31 July 2014

Address to the Small Business Forum, Milperra, Sydney


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hank you for coming along tonight. You are very blessed to have a passionate, authentic and very energetic local member in Craig Kelly.

I’m saying that with a genuine appreciation and respect for what Craig brings to our Parliamentary team, his own business experience, the insights he’s gained as he’s looked at ways in which other economies have organised themselves, the fact that he comes from a family that sees small business run through their veins.

He’s an outstanding advocate for our community and it’s a great pleasure to regard him as a friend and a colleague. It’s important also to recognise all of you.

I’ll let you in on a bit of a secret, the world is run by people who turn up, the world is run by people who turn up.

What that is about is that those who shape, contribute, offer their thoughts and their insights, have an impact on decision making and decision process.

So if in your professional life or your daily life you see things that you think could be done better, there’s one sure fire way of that never happening and that’s if you never share that insight with anybody.

By being involved in this process, you are influencing and impacting on our thinking, on our analysis and on our decisions.

As Craig mentioned, I’m one of the 20 people charged with running the country in a Cabinet style Government with an outstanding Prime Minister.

We get good quality advice from our dedicated public servants, but we get authentic field evidence, wisdom and experience from those people prepared to turn up.

I can at least say, tonight I did a patriotic act. I turned up and I got involved and it’s important because right now we’ve got to a really significant decision point as a country.

We can do the easy thing and just let things keep tracking on the way they were. And we can say it’s for others to address the serious challenges and the need for change, it’s too hard for us, we’ll leave that task for somebody else, we’ll continue to have our expenditure as a Government grow at the fastest rate of any OECD country in the world.

We can continue to see our debt trajectory grow at the third fastest rate and some of you might think, well boy that’s pretty big, realising that we came from a zero net debt position, to have a rate that’s third fastest.

When you think of some of those other economies that have started with an enormous debt burden that just builds on itself, you start to realise how unsustainable that trajectory is in the longer term.

And you might have picked up that recently with the budget that we announced, it’s clear to me and it’s clear to all of you we didn’t do that out of an act of popularity seeking – have you picked that up?

You might have missed it, but not everyone thought it was a spectacular budget – but what is also uncontested is the need to do something.

There are very few people left in this country, very few credible economists that say you can just let it go the way it was because there was a trajectory that needs to change and if we do it now, and do it properly, we can do it carefully and with a longer term benefit but more modest short term impact.

That was our plan because we know the economy’s not firing on all cylinders. We know the small business economy was driven into a ditch by the previous Labor Government, none of whom ever went into public life to be the Minister for Small Business. That was not their ambition, it is mine though.

So do we make those decisions now and make modest adjustments today, mindful there are green shoots in the economy that we didn’t want to burn off by a budget that was too hot and too hard because we know recovery is a fragile thing?

So we opted for some modest adjustments in the short term, but longer term policy, set in change that will see us being able to sustain the safety net that everyone relies on.

The previous Government said, gee we did well in the Christmas sale, we made some serious cash, so let’s assume that high revenue is with us every month of the year and we’ll budget for that and then we’ll commit to the expenditure, when the revenue was never there and this is the story of the legacy that we’ve inherited.

But it’s also an important time to think about where we are as a country.

Today there are five people in the workforce for every one retiree. Of those retirees, eight out of ten receive a part or a full pension.

Of the 20 per cent that don’t, 12 per cent receive some kind of assistance with health costs through the health care card.

So eight per cent of our current retiree population are genuinely self-sufficient, eight per cent, and that’s after a generation of compulsory superannuation.

Let’s fast forward 50 years, no, not even that, fast forward to the middle of this century.

There are three people in the workforce for every one that’s retired. Under the current policy settings, guess how many of those retirees are receiving a part or a full pension?  Eighty per cent.

Guess how many would be eligible for a health care card? Around 11 per cent.

After three generations of compulsory superannuation, that picture that we have now would not change by mid-century, yet we know that in the decade commencing 2020 there’s about 100,000 new entrants into the labour market for the entire decade.

If you compare it to 2004 where there was 125,000 in that year alone, you start to get a picture of what is our longer term need to be more productive, more efficient, more competitive, more able to create the wealth and the income that we need as a nation to sustain our living standards.

Moreover, to do the right thing by the great promise of our country, and that is we all work hard to make sure the next generation has opportunities at least as good as our own.  If you believe in that as I do, this is not the time to just say these challenges are too hard and to leave them for someone else.

If you believe, as I do, in my electorate, in that great southern hemisphere capital of the world. I’m not talking about Santiago or Buenos Aires, I’m talking about Frankston, the great southern hemisphere capital, the shire of desire, the Riviera of Melbourne, a marginal seat where I’ve been elected seven times, the boy from the housing commission estate.

Everywhere I go people talk about the potential and the opportunities – but we need to work today to make those our own and to win, to win those prospects for our country.

You know back in 2007, if we all sat around a boardroom as a mining company and wanted to create a coal mine in Australia, we could confidently say to our investors, build it in Australia, it’s 16 per cent cheaper than in North America, and that showed a competitive advantage for us and that’s what fed so much of that investment in the mining industry.

Today we’re 66 per cent more expensive and if you’re wondering why that capital expenditure in the mining industry is falling off a cliff, it’s because we’ve lost our capacity to win that investment, to win those opportunities and make them our own.

We could just say, oh look it’s all pretty sweet, but we can’t, we can’t. That productive capacity needs to be redeployed, those livelihoods depended on it and this is why we’re putting so much money into infrastructure.

That’s why we’re saying to the states and territories, convert current assets that you have on the public balance sheet, where those resources could be more productively employed in new infrastructure we will incentivise that for you.

We need to soak up that productive capacity to build our competitiveness for the next generation.

So when people say, Bruce I want more of my money going into building our capacity for the future, that’s what the budget’s about.

We as a Government need to live within our means, because all of you know that if you’re paying your mortgage on your visa card, it can only last for so long.

We need to support a renaissance in enterprise. How many young people today getting to the end of their secondary school education think, I want to be an entrepreneur?  You don’t get much of that.

I was in Hobart not too many months ago, sitting around a boardroom table and there were about 20 people around me, and between everybody we had 30 kids. I said do you know the next generation of entrepreneur is usually the sons and daughters of you all? And they said yeah.

So I asked how many kids want to follow in your footsteps? The answer was none.

They said, we don’t know what we want to do with our life but we know what you do is not it, because you work too hard. You’re the last of the paid, the rewards aren’t there for the sacrifice, cost structures mean you’re often doing the extra hours.

Interestingly none of them wanted to stay in Tasmania either because they didn’t see the opportunities.

Now, that I think is a good reminder of what’s ahead of us. These are difficult, challenging times, the polls tell you that. You know these are times of choices about the direction we choose to take as a country.

The Government, and Craig and I have shown a preparedness to do the hard work and face the music because that’s what good leadership requires.

But we can’t do that on our own, we’re grateful for your support, we really value your insights, but above all we hope you share that message out with the broader community.

If you want a longer term view, invested in our future, tackling today’s problems with modest action – well, I’m up for that. I hope the electorate is too and I’m hopeful that your patriotism being here tonight will help support the work we all know needs to be done because it’s not the right thing just to kick the can down to the next generation to fix problems that we have the opportunity to fix today.  Thanks for a few minutes of your time.