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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2021 Week 04 Hansard (Tuesday, 20 April 2021) . . Page.. 898 ..

MS CASTLEY (Yerrabi) (5.39): In my first speech to the Assembly, I spoke about my experience of being a small business owner. For a good while, life was good. My then husband and I owned three successful car yards, employed five staff and made lots of money. But our success did not last. Unpaid bills pounded us and the debt collector came knocking at the door. At times, we were so skint that Mum kept us in food. I became a Tupperware lady and turned my spare bedroom into a beauty parlour, doing waxing and pedicures to put food on the table. Life is never easy. We liquidated the business and lost the house. The marriage went, too.

I share this story again to show that I understand small business and have enormous respect for the courage of small, often family run, businesses. It takes a stack of courage to start and run a small business, to take on the responsibility of staff, to slog it out day after day to make it work. Running a small business is like riding a roller coaster, with great highs and crashing lows.

Not only do I understand and respect small business; the Canberra Liberals do, too. We get that small business is the engine room, the backbone, of our ACT economy. We understand that Canberra’s 30,000 small businesses need and deserve support, the support of this government and the whole Assembly. Our small business sector employs almost two-thirds of Canberra’s workforce and generates massive revenue for the territory.

Canberra is a public service town. Time and again we hear it. But guess what? Canberra is also a small business town. You do not hear much about that. Yes, there is life in Canberra beyond the ACT and federal public services. Not everyone understands and lives by the APS Code of Conduct; not everyone is an acting APS of whatever number. Not everybody is penning incoming minister briefs or responding to ministerials. Not everybody has a public service name tag swinging around their neck as they head out for their morning coffee at 9.30 or 10 in the morning.

The other workforces in Canberra are mostly employed by small businesses. They are cleaners and sandwich makers. They are mechanics, gym instructors, beauticians and kitchen hands. They are hairdressers, tailors, carpet layers and shoemakers. They are also our tradies: electricians, plumbers, carpenters. These are the ones that we call on in need, with the desperate cry of: “How soon can you get here?”

It is easy to take our small and micro businesses, and sole traders, for granted. But nine times out of 10 they are the ones that we turn to when things at home go pear-shaped—when the toilet will not flush, the kids’ bikes need fixing, the TV is on the blink and the garage door will not open, not to mention a bit of home improvement like upgrading the kitchen, putting a deck on, or pruning and maintaining the trees.

Unfortunately, this Labor-Greens government does not seem to understand small business or seek to do so. I wonder, given that the government has been in power for two decades, whether ministers and advisers have become so used to dealing with big, sprawling directorates employing thousands of bureaucrats that they are the people this government understands, not small business.

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