Government U-turn as it votes against its own $20,000 asset write-off

The federal government’s proposed $20,000 asset write-off scheme passed through the House of Representatives this morning but it was a decision by the government yesterday to vote against the budget measure that has the small business community talking.

Small Business Minister Bruce Billson introduced legislation for the accelerated depreciation measure into Parliament last week, at the same time urging the opposition not to “muck around” and to “get behind” the assistance to small business.

And so given the Labor Party’s support for the measure, Opposition Leader Bill Shorten yesterday attempted to fast-track the bill’s passage through the lower house by forcing MPs to vote on the legislation before all speakers had their chance to speak on the topic.

Read more: The $20,000 instant asset tax write-off explained

“We are not going to delay this legislation for one minute longer,” Shorten told the house.

“We were always going to vote for it. We always said we would support it. Let’s get on with it.”

But Shorten’s motion was opposed by the government and it failed by 44 to 77 votes.

The government quickly labelled Labor’s move to fast track the bill as a stunt, with Billson saying in a statement yesterday afternoon it was “another example of Labor playing politics”.

“Bill Shorten moved to guillotine debate and discussion on key aspects of the government’s growing jobs and small business package before it had barely begun,” Billson said.

“Rather than allow small business and family enterprise a much deserved day of debate of their ambitions and [how] government can best help their enterprise, Labor sought to stifle debate.”

The Senate is in the midst of estimates hearings and therefore not in session. This means that even if the legislation was passed yesterday by the House of Representatives, it could not proceed to the upper house any faster.

“Gagging debate as Bill Shorten tried to execute today would have simply denied the hard working women and men of small business their parliamentary day in the sun,” Billson said.

Shorten later put more pressure on Prime Minister Tony Abbott in question time to explain why the government did not vote for his measure, given his earlier statements that both parties should “not let politics get in the way of economics”.

“It was yet another childish stunt from the Labor Party—an attempt by the Labor Party to deny 11 Labor members and 31 coalition members the right to speak on this bill and ensure that they were able to demonstrate their support for the small business of Australia,” Abbott replied.

Peter Strong, executive director of the Council of Small Business of Australia, told SmartCompany this morning it was clear “there was a game going on” yesterday.

“It was just silly,” Strong says.

“The government was so pleased with the budget they want to sing it from the rooftops but the opposition said there was no need to sing it.”

“There was so much agreement, they couldn’t agree.”

While Strong says “good on the people who want to sing it and good on those who want to pass it”, he says the incident just prolongs the confusion about the measure in the small business community.

“Confusion is the big issue,” he says.

“We’re told to go out and spend and then people hear that it wasn’t passed and it was the government that defeated it.”

“It’s confusing enough as it is in the world of small business.”

Strong says given both sides agree on the $20,000 asset write-off scheme,  there are other important issues for small businesses, including unfair contract protections and the Harper competition review, that could be debated in Parliament instead.

“There are even non-business issues that I’m sure people would like debated,” he says.