17 August 2015

Address at the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry Business Leaders' Summit


Check against delivery

Thanks Peter [Hood — President of ACCI Board] and thank you, everyone — it's great to be here to open the ACCI Business Leaders Summit.

ACCI has, for more than two decades, been an outstanding voice for Australian business — whether here in Canberra, nationally or overseas.

You've been served well by Peter and, in particular, Kate [Carnell — ACCI CEO], whose strong voice is achieving great outcomes for the industry.

She is a woman who knows business; she believes in business.

She has ever since she bought her first pharmacy in Red Hill. It was her first child, as Kate tells it. And she brought to that small, run-down pharmacy, a drive that I can both understand and respect.

The new frontier

And this Government understands business too.

We believe in business and its role in Australia's future.

And we want our businesses — large and small — to have the incentive to thrive in a rapidly changing global economy.

It is through your success that we'll be able to create more jobs and provide opportunities for all Australians.

That is why we're supporting you by cutting red tape and putting more money in your pockets.

Our new Free Trade Agreements with Japan, Korea and China will give Australian businesses access to the world's fastest growing markets.

Together, these countries offer a customer base of 1.5 billion people.

That's 1.5 billion opportunities to get out there and have a go; with more opportunities on the horizon as we look to India.

A dishonest campaign

Our political opponents don't see this opportunity.

As you all know, right now there is a militant trade union campaign against the Free Trade Agreement with China, supported by the Labor Party.

They're not willing to look past short-term point scoring to see the tremendous opportunities this agreement brings to all businesses — small or large.

Instead, they're putting it at risk. They're putting at risk Australian jobs, and they're putting our future at risk.

Rather than accept the world is changing, that borders and barriers are yesterday's news, they want to live in the past — to fight for fringe interests rather than deliver benefits for all.

Well, it's time Australians knew the facts — the real facts.

First, the Investment Facilitation Arrangements will not reduce the current migration safeguards, nor will they preference overseas workers over Australian workers.

Second, the IFAs do not commit Australia to any concessions on existing 457 visa requirements. There will just be an overarching framework to consider requests for overseas workers provided no qualified Australians are available.

What this framework does is provide certainty for companies wanting to make large investments in Australia.

Third, companies that gain approval for an IFA will have significant conditions to meet before they can hire even one overseas worker.

They will have to give Australians the first opportunity to put their hands up.

Fourth, it will be mandatory for companies to consult stakeholders during this process, and that will include unions.

And fifth, our Free Trade Agreements will create jobs.

By next year, we expect the three FTAs will create thousands of extra jobs and that figure will continue to grow every year.

Those are the facts. And they expose what is a dishonest campaign — a campaign of lies — and one that puts our relationship with our largest trading partner at risk.

ACCI, and many of you in this room today, know this. You've stood up and made your voices heard on the many benefits of FTAs, particularly with China.

I'm asking that you continue to do this; that you continue to support our FTA initiatives, as we will continue to support you.

An exciting time

We live in an exciting time. Within 15 years, China and India will be home to 2 billion middle-class consumers.

That's a tremendous opportunity for Australia and Australian business — right on our doorstep!

For the cheese maker in Victoria; the vintner in South Australia; the cattle farmer in Queensland — their goods will enter China duty-free within the next few years, axing tariffs ranging from 12 to 25 per cent!

For the prawn farmers; the oyster shuckers; the crab netters — there is an elimination of the 10 per cent tariff for goods headed to Japan.

And for our fruit and veggie farmers, many products can now enter Korea duty-free — which previously would have been slogged up to 24 per cent.

Those are a few of what is a cargo-load of examples, and without doubt they show enormous benefits for our primary producers. The men and women who, for so long during the last century, carried the nation on their back.

This is, once again, their time.

But it's not just our agricultural industries that will benefit. For our all-important services industry, which is 70 per cent of our country's economy, there'll be opportunities to expand into Asia, free of barriers.

Australians will be able to open an aged care facility in Shanghai; expand their law firm to Tokyo; give financial advice in Seoul.

The Government knows that, in a global economy, business should not be constrained by markings on a map.

