2 March 2015
Transcript - #2015024, 2015

Interview with Kieran Gilbert, AM Agenda, Sky News

SUBJECTS: Fairfax Ipsos poll results, Food and Grocery Code, Leadership, GP co-payment, Medicare, Horticulture Code

KIERAN GILBERT:

With me this morning to look at the poll and the other issues of the day the Small Business Minister, Bruce Billson. Mr Billson thanks for your time.

Encouraging for the Prime Minister, these numbers, and for the Government generally.

MINISTER BILLSON:

I take it as an affirmation that we need to focus on policy, not polls. You and I have had this discussion that it is all about performance. Performance is about outcomes for Australia, Australian citizens – that has got to be our focus. We have had a little bit of clear air, that is what we need to keep doing, focusing on policy, not polls. I think that is the big message out of these results.

KIERAN GILBERT:

Do you think it’s a message as well that the Government will see this as a sign from the electorate that they will baulk at a change of Prime Minister?

MINISTER BILLSON:

I am not going to read too much into it, because as your introduction alluded to there are many moving parts. What is absolutely clear to me from the feedback around my community and as I travel around Australia –people just want us to get on with it.

We had the vote three weeks ago, it is done, it is dusted, it is sorted, get back to business and that is building a strong and prosperous economy for a safe and secure future. That is the only message that I think needs to be taken out of these polls and that is the message I hope all of my colleagues embrace fulsomely.

KIERAN GILBERT:

The Prime Minister is having talks and dinners and drinks with backbenchers, last night, apparently at a gathering… is this the sort of thing he should have been doing more earlier?

MINISTER BILLSON:

I think we agreed that the vote in the Party Room was a great wake up call. I think the Prime Minister called it a ‘near death experience’.

He has reflected on his practice, all of Cabinet have thought we can be more engaging, more inclusive, more collaborative and that is what you have seen.

So the Prime Minister has changed his way, the way we are governing is more engaging, more consultative.

It is now time for people who might want a different leader to change their ways and then get behind the effort of good governance for this country, and that is where my focus certainly is.

KIERAN GILBERT:

The Cabinet meets later in the day.

MINISTER BILLSON:

That’s right.

KIERAN GILBERT:

I don’t expect you to go through the nuts and bolts…

MINISTER BILLSON:

Good of you to pick that up! That is very perceptive of you; I won’t go through the nuts and bolts.

KIERAN GILBERT:

But apparently when the political situation is discussed the public servants and the advisors, they all leave the room?

MINISTER BILLSON:

There are a few different phases of Cabinet meetings. We have a fireside chat amongst ourselves; we deal with the business at hand, that is the way we operate. It is a good, inclusive, open discussion about where we are at, the challenges that we are seeing.

And also remember around that room there is an awful lot of experience from metropolitan, rural, regional, outer-suburban areas. We are getting field evidence every day.

Now we are not all as fortunate as I was a little over a week ago to have the Prime Minister in my electorate, mingling with many of the community leaders and contributors that make the potential of my electorate materialise for citizens, but there was this shared purpose- shared purpose that we need to get on with that work.

KIERAN GILBERT:

But when you say the fireside chat, that’s just the individual of Cabinet talking and I guess sort of nutting out the politics, how you respond…?

MINISTER BILLSON:

We work through what we are seeing, we share our insights. This is the thing that I always find quite amazing: The Prime Minister is extraordinarily welcoming of our input. Our field evidence, our experience.

And there is an opportunity to feed off and learn from each other and gain a broader insight of what sort of knowledge and insights 20 experienced individuals can bring to the task of good governance for the country.

KIERAN GILBERT:

Do you think this might give him a bit of a pep up, because obviously it has been a tough few weeks.

MINISTER BILLSON:

Well he does not need a pep up, he has been the Eveready Bunny. He has been working very hard, policy, policy, policy. He has been focusing on what the Australian public…

KIERAN GILBERT:

It has been difficult; its been a pretty tough time…

MINISTER BILLSON:

Well, but that has not deflected his attention, he has been very focused – let us look at last week: We had foreign investment review changes, irrigation projects for Tasmania, and a very important national security speech. We have had the Productivity Commission work proceeding, we have got the child care reforms, and the McClure package. These are all important issues about the future of our country. This week we have got the Intergenerational Report…

KIERAN GILBERT:

The Medicare co-payment’s been scrapped….

MINISTER BILLSON:

The Medicare co-payment has been a real focus for Minister Sussan Ley…

KIERAN GILBERT:

And it’s gonna go.

MINISTER BILLSON:

…she has been talking with people around the country, working out what we need to do to ensure we have a robust, secure, supportive Medicare system. Medicare is fantastic, it is a quality system. Our effort is to make sure it stays that way and continues to be the bedrock of quality, affordable and accessible healthcare.

KIERAN GILBERT:

This has been a massive headache, politically.

