24 July 2014

Doorstop interview, Geelong

Note

Joint interview with Sarah Henderson MP Member for Corangamite

SUBJECTS: Carbon tax, Competition, Jobs, Leadership, Joe Hockey’s book launch and East West Link

This is a transcript of the minister's doorstop interview with Sarah Henderson MP in Geelong. The main topics discussed were Carbon tax, Competition, Jobs, Leadership, Joe Hockey’s book launch and East West Link

MINISTER BILLSON:

Well it's great to be here with my friend, the very energetic and highly respected Member for Corangamite, Sarah Henderson. Sarah is here showing me one of the local small business success stories, Harvey's of Highton, a great fresh produce provider and retailer that is very responsive and involved in the local community.

That's what's great about small business and family enterprises, they are a part of the local community, servicing the local community and providing livelihoods for the local community and this is one great example. Sarah thank you for having me back in your electorate.

SARAH HENDERSON:

Bruce it's great, thank you so much for being here in this very important part of local commerce, the Highton Shopping Centre. Look today I think it's a really important day to particularly make note of the repeal of the carbon tax.

The repeal of the carbon tax is one of our core commitments and already I have been inundated with positive responses to the fact that we have delivered on our commitment, which helps all small businesses, which of course were not compensated for when the carbon tax was introduced.

So from that point of view it is fantastic. Essentially Bruce is here today to hold a small business forum. There's lots of important support that we are providing to small business and we will be addressing some of those issues today, and of course Bruce will be talking about the many great initiatives in his portfolio that are being rolled out.

MINISTER BILLSON:

It was terrific to hear some of the issues this business has and also the constructive role the Government can play in helping small business. They had concerns around the carbon tax, energy consumption and refrigeration gas which is necessary to make sure fresh produce can be supplied to consumers. They also spoke of competition issues. We as a government want to make sure efficient businesses, big and small, can thrive and prosper in our economy.

We've got lots of jobs we need to create to recover the jobs lost in the small business sector under the previous Labor Government. We've got to get those policy settings right to encourage people to take those risks, to start and grow a business and to provide those kinds of livelihoods that give energy to communities just like here in Highton.

JOURNALIST:

You mentioned competition and as you can see on the wall there is a big manifesto against Coles and Woolworths. What can this competition review that is underway at the moment, what kind of hope can it offer small businesses like this one?

MINISTER BILLSON:

Well it is a really crucial review and a very important part of our economic action strategy. It's been over 20 years since the toolkit, to make sure there is fair and healthy competition in our economy, has been reviewed and examined to make sure that efficient businesses, big and small, can have a chance to thrive and prosper.

It should be about performance based on merit, not on economic muscle and too often I hear about small businesses feeling they are getting pushed around by the big supermarket chains because the big chains can.

Now what we are saying is that there is nothing wrong with big business, we've all got to play fair to make sure all businesses have the chance to thrive and prosper and that's what the review's about. Is the toolkit up to the task of making sure a small business has a fair opportunity to succeed? Are the laws performing as we expected? Are we seeing the kind of preparedness to invest, grow and start small businesses or are people worried that as soon as they pop their heads up the big guys will wipe them out?

That's why the review is important and input is important. There is a chance for people to share their views and what action we need to take. There are other things happening too including reforming the franchising code, the food and grocery code is being advanced in its development and also unfair contract terms protections.

JOURNALIST:

So how far could the reforms go in terms of reforming, particularly with the big supermarket chains?

MINISTER BILLSON:

Well going by the current submissions we've had, and there has been over 100, with another 100 still to come from those who have sought an extension of time, they are drawing out some very key issues including pressure in the supply chain. What do you do if you are a small supplier feeling like you are getting pushed around and told what you can do, when and at what price you can carry out your business if you are so dependent on one or two big retailers.

The way in which market power needs to be very carefully used is a big responsibility on businesses. They have market power but if they start misusing it, that is where the law gets involved. So there's a higher responsibility on those big players to make sure they are playing fair. These are the sorts of areas we are looking at and the toolkit needs to be refreshed, remedies are often a long way off and a small business goes broke, in some cases the law hasn't behaved as it should. The misuse of market power provisions are a bit like a hunting dog that won't leave the porch. It sounds great, looks great but hasn't always lived up to what was expected some 20 years ago when it was formulated.

JOURNALIST:

Geelong obviously has some issues with big businesses leaving town in the coming months and years. What role can small business play in providing future opportunities?

MINISTER BILLSON:

Well, not what role can small business play in Geelong's future economic prospects; it is the crucial role that small business and family enterprise will play in re-energising the Geelong economy. There is  so much delicious opportunity in the Geelong region, Sarah is an outstanding advocate of that potential and we are looking to see what we can do make sure small businesses and family enterprises are  innovative, nimble, create new products and are responsive to market conditions. That is a big part of Geelong's future and in large part, one of the reasons I have been willing to come along and share with Sarah the insights of local business people and what else we can do to help.

JOURNALIST:

Is it fair to say we have seen the end of those big companies in Geelong? That small business is the future? Are those big employers are a thing of the past?

MINISTER BILLSON:

The big companies will pop up, those opportunities will pop up but I wouldn't put your house on it. You know they are the icing on the cake. Economic renaissance in this region will be so much about energising enterprise and that will come from the grass roots. Many of the locals have got great business ideas and many are leading the way in showing the pathway for others.

