6 May 2015
Transcript - #2015050, 2015

Interview with with Marcus Paul, 2CC Canberra Live

SUBJECTS: Free Trade Agreements, Budget, exploitation of visa workers, ACCC petrol monitoring

MARCUS PAUL:

The Federal Minister Bruce Billson, Federal Minister for Small Business, has been in Yass today talking about Free Trade Agreements and opportunities for businesses across our region.

I am happy to say the Minister joins us on Canberra Live. Good afternoon to you.

MINISTER BILLSON:

Good afternoon to you Marcus and your listeners.

MARCUS PAUL:

How can the ACT region benefit from new Free Trade Agreements with countries from Asia like Japan for instance?

MINISTER BILLSON:

There is some spectacular opportunities Marcus and in the immediate Canberra area we have seen over 10% growth in exports from innovative entrepreneurs in the greater Canberra region.

But today in Yass we were going out to the Southern Tablelands in the Yass valley region generally where there is some real strength Marcus in the existing economy and some real champions that are already exporting.

Today was about saying these new trade agreements put us on as good or better footing than most other developed economies. Love the agriculture, love the wine. We have got students coming in that are getting a taste for what it is we offer is high quality premium Australian products and services.

Let us use that beachhead and the success of current exporters to get more exporters from the region that are generating jobs and economic growth.

We heard about wool, we heard about beef, we heard about wines, cherries, technology exporters in computer software and the like, education through the universities – great opportunities Marcus.

A delicious world of possibilities and today was about illuminating those, that potential and then working out what we can do to make it real and deliver real jobs and economic benefits for the region.

MARCUS PAUL:

Ok. I was at this seminar today at Yass, who else was there today?

MINISTER BILLSON:

Of course you had Angus Taylor the outstanding local Member for Hume. But really what people had come to hear, I would like to think it was me but I know that is not the case Marcus.

MARCUS PAUL:

You never know.

MINISTER BILLSON:

Look not exactly the thinking woman’s crumpet.

We had a range of outstanding Commonwealth agency representatives, and what we are trying to do is bring together the away game that the Commonwealth and that our nation has available to help.

We had experts from DFAT, from Austrade, TradeStart, EFIC, AusIndustry, Export Market Development Grant programs, we had some trade facilitation officials that have been over from China just to talk about what that pathway is that others have already taken to secure important markets so that others can do that as well and take advantage of the tariff reductions and improvements in competitive position that the trade agreements have delivered.

MARCUS PAUL:

I just want to move on to the Federal Budget. It will be up in less than a week as we know. Some commentators are tipping a bit of a do nothing Budget by your Government. Will that be the case Bruce?

MINISTER BILLSON:

No the Budget is going to continue the task of making sure we take positive steps to live within our means. So that Budget repair task is going to continue but it will be done in such a way that the green shoots in the economy that are seeing three times the jobs growth in the last calendar year compared to the last year of the previous Labor Government and record business start-ups, we have seen some positive signs around consumer spending and the like – we are just trying to continue that momentum.

Some targeted support for families and a really exciting package around jobs and small business.

For me, we have been working our tail off making sure that the largest package of support for small business that the country has seen lands well, it energises enterprise and we recover some of the 519,000 jobs that we lost in small businesses under the Rudd-Gillard-Rudd Labor Governments. Much to do and we are doing plenty.

MARCUS PAUL:

Now Bruce you mentioned green shoots, you were echoing sentiments yesterday of Treasurer Joe Hockey – explain to the Canberra Live audience what exactly is meant by green shoots?

MINISTER BILLSON:

Green shoots – imagine one of those spring time plants in Canberra. You have gone through a period of hibernation and those plants have got the green shoots of life and vitality. They are the signs of positive trend and change that we want to capitalise on and then build from.

Let me give you some examples. There is a 14% increase in building approvals for instance. We have seen improvements in the rate of consumer spending; the retail numbers are up. We have seen examples where households are now saving slightly less, still making sure they can cover their commitments with a bit of a buffer and they are putting money back into the economy. We have seen some uptick in hospitality and in areas of agriculture – it is about 253 cents a kilogram for beef at the moment.

These are all good signs. We want to keep those positive signs going and then see what optimism and positivity expanded to other areas of the economy.

MARCUS PAUL:

Here I was thinking green shoots was just another buzz word. I think you have explained it well thank you Bruce.

MINISTER BILLSON:

It is hard Marcus to try and find a way that is, let us say, outside the beltway or Canberra bureaucratic speak and get language that people can connect with and say yes there is some good stuff happening, what can we do to capitalise on that, expand it and then carry it forward.

MARCUS PAUL:

Two more things if I could. You would have no doubt heard about the issue that was raised on the ABC earlier this week with an exposé done about the possible and probable, given the evidence that was raised, exploitation of visa workers in Australia and this would also include small businesses.

Is that something you will be looking into?

MINISTER BILLSON:

Yes we have activity going on through the Fair Work Ombudsman and others and even in the Department of Immigration to make sure that where there is exploitation of workers, we know about it and we take action.

Whether they are domestic or foreign employees, exploiting workers is unlawful and employers big or small engaging in exploitation or not paying workers what they should pay or not respecting conditions and entitlements deserve to be held to account. They are breaking the law and a number of actions are in place to tackle that.

Fair Work Ombudsman, Immigration Department and if any of your listeners have any examples that they are aware of let us know and we will chase them up either through the Fair Work website or there is a couple of call lines on 131 394 or 131 881.

If people know or suspect that something is not being done correctly and in accordance with the law, let us know and we will track that down.

MARCUS PAUL:

Finally on fuel Bruce. You have been looking at petrol prices across the country. No surprise that here in Canberra we had a few price falls recently but they have stagnated. Here in the Capital, we seem to be paying on par or if not more than most other capital cities.

MINISTER BILLSON:

The research showed that most of the reduction in international processed fuel or distilled fuel or crude oil prices were being passed on in the major capital cities Marcus, but in some key regional centres and key economic hubs like Canberra the experience was a bit spotty.

What I have done is I have tasked the ACCC with a new direction to publish that data more frequently, so that will be every three months, and where we see these aberrations or what I would call curiosities…

MARCUS PAUL:

I call them a rip off Bill.

MINISTER BILLSON:

Yes I would like to do that but I cannot prejudge those things and you can call be Bruce if you want mate.

MARCUS PAUL:

Yes Bruce I call them a rip off. Aberration to you, rip off to us.

MINISTER BILLSON:

Yes I do not want to prejudge them but they are particularly curious in some cases.

What we have done is we have not only given this taking of more timely information and a publishing of that by the ACCC, and there are many examples where the stuff seems not quite right in terms of pricing- the ACCC now has a new power to do a deep dive into those markets and fine what is happening.

The other thing too, and I want to pay tribute to Canberra motorists Marcus, your motorists realised that the most powerful thing they can do is shop with their feet. They created an app, people are sharing information about where the prices are cheapest.

I know when Costco is open there is a couple of big brand petrol retailers around the corner that match Costco’s price when they are open and when Costco is closed the prices go up. So Canberra motorists are realising they are the most powerful force and I commend them for that and we have given the ACCC the task and the tools to go after areas where there is exploitation or some anti-competitive or unconscionable conduct going on.

MARCUS PAUL:

Alright Bruce thank you so much for your time I appreciate it this afternoon.

MINISTER BILLSON:

Thanks Marcus. Thanks for your interest mate.