We're preparing for the future by opening new doors. And Australian businesses should have the confidence to walk through them and compete with the world's best.

You're innovative enough. You're smart enough. I see it every day when I travel around this country, and I can see it before me now.

Start-ups and entrepreneurs

Of course, to make the most of these opportunities — to complete in this global economy — businesses will also need to innovate.

The Budget in May helped with this. When I announced the biggest small business initiative in Australia's history, it sent a signal to have a go!

We put more money back into the hands of Australian business owners. We said to them, 'Be confident about the future', because when you're confident you're going to go out and spend and employ people. You're going to innovate be more competitive.

It's in small business that we'll find our next Atlassian, Carman's Muesli or — if we're lucky — Bobbie the Lavender Bear.

That's a great story. At Bridestowe Estate, a lavender farm just outside Launceston, the owners came up with an innovative solution to all the excess dried lavender.

They used it to fill purple bears, which they called Bobbie. And the Chinese market responded.

Last year, they sold 40,000 bears. Demand exceeds supply by 10 to one. And around 28,000 Chinese tourists are now heading to Tasmania each year.

It's a story that shows, as each of you in this room know, every business starts small.

And when small business is confident, when they are growing, the momentum flows through the economy and new jobs.

That is why it's not just our small businesses benefitting. Only last month I travelled to Studio Shirts in Sydney, where the owners are enjoying a surge in activity despite having a turnover that's above the threshold for the tax cut.

Business confidence was positive in every non-mining sector in June — which is only the third time in four years we've seen this.

Our 0.9 per cent economic growth in the March quarter makes us one of the fastest growing developed economies.

Retail trade is almost 5 per cent higher than last year, and more than 330,000 jobs have been created since the Government was elected.

Monthly job creation under our Government has been over four times the rate that Labor left us with in 2013. Since the beginning of 2014, an average of 19,100 jobs have been created each month, far in excess of the average of 3,600 jobs created each month in 2013.

Australia's jobs growth over the past year has been stronger than the US, stronger than the UK, stronger than Canada – and indeed stronger than every G7 nation. This is a great achievement!

The number of bankruptcies has fallen to its lowest level in 20 years, led by a big drop in NSW.

Across Australia, there were a total 28,288 personal insolvencies recorded in 2014/15, a pleasing 4.2 per cent fall from the previous year.

So with all these numbers to encourage us, the Government is doing all we can to encourage innovation, with start-ups and entrepreneurs top items on the agenda.

We've streamlined the business registration process so it's easier to gain a foothold; we've thrown away the obstacles to crowd-sourced equity funding; we're allowing new start-ups to immediately deduct the costs of setting up their business.

We're letting employees have 'skin in the game' by improving the taxation of employee share schemes.

And to go back to the Budget, our $5.5 billion small business package is helping small businesses across the country to innovate and grow.

There were tax cuts for small businesses, and an immediate deduction for every eligible asset costing less than $20,000, right up until June 2017.

And we abolished the outdated, and frankly ridiculous, Fringe Benefits Tax on portable electronic devices, like mobile phones and laptops.

These changes give our small business owners the cash flow and the tools they need to have a go. And that momentum is, as I said earlier, spreading — to the rest of business, and the broader Australian economy.

Closing remarks

This is just the beginning of the story. We've still got more to do — we know that.

But we are on the right track. We are preparing for the future and bringing opportunities your way.

And we are doing this with every Australian in mind.

This Government does not, unlike our opponents, cling to the old ways to benefit a few; to serve the fringe.

That is the politics of self-interest. The union way.

The Labor way.

We want to open the economic landscape for business so we can deliver for the disadvantaged and the unemployed.

We want each of us to be the best we can be.

And I ask all of you to help us as we reach this final hurdle with the China Free Trade Agreement.

As Kate once told a tenants' meeting, right before she jumped into the world of politics, you've got to 'step up to the plate' if you want change.

And not just change — the opportunity change brings.

So stand with as we fight the good fight. We need to keep reforming, keep coming up with ideas, and to keep delivering for Australian business.

That way, Australia will thrive in the new global economy.

Thank you.