22 May 2014

Interview with Peter Van Onselen, Sky News

Note
SUBJECTS: Budget, health, education and small business

This is a transcript of Minister Billson's interview with Peter Van Onselen on Sky News. The topics discussed included the Budget, health, education and small business.

PETER VAN ONSELEN:

Well he is the Small Business Minister which is not an insignificant aspect of Liberal interests. He's a member of the Cabinet and he is here to talk with me now, live out of Melbourne. Bruce Billson, thanks very much for your company.

MINISTER BILLSON:

Good to be with you Peter and your viewers.

PETER VAN ONSELEN:

There's been a bit of confusion about some of the remarks in terms of co-payments and education. I just want to clarify something if I can. If I'm the average person going along to the doctor, what is the safety net on the $7 payment?

MINISTER BILLSON:

Well at the moment there is a safety net that applies to all regular folks that aren't concession card holders. I think it's around $1420, around that level, and after expenditure beyond that, you revert back to being a concessional equivalent patient. So that's broadly the arrangements that are in place right now but Peter Dutton can go through those details in more finer detail than me.

PETER VAN ONSELEN:

Is that right though? I realise this isn't your portfolio but the Prime Minister answered that by saying it's 10 visits and then the standard bulk billing arrangements apply, that's similar to what you just said, but that was clarified by his office later that actually it's only people who are concession card holders, youth and pensioners.

MINISTER BILLSON:

Yeah and that was the point I was making Peter. Concession card holders it's 10 visits but after which the bulk billing arrangements apply for people me who are non-concession card holders there is a safety net that kicks in around $1420. They are then treated as concession card holders so that's the way it operates with two levels of safety nets to help those most needy. That's the 10 visits that the Prime Minister quite correctly referred to and for people that aren't concession card holders, There is a safety net that kicks in at around $1420 if my memory serves me correctly.

PETER VAN ONSELEN:

Better details there than the PM and I'll give you credit for that. Let me ask you this then. Is it true that the chronically ill will be hit by the Medicare co-payment? They wouldn't be affected by it?

MINISTER BILLSON:

What happens for those that are chronically ill is when they are having their chronic illness care plan developed, that's outside the co-payment arrangements and when that care plan is monitored, usually three or four times a year, that is also outside of those arrangements. But beyond that there will be 10 services which could be a visit to the doctor or pathologist and that are where the safety net is.

PETER VAN ONSELEN:

You're bang on right about that but as you know the Australian Medical Association had a go at Joe Hockey with his Monday night appearance that they felt he was a bit misleading about that.

MINISTER BILLSON:

I'm not sure what the AMA said but what I have seen is some patients already reacting to some of the shrill commentary and complete over the top scaremongering that's around these issues and changing their behaviour when nothing has actually changed.

So this is why it's important for us to communicate what's actually in the budget, why it is crucial to repairing our financial circumstances and our capacity to provide well and fully for the vulnerable and those who need help in the future.

PETER VAN ONSELEN:

But you're not obviously going to criticise your Prime Minister and your Treasurer. But I agree with you, it's important to communicate it accurately and that's one of the issues here. This is a tough sell budget because there are some tough measures in it and that's why people are protesting, that's why there is as you say, the shrill reaction from the Opposition. But when ministers like yourself, not you, you've got it bang on tonight, but Minister's like the Prime Minister get the facts wrong, it's difficult to sell something that they don't know the details of.

MINISTER BILLSON:

Look I've been very impressed with how the Prime Minister and the Treasurer have been across the detail on $400 billion of expenditure, calibrations in the eligibility criteria, indexation arrangements, modest changes today that put us on track to a more sustainable future. Here those structural changes make a bigger difference over time. That was part of our strategy, not to go too hard too soon. I know some, even you on occasions have said we should have gone harder but we didn't think that was necessary because we are seeing some green shoots in the economy, some improvements in employment prospects and we didn't want to burn that off by going too hard too soon. We decided to make sensible structural changes that will help us sustain those safety nets into the future to support a great country.

