1 April 2015
Transcript - #2015037, 2015

Interview with Kieran Gilbert, Sky AM Agenda

SUBJECTS: Competition Policy Review – taxi industry, pharmacy industry and secondary boycotts.

KIERAN GILBERT:

Which are the recommendations are you going to implement?

MINISTER BILLSON:

Well we are working through all 56 Kieran, I do not think you would expect, less than 24 hours after receiving the report, to offer a detailed commentary and a considered response on every one of the recommendations. 

What we have indicated was, in releasing the report immediately that I have received it, put it out into the community so that stakeholders and interest groups, State and Territory and Local Government can get their minds around what Professor Harper and his eminent panel have recommended. 

Over the next eight weeks or so I will be consulting and collaborating, both within the Commonwealth Government and with other levels of Government and stakeholders - and we will shape up our response framework and an action plan to deal with the recommendations at that point.

KIERAN GILBERT:

It is fair to say that some of the areas that Professor Harper points to are anachronistic aren’t they?  They need to be dealt with, need to be changed.

MINISTER BILLSON:

Yes, look it is one of these interesting points, and it has actually made in the report Kieran, that there is not a cheer squad out there for competition policy reform because the benefits are omnipresent, they are right across the economy, they are for consumers more generally, they are all about improving our  productivity into the future.

That often comes up against very strongly held vested interests that have a very particular consideration of one or two of the recommendations but, within that framework we need to navigate a pathway that says we need to lift our productivity. 

That is about income standards, economic opportunities into the future, remove choke points that are standing in the way of that full economic potential and also making sure we create an economic environment where efficient businesses, big and small, can thrive and prosper, they are certain about investment, they know the contest for customers will be fought on merit not on economic muscle and consumers in the broader Australia is the beneficiary of that framework.

KIERAN GILBERT:

Well, I want to ask you, because there are two areas in particular where it seems a no brainer to address. It is in the consumer’s interest, but you are facing very powerful and long standing lobbies in these industries that will oppose these moves. 

One of them the Pharmacy Guild, the other the taxi industry.

MINISTER BILLSON:

Well, certainly they have got strong views and a well-established positions.

What Harper points to, let us go to the taxi industry first, is that the consumers are shopping with their feet. 

They are embracing new service models like Uber to work around the traditional regulatory framework that would see the limit on the capacity of people to meet the transport needs of their customers through issuing taxi licences. 

To the taxi industry’s credit, they have stepped up, they have recognised that Uber has got some innovation about knowing when the car is arriving; tracking it on an app; being more responsive to what customers want and if they want to pay a little bit more. 

You know, I am not sure if you are a chai latte kind of guy Kieran, but having the coffee of choice available for them when they turn up. 

So you are seeing a work around on these traditional regulatory models where the consumer is sovereign and they are actually using new technology to better meet their needs. 

So that is an example and even if you are going on a holiday and you are looking for someone to care for your pets, you used to have to find a kennel, hope it is licensed appropriately, go and see if they have got a vacancy available and away you go. 

Now you can get an app that says well who in my neighbourhood loves dogs as much as I do and can take care of Lucy while I am away for a few days. 

Then going to pharmacy and this has been an area of discussion for some time.  The current models that look at location rules and ownership rules have their genesis in a public policy goal of seeing pharmacies as part of the primary health system.  If you take that away, you might see 15 pharmacies in a block and a half in Paddington where they think there is some delicious commercial opportunities, but then not see that important primary health service out in rural and regional areas where the economics and the market might not see it as attractive a location as other places. 

And then you need some other way of meeting that need and what Professor Harper and his panel are saying, where you have got these restrictions on competition- know what the public policy objective is, satisfy yourselves that the alternatives aren’t delivering a net benefit for consumers and make sure you bring that discipline to all of your work where these rules are in place.

KIERAN GILBERT:

We have only got a minute left, but you say you have got an appetite for reform.  How much of an appetite do you have to take on the Unions in the lead up to the next election?  Professor Harper calls on the ACCC, for example, to pursue secondary boycotts with more vigour, to increase penalties – he is suggesting from $750,000 to one million dollars.  Are you willing to have this sort of fight with the Union movement, I guess Labor as well in the lead up to the next election?

MINISTER BILLSON:

Well, I mean, what is the alternative?  Allow stand over tactics and damage and harm to be caused to other businesses and workplaces and other employees because someone has got some power that no one else has to disrupt the economy and cause damage and harm. 

That is of no interest to workers. 

Workers in those effected businesses want the chance to go to work and hope as the business owners do that the business is viable so I mean that is, you characterise it in one way as if the Union movement should have some free range opportunity to cause harm and havoc in the economy. 

That is not in the workers interests, that is not going to help employment; it does nothing for overall economic conditions.  I think a reframing of that discussion would see that Harpers recommendations are quite thoughtful and sound. 

They are not about going after anybody, they are about making sure we have got an economy that supports efficient businesses, big and small; that they have a chance to thrive and prosper and through that we have jobs growth, improved opportunities, and better living standards. That is the history from Hilmer, which is what Harper offers as a pathway for the future.

KIERAN GILBERT:

Competition Minister and Small Business Minister, Bruce Billson appreciate your time as always, thank you.

MINISTER BILLSON:

Thanks Kieran.