be in a better position to potentially take on work that we would be hopefully be having here in South Australia.

When the Premier during the election campaign underplayed the role that tax has on employment rates, I think he made a terrible mistake. It was clear from the first year of the Labor government that their economic plan was anything but a plan. So, I am pleased in this year's budget that there is some direction taken towards tax relief because it is critically important that we have more effort put towards keeping our young people here in South Australia, giving them jobs, providing an environment where business will be confident to give them jobs.

When I was in my early 20s, I had a group of friends that I was at university with, I had groups of friends that I was at school with, and they are mostly identifiable now by virtue of the fact that the only time they seem to spend in Adelaide is between Christmas and New Year. If you walk down Rundle Street in that week between Christmas and New Year, I do not think you will ever find it so busy because of the ex-pat South Australian generation X and Y people coming back to visit their family and friends in that week because they are pursuing career opportunities interstate and overseas.

South Australia punches really well above its weight on the national market because there are so many South Australian ex-pats in high-level jobs in Sydney, Canberra, Melbourne, the Gold Coast and Perth. What I would like to see is more of those jobs in South Australia. Given that we have a jobs crisis—our unemployment has hit 8.2 per cent recently and Tasmania is moving well ahead of us in this area—it is critical that some of those stamp duty relief measures be brought forward.

Payroll tax relief needs to be extended and I think that in the months ahead, as the government frames its Mid-Year Budget Review, there is an opportunity for this government to take on board some of the missed opportunities from the budget just past and the bill that we are going to pass probably later today through the house. I hope they do that; it is critically important that they do. Our business community needs it, but even more importantly than that the young people in South Australia who are finishing their studies at the moment and contemplating where they are going to get a job find it critically important.

Many members of parliament at the moment would be looking at employing trainees. I have never seen such a crop of well-credentialed, well-educated trainees put themselves forward for a position, as evidenced by the CVs that I have just read—degrees from every direction. Young people are applying for certificate III government and business traineeships, through the opportunity that we have in our offices. One imagines a few years ago they would have been expecting that their professional qualifications might have landed them a good job in the law or accountancy, but they are now looking for a new direction because those jobs are not available if they wish to stay in South Australia in the numbers to go anywhere near meeting the demand from our young people. So, that is why it is critically important.

It is critically important for our families and our communities. It is about getting the balance right, ensuring that business is actually an important partner with government, but in a way that government creates the environment so that business can then do the heavy lifting. They will do so if they have the environment, if they have the confidence that frankly can only be inspired by a much better tax reform package than they have offered in this budget. We will support the bill but we need more and better next time.