PETER VAN ONSELEN:

Well let's get onto some of that, particularly because it pertains to your portfolio. You talk about the green shoots in the economy but consumer confidence has been hit. We've seen the Westpac survey on that and we've seen others as well. Now that has got to be a particular concern, particularly in your policy area of small business. We all know when consumer confidence gets hit, small business is probably the area of business that is most in trouble.

MINISTER BILLSON:

Yeah it's at the pointy end. That's why we were very thoughtful and careful to make modest, targeted and important changes in the short term, but make those structural changes in the longer term. Cause if we went too hard, too hot too soon, that would have caused enormous reverberations throughout the economy. What we are now dealing with is actually making sure consumers are aware of what's in the budget, not what some of the shrill commentary and those that are taking pot shots about it are saying.

Pensioners aren't having their pensions reduced, that are not what's happening. They will continue to be increased and the benefits it will provide....

PETER VAN ONSELEN:

But the size of the increase will be reduced, that's the issue isn't it? The size of the increase will be reduced, the size of the increase to health and education funding by the Commonwealth and States will be reduced. There are not cuts, there's a reduction of the increase.

MINISTER BILLSON:

Well in the areas like health and education, prior to the election when there was no good account for how to pay for funding commitments or promises that Labor made, they had those funding levels not taking off like a jumbo jet but like a jet fighter beyond the budget period, where there was no need to account for how we were going to pay for that.

We’ve said let's keep this increases but let's make them manageable so we can be sure footed and certain that we can finance those forward commitments. That's the important forward structural part of the budget that you've touched on. Yes the increases are there, the trajectory and rate of those increases are where there has been some adjustment.

PETER VAN ONSELEN:

Well why not say all of this ahead of the election?

MINISTER BILLSON:

Well we made it absolutely clear in the lead up to the election that we would commit to funding the Gonski area and the schools funding area that we would not only match what Labor had said, but we turned out having to increase it, because there was money taken out for those states that hadn't signed on. We made it absolutely clear Peter that we weren't going to make blue sky promises and wishful thinking beyond the forward estimates. I remember you grilling my colleagues saying why won't you commit to year five and six? Well the answer is its pretty slack and slap happy to make commitments in years five and six when you don't have to explain how you are going to pay for them.

So we were responsible and measured. We made those commitments within the window of the forward estimates and that's what we are delivering, and looking into the future so that we are not blowing the prospects of our kids for their choices by loading them up with debt and deficits that they have to pay at a time when fewer people are in the workforce to provide the wealth to maintain our living standards as a nation.

PETER VAN ONSELEN:

One final question if I can Bruce Billson. You're one of the philosophical thinkers in the parliamentary Liberal party in my opinion. Do you have any philosophical objections to an adjustment to the GST? Whether it's a rise of a broadening of the tax?

MINISTER BILLSON:

Philosopher I am not. I am an action man, evangelical about small business but importantly, emphasising what the public has been saying to me for many years that they want long term forward thinking, a sure footed government to meet the infrastructure needs...

PETER VAN ONSELEN:

You're avoiding the question.

MINISTER BILLSON:

No I'm giving you an answer. That's where my energy is and a renaissance in small business, putting the business back into small business. We've got structures in place to deal with the tax discussions, what's the shape and nature of our tax regime to meet our future needs as a nation and the federation. There is important work to be done there and I'm keen to have a talk with you about that another time. But right now I'm making sure the 412,000 jobs that were lost in small business under Labor can be replaced and we can see that renaissance in the engine room of the economy that we need for the growth and employment prospects for the future. That's my focus and I'll let the others be the philosophers.

PETER VAN ONSELEN:

Alright fair enough. Bruce Billson thank you -really appreciate your company on the program.

MINISTER BILLSON:

Great to speak with you.

PETER VAN ONSELEN:

I don't know what your view is but my view is that he is one of the more articulate, clear thinking, clear minded members of the front bench. He's in the Cabinet, he's under-utilised when it comes to selling the budget. There is no Assistant Treasurer at the moment and he has the details down pat. He proved that in the first couple minutes of the interview. I'd be rolling him out more often if I was Peta Credlin and the Prime Minister.