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Small Business and Unfair Contract Terms BIll

I rise to speak on the Treasury Legislation Amendment (Small Business and Unfair Contract Terms) Bill 2015, which I believe will protect more than 13,000 small businesses in my electorate of Durack. This bill further demonstrates my and the Abbott government's passion for small business. Since this government came into office in September 2013, employment has risen by 2.9 per cent, with some 335,000 new jobs created. As of last month, employment is at a record high of 11,810,700 jobs. This growth is largely due to the government's sound economic management and our policy platform, which is completely unmatched by those sitting opposite.

I have met with a number of small business owners who, of course, have been very pleased with the opportunity for a $20,000 tax deduction in this year's budget. This bill will now extend unfair contract term protections available to consumers to small businesses.

This government took more than 20 small business promises as part of our small business policy to the last election, and this is just one of those promises. Small business, as we know, is the economic backbone of not just Durack but Australia and, as one of the largest employers in Australia, it deserves this protection of the law.

This bill extends the consumer unfair contract term protections in the ASIC Act and the Australian Consumer Law to small business contracts. It also makes provision for exempting small business contracts which are subject to prescribed laws deemed equivalent to the unfair contract term protections.

Consumers have been protected from unfair contract terms since 2010. The government and I recognise that we need reform to ensure small businesses are protected in line with consumers. Small businesses often face the same vulnerabilities as consumers and should receive protections when offered those 'take it or leave it' types of contracts. Extensive consultations have indicated small businesses across a range of industries have concerns with unfair terms. Under these protections, the legislation will apply to small businesses which have fewer than 20 employees, combined with a transaction value threshold of $100,000 or $250,000 for a contract longer than 12 months. These protections will come into effect six months after the bill becomes law.

Protection of small business is something I have been passionate about throughout my career of 25-odd years in the private sector. Unfair contract terms are a significant concern to small businesses.


The bill will allow a court to strike out a term of a small business contract that it considers to be unfair. Once this bill passes, the government will have delivered every small business commitment that we took to the last election—proof that this government is good for small business and that we are the best friend small business will ever have. Again, this bill illustrates this government's commitment to small business.

According the Australian Bureau of Statistics as of June last year, agricultural small businesses make up nearly 30 per cent of small businesses in Durack. This means over 3,600 agricultural small businesses will benefit from having the extension of the consumer unfair contract terms protections to small businesses. This, of course, is music to the ears of our farmers, who have previously welcomed the government's assistance. This includes the tax deduction available for water infrastructure, accelerating three-year tax write-downs for fodder assets and the drought relief that we have announced since coming to office. Agriculture is not the only industry that will benefit from this bill once it is passed, with more than 2,200 construction small businesses and over 2,000 distribution service small businesses in Durack also benefitting from the legislation.

This bill will ensure that small businesses confidently enter standard contracts for day-to-day activities, where the cost and time of reviewing these contracts—as well as seeking legal advice—can be enormous. As someone who used to advise small businesses, I know only too well how expense that exercise can be. Under this bill, the government will reduce the incentive to include and enforce unfair terms in small business contracts, providing a more efficient allocation of risk in these contracts, and support small business confidence in agreeing to contracts. This bill is fresh air to the diverse small business sector within Durack.

To further assist small businesses with this measure, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission was provided with $1.4 million in the last budget to support the implementation of this bill. This money will support businesses' transition to the new protections. This will be of great benefit to the hundreds of rural, regional and remote towns in Durack, who do not have the same media coverage as those in the cities. This will be an opportunity to learn about the assistance this bill will provide to them. Following this, the ACCC will move to a more enforcement focused approach to dealing with unfair contracts.

This bill goes to the heart of the Abbott government's values in ensuring that Australia is the best country in the world to start and grow a small business. Consumers have had these protections since 2010, and the government believes in protecting Australian small businesses and consumers equally as well. The government believes that a strong small business sector leads to a strong economy, and only this government can deliver such confidence in our economy. Since coming to office, we know that we have axed the carbon tax, axed the mining tax, cut red tape and reduced the business tax rate, all of which has led to job growth and a more prosperous small business sector.

This bill gives small businesses the protection they need and deserve in order to flourish in the future. As a member of an electorate which has over 13,500 small businesses, I am encouraged by the protection that a diverse range of industries will receive under the Treasury Legislation Amendment (Small Business and Unfair Contract Terms) Bill 2015. I commend the bill to the House.

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