2 June 2015
Transcript - #2015062, 2015

Interview with Peter van Onselen and Kristina Keneally, Sky News

SUBJECTS: Small business budget package, same-sex marriage, Cabinet conversations, polls

KRISTINA KENEALLY:

Bruce Billson, welcome to the program, it’s an absolute delight to have you as our first Coalition Minister.

PETER VAN ONSELEN:

Obviously, I’m bad cop to Kristina Keneally good cop, so let me ask the first question: It is all about you in the budget, and it’s all about your small business package which has been well received.

When are they going to give you a Government department? You’re the only person in Cabinet without a Government department.

MINISTER BILLSON:

Look, it is not all about the size of the department; it is about the quality of the argument and what good we can do to support our nation.

You would know that PVO, I am very happily working with the Treasury officials. We made that decision to put small business policy in Treasury because that is our economic analysis powerhouse in the Commonwealth.

I want them, and they are now, every day, thinking about what enterprising men and women are weighing up to make an investment, to perhaps employ one more person, to energise enterprise and that is what Treasury is doing.

I am thrilled with the collaborative work we are doing and you do not need a department; you just need focus and purpose and a good policy agenda and that is what we have got.

KRISTINA KENEALLY:

You don’t need a department; maybe some other ministers might improve their performance without a department.

Minister, I did want to ask you about the question time strategy the Government deployed yesterday which seemed to be along the line of trying to run a scare campaign that there was a risk the small business package wouldn’t pass the parliament. But Labor’s indicated support.

Isn’t this just a matter now of you and the Government getting the legislation before the parliament?

MINISTER BILLSON:

Well Kristina, I wish it was that clear. We had Bill Shorten coming out bagging the asset write off measure as some kind of fire-sale of used car yards or a festival of appliance purchases at Harvey Norman. That did not sound like support.

We had the shadow spokesman Bernie Ripoll bagging the idea of a small business company tax cut. That did not sound like support either.

What we have been urging Labor to do is settle on a position, resolve the differences within their own team about this package and make a clear statement that they are on board so small business men and women can get on with creating jobs and economic opportunity, have a go knowing that this package – which has been so widely and so warmly supported – is going to pass the parliament and not face any mischief or mucking around or horse-trading from Labor.

That is what we were calling for. To his credit, Bill Shorten made those remarks yesterday, and that should give small businesses some confidence that Labor is not going to muck around and try and tie other measures to this widely supported, fantastic boost for small business.

PETER VAN ONSELEN:

Alright we’ll come back to small business in a moment Minister, but the real fun stuff looks like…

MINISTER BILLSON:

We can stay with it if you like Peter!

PETER VAN ONSELEN:

We will come back to it, don’t worry, but the fun stuff looks like it’s in the Party Room and in the Cabinet. Now I wouldn’t ask you to tell us what happened in Cabinet because the Prime Minister has told us that people’s personal and professional careers are on the line if they divulge secrets out of Cabinet. You have never done that, I know that, you have talked about it on Sky News regularly.

MINISTER BILLSON:

I am too classy to do that Peter, you know that.

PETER VAN ONSELEN:

Exactly, no point ringing you when you want to get a Cabinet leak, plenty of others to go to… but the Party Room is akin to a press conference. Now, he did tell the Party Room what he did, you would have to agree he knows it’s going to leak because he wants the ministers to hear publically that he is not accepting or tolerating leaks out of Cabinet anymore.

That is the message isn’t it?

MINISTER BILLSON:

I am not here to speculate on his motives. His statement was very clear and that is leaking from Cabinet is a shameless move that serves no good purpose and runs contrary to our important responsibilities not only to the nation and to each other as Cabinet ministers - but it really undermines a lot of the work of our colleagues and the interests of the Australian people. So that is a very sound point that he made.

The best thing we can do is govern well, implement our Economic Action Strategy, see the small business package pass the parliament as soon as possible and get to work and stay working and deliver outcomes and benefits.

That is what is needed of any Government, particularly our Government, when really the nation is counting on us to govern well.

And that is where our best efforts and energy should be directed.

KRISTINA KENEALLY:

Indeed yesterday the Prime Minister Tony Abbott was very clear that his priority and the Government’s priority was getting the small business package through the parliament and this was one of the reasons he gave for not giving too much attention to the bill to legalise same-sex marriage.

Now I have got to reflect though, in September 2010 the NSW parliament dealt with counter-terrorism legislation at the same time that it passed same-sex adoption on a conscience vote. Isn’t possible that MPs in parliaments can do two things at once?

MINISTER BILLSON:

Oh Kristina, you know we are doing dozens of things at one time - lots of moving parts.

PETER VAN ONSELEN:

Take us through it all.