So a big behemoth employer might pop up and Geelong is well placed to contest that opportunity, but we also need to make sure we are getting the economic eco-system right so those small businesses will hopefully grow and employ more and more people from the region, that's important to get that part of the picture very right as well.

SARAH HENDERSON:

Today is also about sharing with small businesses what our Government is doing to support them so of course we are cutting the company tax rate, we've repealed the carbon tax, we are tackling competition law through a review which is a big issue, but we've also got a range of industry support programs to bring new businesses into Geelong and into our region.

The Growth Fund, the Restart Programme, we've introduced support for jobs relocation and jobs assistance so there are lots of programs to drive jobs here and also to support employers. In fact a few weeks ago when I was on Q&A where I spoke about some of these programs and said look we've got great support, come to Geelong, see what we have to offer and amazingly, partially a Q&A led revival, quite a number of businesses have contacted me. They were looking to move to Melbourne and are now relooking at Geelong. So I think that is really exciting that people are becoming more aware of what we do have to offer.

There are 23,000 small businesses across the G21 region, so small business is the absolute engine room of our economy and we need to tackle the problems that they have had in the past and give them every possible reason to prosper, grow and of course to create jobs.

JOURNALIST:

Can you give us any of the details of those businesses that have contacted you.

SARAH HENDERSON:

I can't name specific companies but everyone, from companies running call centres through to industrial and tourism based companies. Around about 20 companies have actually contacted my office and want to learn more about what we can do to support new jobs in the region and also attracting new industries to the region. So from that point of view it has been a great success.

JOURNALIST:

Are they far on in the development? Should we expect any announcements soon?

SARAH HENDERSON:

Look I think some will take six to 12 months, some could take longer and some may not happen but the great thing is the message has gone out loud and clear that we are open for business. Yes we have had our problems, but as a city and as a region we have so much to offer and our government is acutely aware of the problems small business has faced in the past and we are determined to tackle costs and to help small business grow jobs.

JOURNALIST:

What's your message to small business people who come to the forum today?

MINISTER BILLSON:

The message is simple. We understand how crucial small business is to our economy and to the wellbeing of our communities. Small business people have mortgaged their houses and their first born in some cases to take risks. They deserve respect and support from Canberra and they get that in spade loads from us. We are implementing a range of measures to put the business back into small business and to energise enterprise.  We value what they do, we support them in their ambitions for the future and will be a great ally, and the best friend small business has.

SARAH HENDERSON:

Just quickly, locally the competition law review is incredibly significant. Labor did not have the courage to take on some of these big issues, to deal with the duopoly the supermarkets have imposed where pressures have been placed on small businesses including suppliers, so it's absolutely fantastic to see what our government is doing to support small businesses, to address the duopoly problems and to do everything we can to help small businesses prosper in this type of environment.

JOURNALIST:

Minister some questions from our colleagues in Canberra. Should Joe Hockey be promoting a book about himself when large parts of the budget haven't been passed?

MINISTER BILLSON:

Well the book that Joe is promoting, you say promoting, he launched it today but we are very much focused on getting our budget through the Parliament, our Economic Action Strategy implemented and getting the country back on track. There have been 519,000 jobs lost in small business under six years of Labor. We need to arrest that decline, turn it around, and reenergise the small business sector and that jobs growth will come from small business people, that's why getting the budget back on track is a focus. Joe and our team in Treasury and the whole Government are very focused on that primary goal.

JOURNALIST:

You're not concerned this is a distraction?

MINISTER BILLSON:

Well the timing of the launch is not within Joe's control. He sought guidance from our Prime Minister about whether to cooperate with the preparation of the book, the advice was to do so. Today is launch day but every day is a working day for us and that is where our focus is on getting the country and the economy back on track.

JOURNALIST:

Is Mr Hockey the next leader of the Liberal Party do you think?

MINISTER BILLSON:

I am very fond of Joe and he is incredibly talented but right now we've got an outstanding leader. Prime Minister Abbott is showing the world how to show strength and compassion, dignity and purpose. I hope we can continue to see Prime Minister Abbott doing that for many, many years to come and Joe and our team are thrilled to be a part of this Coalition Government.

JOURNALIST:

Is Mr Hockey doing a good job as Treasurer?

MINISTER BILLSON:

I think he is doing an excellent job. Let's not mistake where we started. We inherited a budget that's on a trajectory for hardship, debt and deficit for as far as the eye can see. There now seems to be no one who holds the view that budget repair action isn't required, all the adults agree that we need to fix the budget. We have a plan to do that, Joe's crafted that, it's the right response at this time and sets us up well for the future.

He is doing an excellent job in a very difficult environment, making the case that we need to change, that we have a plan for change and we are prepared and competent to implement that change. He has my full support because I am a Treasury Cabinet Minister, a colleague to Joe and I see his work up close and personal every day and it's outstanding.

SARAH HENDERSON:

Can I just say one of the projects that Joe has championed locally has been and will be fantastic for our region is the East West Link. So another $1.5 billion has gone into the western section of the East West Link which is going to help transform the way people in Geelong commute to work, if they do work in Melbourne and cut three hours a week off commute times from Geelong to Melbourne.

It is incredibly unfortunate that Labor is opposing that project because we are talking about where the next tranche of jobs is going to come from, particularly for our Alcoa workers. That's 6,000 jobs Labor is turning its back on that will be delivered during the construction of the East West Link. This is an incredible infrastructure project for our state, it's an incredible project for our city and it's frankly a disgrace that Labor is not supporting such an important project and those jobs.