2 March 2015
Transcript - #2015025, 2015

Interview with Greg Jennett, ABC News 24

SUBJECTS: Food and Grocery Code of Conduct, small business company tax cut, Fairfax Ipsos poll, Leadership

Excerpts from Food and Grocery Code of Conduct doorstop played:

MINISTER BILLSON:

This industry led initiative recognises concerns about the pressure, particularly smaller suppliers are facing in the supply chain, to our largest supermarkets in Australia.

This Code is about looking after the interests of consumers because we know if suppliers are uncertain or anxious about their supply arrangements that will impede their preparedness to invest, to innovate and to provide good value to Australian consumers.

But once having opted in to the Code, it is binding and will be supervised by the ACCC.

I can see no good reason why they would not move quickly to formally notify the Commission that they are prepared to be bound by the Code.

Gary is there anything you would like to add?

GARY DAWSON:

One of the strengths of the collaborative approach that’s been taken here is that the major supermarket chains have been involved in this right from the start.

It was their willingness to come to the table that made this possible, really. So they have been involved literally in the drafting of this from the start and so that is one of the strengths. That is why it’s so relevant to the trading relationships in a real way.

Notwithstanding that, it is a strong, enforceable code that does address the pressure points, does address the areas of friction that have caused such angst in those trading relationships over recent years.

So, we think it’s a good balance. It is minimal effective regulation, it is light touch regulation consistent with the Government’s view, consistent with the industry’s view and that is one of the real strengths of the Code.

GREG JENNETT:

That was Gary Dawson from the Food and Grocery Council and before him the Small Business Minister Bruce Billson. Now Mr Billson is at the sharp end of reshaping Government policies ahead of the Budget and he is watching indicators of support as closely as anyone in the Liberal Party right now. He joins us in the studio, Mr Billson, thank you.

On your Grocery Code first of all, how many companies would you say are committed to signing up to this and how quickly?

MINISTER BILLSON:

We have had really positive response from Coles, Woolworths, Aldi and Metcash. They have all been intricately involved in its formulation, expressing positive support for the Code.

Now the ball is in their court to advise the Australian Consumer and Competition Commission that they are happy to be bound by it, the ACCC will then oversee it and then we are good to go, so I am optimistic we will get all four on.

GREG JENNETT:

And that would be quickly?

MINISTER BILLSON:

I think so, yes. Aldi has already come out today congratulating the Government and the Food and Grocery Council and the stakeholders that have been involved in formulating the Code, and have said they will sign on. Now that is a great first instalment, we have got the others to come.

Importantly, through the consultation process we had to formulate a very specific regime for Metcash that deals with its business model so there is a wholesale provision available for Metcash, ideally suited for their business model and they have been supportive of our work and now I am looking to them to also indicate early sign on and commitment.

GREG JENNETT:

Alright, let’s look elsewhere on your policy plate. You’ve got the small business tax cut coming through soon. Are we any clearer yet on what happens beyond that for big business? How some of them get back up to 30 cents to pay their contribution to what’s now called the Child Care Package?

MINISTER BILLSON:

The Prime Minister has made it clear in that excellent National Press Club speech that the 1.5 per cent company tax cut for small business companies is the starting point, we are obviously working beyond that.

And we have made it clear that bigger enterprises will not be disadvantaged. What this is about is energising enterprise.

We need to get the economy humming and operating on all cylinders to recover some of the 519,000 jobs lost in small business under the Rudd Gillard Rudd Government; that is our focus.

Looking at a range of measures, not just the one that the Prime Minister reaffirmed at the National Press Club, but measures beyond that to energise enterprise and recognise small business is the engine room of our economy.

GREG JENNETT:

But no clearer indication about what big business might be required to pay after the small business tax cut goes through, what we used to call the PPL levy

MINISTER BILLSON:

Well the Prime Minister has made it clear there will be no disadvantage to larger corporations, that has been made clear and that reassurance has been provided over and over again.

For me, yes there is clarity emerging. We are working on that comprehensive package. I will not be announcing it to you here today but we are consulting on that and getting good feedback and I am happy with the shape that it is taking.

GREG JENNETT:

Okay, barnacles; we are hearing more will be removed this week – higher education, is that likely to be amongst them? The six week dole proposal? What is driving the fire sale right now?

MINISTER BILLSON:

Now, there is work going on. What the Government has been doing is focusing on the work of Government and the interests of the Australian community to build a strong and prosperous economy, a safe and secure future.

We know some policy measures have not been received well-we have been upfront about that- but work continues to try and deal with what we need to do today to take steps and action to build for the care and safety and requirement and prosperity of the future.

That work is ongoing and you will hear more about those from the responsible ministers.

GREG JENNETT:

Alright so we have got that Fairfax Ipsos poll out. What’s your explanation for what appears to be a spike for the Government there?

MINISTER BILLSON:

Who knows what leads people to express a view to a poll, but what I have said all along is reflecting what I am told in my own electorate and amongst the small business community that I circulate in. They want us to get on with the job. Good policy is good politics.

The Prime Minister has made changes to the way in which Cabinet and he engages- that has been good.

Now it is time for those that might want to see a change, to change their way so we can bring all of our best efforts to the task of good governance for the country.

GREG JENNETT:

That’s your appeal to doubters within the Government to get back in the box?

MINISTER BILLSON:

Let’s get back to work.

Many of us have just kept on working, focusing on important issues that our nation needs to face. My encouragement is for everybody to adopt that disposition and do the important work of good governance.

What is also clear is Bill Shorten is the ornamental man of Australian politics: No one knows what he is about, he has got no alternative ideas. He is just inciting grievance and disquiet where he can, and I think there is also a message for him in that poll that that is not what the country is looking for.

Labor also needs to get on about good governance for the country and that would be a welcome change in this building.

GREG JENNETT:

Is one possible explanation for the recovery in the poll that the public is more attune to the sorts of things you were talking about last week – Food labelling, national security, foreign investment in real estate – than it is about the employment status of Gillian Triggs?

MINISTER BILLSON:

I think the real life issues that occupy people’s minds, that are the topics of discussion around the dining room table and where people are sharing their hopes and ambitions for the future, are precisely aligned with the key priorities of this Government.

We have not been distracted, we have focused very much on job creation, small business, better support for families, getting the budget right; taking action today so we can take care of the future, that has been our focus and I think that is where it needs to stay.

GREG JENNETT:

But if that’s the case why did it take a jolting wake up call to the Prime Minister on the 9 February to find yourself going into those policy spaces, which may be an explanation for an improvement in the Government’s standing?

MINISTER BILLSON:

Well the Prime Minister made it clear, I think he called that ballad a ‘near death experience’ if I recall his language.

But what is clear is that we have got an outstanding team of people: Frontbenchers, middle benchers, backbenchers and many people in the community, happy to share their interests and their field evidence with our work, to formulate better policies for the country.

That has got to be our focus and that is certainly my focus- and as you mentioned in that summary of things that have happened just in recent days, we are getting on with the job of governing well for the country.

GREG JENNETT:

And Malcolm Turnbull is still 20 points preferred over the Prime Minister: Do you think that might continue to make some of those critics that you have already addressed in this interview, think wistfully about what could be?

MINISTER BILLSON:

I cannot put my mind into the minds of others. What I do know is as I travel around the electorates and the communities and the small business men and women of Australia, the message is clear – you have some good achievements to date, there is unity, stability, a clear plan, more to be done – get on with it!

That is the message that I have got and that is the one I embrace.

GREG JENNETT:

Alright, Bruce Billson, we’ll let you get on with it. Small Business Minister, thank you.

MINISTER BILLSON:

Thank you.