Mr BARTON (Eastern Metropolitan) (11:42): My question today is for Minister Pulford, the Minister for Small Business. COVID-19 has had a devastating effect on small businesses, whether you are in the transport, hospitality, manufacturing or specialised services. Some small businesses have managed to bounce back and have not missed a beat. Others are struggling to recover, and, Minister, some are not going to come back at all. As small business minister, what are you doing and what is the government doing to help people transition in this new world we now face?
Ms PULFORD (Western Victoria—Minister for Employment, Minister for Innovation, Medical Research and the Digital Economy, Minister for Small Business, Minister for Resources) (11:42): I think Mr Barton for his question and his interest in the recovery and wellbeing of our Victorian small business community, and I thank him for his interest in this. It has been a little while since we have had a question in this portfolio in this house, and I welcome Mr Barton’s interest. We have around 640 000 small businesses registered in Victoria, which as part of it all, is about 20 000 more than when I came into the portfolio. I think that speaks volumes about the ingenuity and the resilience and the entrepreneurship of people in the Victorian community.
We also continue to have what you could almost describe as a historically, unnaturally low level of insolvencies, and I think that can be attributed to the many interventions by governments over the last couple of years. There have been Victorian businesses that have had a great couple of years, and I think they feel quite conflicted about that because they are in sectors where economic activity has been diverted or they are in parts of the community where economic activity has been diverted. There are whole sectors that are experiencing their greatest financial success relative to other sectors and relative to historical trends. I congratulate them on that. There are others that have had profound hardship inflicted on them, and I congratulate them for their resilience. I congratulate them and thank them for what they have done to save so many thousands of lives, to save so many people from the impacts of long COVID, those who are immunocompromised. I thank them every day. I take my hats off to them. It has been an unbelievable thing, and we have recognised the significant hardship that they have experienced.
The government’s financial support through this period to our business community has been many, many, many billions of dollars, but of course the pandemic continues. We now are faced with really significant workforce shortages, and we are doing a whole lot of different things across a range of portfolios to respond to that. We certainly welcome a constructive dialogue around both skilled migration and approval to work for people that are resident in Australia to help relieve that pressure, but we have a number of programs that are open and underway. I would encourage all members to familiarise themselves with those: the small business toolkit, Ready for Growth, obviously our digital channels, the Better Approvals program, the chambers and traders grants program, the ventilation program, small business digital adaptation, microbusiness, concierge and a number of others. (Time expired)
Mr BARTON (Eastern Metropolitan) (11:46): Thank you, Minister. For many business owners it is not just a matter of getting their business back on track. The pandemic has taken a toll on their mental wellbeing. What is the government doing to assist Victorian small business owners and their staff in managing their mental health?
Ms PULFORD (Western Victoria—Minister for Employment, Minister for Innovation, Medical Research and the Digital Economy, Minister for Small Business, Minister for Resources) (11:46): I thank Mr Barton for his question and his care for small business owners and operators that have really been on our other front line through these last couple of years.
I grew up in a small business family during the recession in the early 1990s, and I can remember really vividly how challenging that experience was—that responsibility to staff, that responsibility to customers and clients—when faced with circumstances entirely outside of your control. You know, what has occurred the last 2½ years no business could have planned for, no business could have saved for. It has been extraordinary, and people have been extraordinary. So I would encourage, again, all members and Mr Barton to please encourage people to make use of the mental health and wellbeing program and the recovery and resilience program that have been designed for small business— (Time expired)