MINISTER BILLSON:

Well, right now I can tell you what excited the Party Room and that was the small business and family enterprise ombudsman legislation we put through.

What excited the Party Room was stories about how local businesses, family and farming enterprises were taking advantage and really gearing up and were very positive and optimistic about our package.

Later today in the parliament those small business…

PETER VAN ONSELEN:

Are they really taking advantage though minister?

Let me jump in and ask you, because Saul Eslake, you would have heard his remarks, he questioned whether there were enough small businesses making enough of a profit to actually take advantage of some of these tax concessions that you have put in place.

Is he too pessimistic about how small business is travelling at the moment or does he have a point?

MINISTER BILLSON:

He has done extremely well because he is the only commentator that found something negative to say…

PETER VAN ONSELEN:

And I found his remarks.

MINISTER BILLSON:

…and he was basing that on the same error that Bill Shorten made.

Well, they have been shopped around.

I wish every remark of criticism was the only one we talked about, then we would be talking about Bill Shorten and his appalling leadership every day but that is not what we do.

I mean, Saul has made a point, a point that I have made time and time again yet he fell into the same mistake that Bill Shorten did. He talked about profitability of small business companies.

Well only one in three small businesses are structured as companies. Of course if you are not structured as a company, you will not benefit from a small business company tax cut.

It does not take a genius to work that out. What we have done in our policy package is provide an alternate agile mechanism of an income tax discount for the two thirds of small businesses that are not incorporated, and that deals largely with the point Saul is making.

Of course, getting costs out of the economy, that helps small business, that is what the carbon tax was about.

Giving consumers the confidence to spend because there is no substitute for customers, that is also what our program is about, so as you can tell I am a little more positive, a little more optimistic, even my blood group is positive, so a little bit different than Saul.

KRISTINA KENEALLY:

I have got to say you are possibly the happiest man in parliament, the happiest minister in Government.

We have got some photos of you from Fairfax, I don’t know if you’ll be able to see them but certainly you are a smiley man, let me tell you. And really projected a heck of a lot of positivity to the nation.

I have just got to ask you, given your enthusiasm for small business – how likely do you think it is small business will get a big boost if same-sex marriage was legalised?

I mean there is a lot of small businesses that could get a boost; caterers, florists, venues, what do you reckon, have you done any modelling on that?

MINISTER BILLSON:

No, we have not, but I have seen some modelling out of the United States. There is a University Institute out of California – out of Los Angeles I should say – that markets itself as the world’s best economic modellers on these things. They point to some possible upside.

What is not clear to me though is whether they are comparing no opportunity to celebrate the love and devotion and the life-long commitment that same-sex couples have in front of family and friends, verse the ability to do so.

Now in your state of New South Wales and right across the country in almost all jurisdictions people have been able to have that celebration, it has not been called a marriage, it has been called a civil union, so there has already been some activity there.

Whether the change of testamur, the change of declaration in terms of the naming of that relationship will change people’s preparedness to whisper sweet nothings and commit to a life together is hard to pick.

I know for me, I have been married twice, so I have done my bit. In atriumph of hope over experience… so I am not sure what else I can do to boost the economy.

PETER VAN ONSELEN:

I can’t believe you just said that!

KRISTINA KENEALLY:

I’m not giving you marriage advice, but with the instant asset write off, you could go for a third time.

PETER VAN ONSELEN:

Let me ask you another question if I can Bruce Billson, now a lot of Liberals are getting much more comfortable with the direction of the polling. Obviously you are still down in the two party vote, you need the primary vote to come up and you would like to see the Prime Minister more popular than he currently is, but I tell you what – he has become more popular than the Opposition Leader.

In a two horse race, doesn’t matter if they are both three legged, whoever gets over the line first, that is your Prime Minister for a second term.

MINISTER BILLSON:

Well, it is all about purpose and we have got a very clear purpose about building a strong and prosperous economy and through that improving our economic and national security.

Both as a country and also as households, that is our focus and I think people are responding to that clear sightedness, that very clear sense of purpose and how we are going about our business putting in place the programs, the policies, the legislative changes.

Dealing with the challenges we face as a nation. I think there is reward for effort and the effort is all about better outcomes for people.

What about the politics of the day and you have got an outstanding team of political experts here in Canberra, I am surprised you’re not here you two, there is where all the horsepower is,

KRISTINA KENEALLY:

Oh you are so flattering!

MINISTER BILLSON:

You should come over! We could speak in person!

PETER VAN ONSELEN:

Very warm down there at the moment, very warm.

KRISTINA KENEALLY:

I couldn’t imagine anything more pleasant than spending a few minutes with you Minister Billson, thank you so much for spending your time with us on To The Point, we know you’ve got to rush off to Question Time.