Ms TIERNEY (Western Victoria) — My question is to the Minister for Small Business. Can the minister advise what measures are being taken in the small business portfolio to implement the Bracks government’s election commitments to encourage women in business and industry?
Hon. T. C. THEOPHANOUS (Minister for Small Business) — I thank the member for her question. I indicate to the house that this area will certainly be one that as Minister for Small Business I will be especially interested in, because I think the contribution of women in business cannot be underestimated.
Mrs Peulich — Ministerial visits to home-based businesses?
Hon. T. C. THEOPHANOUS — For the information of Mrs Peulich, I will give her a bit of history. Since I appear to have plenty of time to answer this question, I might just take the liberty of using some of that time. President, you might be aware that this is the second time I have been small business minister in this state.
Honourable members interjecting.
Hon. T. C. THEOPHANOUS — I was Minister for Small Business for a very short time right at the end of the Kirner government. During that time, I have to tell members, one of the things — —
Mr Vogels — They were dark years.
Hon. T. C. THEOPHANOUS — We have plenty of time, so go for it!
During that time one of the things that I did prioritise was encouraging women to become involved in small businesses and business generally. I am very pleased to be able to report to the house that the Bracks government continues to do that, and I will be very pleased to be part of that through our Women in Business initiative and our policy for women in industry. The policy is designed to encourage women to take up a role in industry and small business, which I think is becoming much more important to our economy.
I can inform the house that over 126 000 women — a huge number — now run small businesses across Victoria. It translates to 32 per cent of all small business operators throughout Victoria. We should be proud of that achievement. It has not quite reached the 35 per cent target that I think is mandatory in the Labor Party for women in various positions. Actually I think it has gone to 40 per cent, and we look forward to it getting to that figure. It is because we on this side of the house — —
Mr P. Davis — If it was based on merit, you would not be here, Theo.
Hon. T. C. THEOPHANOUS — Mr Davis has given me a lot of opportunity. I want to thank him for the opportunity to be able to speak at length and elaborate on any issue I wish in respect of the question that has been asked of me, and I am sure he will look forward to my responses.
Another important and successful program has been Women’s Access to Finance. It has provided training sessions on accessing finance for business growth to women throughout Victoria over the last three years. In fact since the launch of this program there have been 145 seminars and workshops, and I am pleased to say 68 of those were in regional Victoria. Those programs involved 2500 participants. The purpose of the seminars includes information on understanding financial statements and how financiers want to better assist women in comprehending and accessing finance.
More than 8500 copies of the finance manual Show Me the Money — A Woman’s Guide through the Financial Maze and information kits have already been distributed throughout Victoria. It is this kind of assistance to and support of women to be able to put together a business plan and understand how to get financing for their businesses that has led to the rapid increase in the number of women involved in business.
We look forward to continuing that good record, because we know that women do and will play a very important role in the 96 per cent of businesses in this state that are small businesses, and also in business generally, in being able to drive the Victorian economy and provide the thing that I keep talking about in this house — that is, being able to provide more and more jobs for Victorians.