MINISTER BILLSON:

Well, Sussan Ley is out there, engaging with the medical professionals...

KIERAN GILBERT:

To get rid of it finally though isn’t it?

MINISTER BILLSON:

I think what we are seeing is nobody is advocating the Labor position, nobody. No one is saying ‘do nothing’ and just let us sleepwalk into a financial challenge that its very self will cause compromise to Medicare…

KIERAN GILBERT:

How do you achieve that then?

MINISTER BILLSON:

…We are buttressing that, we are strengthening that, we are ensuring that it is robust and resilient. That is what Sussan Ley is engaging about.

KIERAN GILBERT:

But how do you achieve that?

MINISTER BILLSON:

That is why the consultations are there. Sussan Ley is working with the medical profession. This has to be a shared purpose; it has got to be a joint venture where the outcome is a safe and secure, accessible and affordable health system. Medicare is its bedrock. We need to make sure that is there for the security and well-being of our citizens into the future.

KIERAN GILBERT:

Did you accept it has been botched thus far?

MINISTER BILLSON:

We have got work to do on it, and you and I have had that discussion before and Sussan Ley is consulting very thoroughly, right across the country getting some good insights.

I know when I talk to my medicos they can always point to an area where there are some opportunities for efficiencies and to make sure we get better quality healthcare for the spend. So let us embrace that input.

KIERAN GILBERT:

You said your colleagues who want leadership change to now listen to the message here… Andrew Robb says pull your heads in.

MINISTER BILLSON:

Yeah.

KIERAN GILBERT:

Would you agree with that?

MINISTER BILLSON:

I am too classy to use that language.

Let’s get to work.

Let’s just put our best efforts into the best outcomes we can get for our citizens.

If people have got energy, capacity, experience – put it into that goal. Put it into good governance for this country, a strong and prosperous economy, a safe and secure future. All input, all energy, all insights welcome – let’s put that in…

KIERAN GILBERT:

Do you accept Josh Frydenberg’s characterisation of this: that even if Mr Abbott gave the Gettysburg Address that some colleagues wouldn’t be happy?

MINISTER BILLSON:

I mentioned earlier the Prime Minister has changed his ways, the way our systems are operating internally have changed. What I am calling for is for those that still think it is helpful to undermine, to introduce back chat that is cancer for our purpose and for the interests of our country – why don’t they change their ways for a while too?

Let’s get back to work for the interests of the Australian public.

KIERAN GILBERT:

On your work specifically, the establishment of a Food and Grocery Code of Conduct, can you talk us through it and I guess the question is, as I understand it, it is not mandatory so how is it effective?

MINISTER BILLSON:

It is a Code that will be overseen by the ACCC. I will be launching that today. It is about making sure there is fair and transparent and surefooted, healthy, commercial relationships between our big supermarket chains and their suppliers.

Let’s think about being a supplier; you really are very dependent on just a few channels to market, being the supermarket chains. That does not always give you a good, healthy, mutually respecting negotiating environment.

This Code puts bumper rails in place about what are fair and healthy commercial practices.

It is a Code that is an opt-in, and all the supermarkets have expressed support for the Code.

Once they opt-in it is binding. We will give it three years to make sure none of the mischief or even some of the court cases that we have seen arise - we will learn from that experience…

KIERAN GILBERT:

All the big supermarkets will sign on?

MINISTER BILLSON:

They have all said they are supportive of this Code and it will be now up to them to come forward and formally notify the ACCC that they are in. I call on them to do that quickly.

This has been work that has been taking quite a number of months to collaborate, to get it right. It is industry led, industry knows it needs action, we have delivered this, it is enacted now; let’s get on and see everybody sign on and be a part of it.

KIERAN GILBERT:

Does this relate to issues like the $1.00 milk for example, where the farmers feel like they are being dudded at the gate?

MINISTER BILLSON:

The issue around the $1.00 milk has largely passed because now arrangements have been put in place between a cooperative that the dairy producers own and a major supermarket chain, and says we will provide that milk, at that price, and on the basis of that- predictability.

So the kind of transparency we are looking for here – that provides predictability for investment, there are safeguards on what happens with price and supply and quality arrangements.

It is the kind of example that this Code really says let us get these relationships healthy, mutually respecting, transparent, no surprises, surefooted. That is why this Code is so important.

KIERAN GILBERT:

Are the farmers happy?

MINISTER BILLSON:

The farmers have been supportive of our work but their main interest, understandably, is on the Horticulture Code, which deals with fresh produce. That is work that Barnaby Joyce and I are progressing as well, the two together are companion codes.

This is us making sure that this is a good place for big and small businesses to thrive and prosper, that’s about doing the policy job for our nation.

KIERAN GILBERT:

Minister, thanks very much for your time.

MINISTER BILLSON:

Good to see you Kieran.