28 March 2014
Transcript - #2014018, 2014

Interview with Brooke Corte and Carson Scott, Trading Day, Sky News Business

SUBJECTS: Small business, competition review and superannuation

BROOKE CORTE:

The Federal Government has named the members of its competition review panel, just this morning, saying the inquiry will be the most comprehensive review of competition policy in Australia in more than two decades.

CARSON SCOTT:

Small Business Minister Bruce Billson announcing Deloitte Access Economics partner Professor Ian Harper will chair the panel. They will be looking at competition and consumer act reform, particularly the special protection for small business.

BROOKE CORTE:

For more we're joined by Small Business Minister Bruce Billson from the Canberra studio, Bruce Billson great to have you on the show, thank you very much Minister.

BRUCE BILLSON:

Great to be here Erin, thank you.

BROOKE CORTE:

A much anticipated review. The breadth has been described by so many as quite extraordinary. I'm just trying to get my head around the range of entities that will be making submissions to something like this.

BRUCE BILLSON:

Well we are optimistic there will be full engagement from all quarters of our economy and consumers. This is the black letter law designed to make sure there is fair competition and opportunity in our market place. But the other half of it is, where are those choke points in our economy that represent the next generation of microeconomic reform so that we can boost growth, productivity, employment prospects and the well-being of our citizens. So all input is welcome.

BROOKE CORTE:

Are there particular industry sectors under scrutiny in this review?

BRUCE BILLSON:

Well it is an economy-wide examination. We've seen in particular areas including fuel, utilities and in the grocery and supermarket space some real consolidation – there has been a change in the nature of the economy since a review of this kind was undertaken 22 years ago. So what we're saying is the economy has changed and consumers have changed. We need to work out if our laws are fit for purpose for the current and emerging economy and that's the breadth of the work we've put before the panel.

CARSON SCOTT:

Talk to us about Peter Anderson, Su McCluskey, Michael O'Bryan, collectively what do they represent?

BRUCE BILLSON:

Well extraordinary horsepower I must say – they are a fantastic group of people. If I can use this term, I think we've got the feng shui right. We know there are a lot of contested views and a lot of pre-chewed arguments in this space. We wanted a very objective team that could soberly analyse the submissions and the analysis that is available to them. Chaired by Professor Harper - he has proved to be extremely skilled and wise in this role previously with his earlier appointments. Peter Anderson the former CEO of ACCI, has been advocating for businesses of all size but also has a keen eye on what those microeconomic reform opportunities are.

Su McCluskey has had a very impressive career so far and is currently the head of Regional Australia, an organisation advocating for the regional communities. She is a beef cattle farmer herself and formally headed up the Office of Better Practice Regulation, so she knows about red tape. She is also very wise and a big contributor to policy development.

Finally there is Michael O'Bryan, a highly regarded barrister and competition lawyer who brings that legalese to the team, recognising that its economic policy that frames the competition law which then gets translated into the black letter law. He will bring his insights on how well that has been done, as well as international law experience.

CARSON SCOTT:

Its actual experience in business. I suppose many would be anxious to see what's affected by the findings, not least of all, issues as concrete and real as increasing compulsory super and the impost that it puts on business owners. In an environment where as many continue to say, the winner, the landlord takes all and everyone else basically lives or dies at their every whim.

BRUCE BILLSON:

There are issues at play there about the dominance of certain players in the marketplace. In parallel with this root and branch review Carson, we are introducing unfair contract term projections for small business transactions. Its protection and relief that is available to individual consumers, recognising the imbalance in market power and opportunity to contest. Take it or leave it contracts are being extended to small business transactions. Also, we are pushing on with the examination of codes including franchise code reform. These are important areas. You mentioned superannuation and that uplift of contributions. We gave a policy commitment to freeze that for two years so that businesses can get their head above water and boost that inclination to go and recruit more people and get our economy going again.

BROOKE CORTE:

In terms of a timeframe, is it fair to say no action will really be taken within this first term of government?

BRUCE BILLSON:

Well we've got 12 months before the panel will report, and it depends very much on their findings and the government's response to those conclusions...

BROOKE CORTE:

So is that the intention to take all of that to the next election?

BRUCE BILLSON:

Well if there are substantial reforms that seem to be quite outside the anticipation of the broader economy and the public, that would be wise, but let's not prejudge those things at this stage.

We've got those commitments around unfair contract terms, we've got those commitments around franchising reform - just to pick on two particular tangible examples. And we are seeing, as we work through using the current law, some action on a range of other fronts.

So we will get that report back in about a year and then work out a response and see what's the most thoughtful, predictable and no surprises approach to the implementation of the recommendations.

BROOKE CORTE:

Small Business Minister, Bruce Billson, thank you very much – we know you are very excited by all of that today.

BRUCE BILLSON:

It's a big day. It'll go down in history along with when we won the America's Cup. Today is that exciting.