3 June 2015
Transcript - #2015063, 2015

Interview with Janine Perrett, Sky News, Canberra

SUBJECTS: Small business package, Opposition tactics, unfair contract terms, Australia’s World Cup bid

JANINE PERRETT:

Minister for Small Business Bruce Billson, welcome to the show.

MINISTER BILLSON:

Thanks Janine. Best wishes to you and the viewers.

JANINE PERRETT:

Firstly, I have to ask you because it is compulsory today to everybody there. Were you the leaker?

MINISTER BILLSON:

I think it is a bit shabby - people leaking out to Cabinet. It is a shameful thing to do and I must say Janine it is an extraordinary responsibility, great honour and a rare privilege to be able to be a Cabinet Minister.

And what comes with that is discipline, focus, a full contribution of your insights and views in Cabinet with a view of taking the country into a positive future.

That is what I am about and leaking is not part of that picture and if people cannot live by those disciplines well - get out of Cabinet is my message.

JANINE PERRETT:

I am enjoying the sport of everybody asking, as though they are going to go oh you have got me, it was me, my fingerprints on it.

But of course you make a good point. I used to do a small business show, way back last century.

MINISTER BILLSON:

I remember well. You had me on a couple of times.

JANINE PERRETT:

I did. We were always fighting to have a Minister in the Cabinet and it never got there  - so I would hardly think you are going to jeopardise it by misbehaving.

MINISTER BILLSON:

No and I do not think it is what people expect of me, or my colleagues, or the nation. My role is an important, highly valued and I must say - I treat it as a rare privilege. A chance to do something really worthwhile for the parliamentary air I suck in.

I am not going to compromise the free flow of ideas, the rigour, the analysis; the very significant decision making that is a part of the Cabinet process.

You need to be able to speak clearly, frankly and respect the other members of the team who have worked hard and make a great contribution as well.

JANINE PERRETT:

See you talk like that, you will give politicians a bad name after what happened today or a good name I suppose, because everything we have seen today, the theatrics of it, are unbelievable.

I am going to play a bit of the comments from either side and then I will come back and have you translate it into normal talk for us.

MINISTER BILLSON:

Ok.

JANINE PERRETT:

Here is what they said.

[Bill Shorten]:

On Monday, the Prime Minister said in relation to the small business bills before the parliament, and I quote, let us not let politics get in the way of economics. Let us not let self-interest get in the way of the national interest. Let us pass this bill straight away.

[Prime Minister]:

Parliament certainly should pass these bills straight away and if the Leader of the Opposition had his eyes open, he would notice that the Senate is not sitting. What we saw from the Opposition this morning was yet another childish stunt. Yet another childish stunt from the Labor Party. An attempt by the Labor Party to deny 11 Labor Members and 31 Coalition Members the right to speak on this bill.

Minister, can you please tell us why your Government voted against its own bill?

MINISTER BILLSON:

We did not.

That is a lie that Labor is putting around Janine and I am happy to set the record straight.

Of course we would not vote against our bill. We created the measure.

We have argued and fought hard to find the Budget space and you know I have worked extremely hard to make sure, having secured $5.5 billion of funding capacity, to make sure it is applied well to energise enterprise.

What has happened though in the lead up to the Budget, we had one of Labor’s Shadow spokespeople complaining about the idea of a small business tax cut calling that ham fisted, then we had Bill Shorten come out saying the asset write-off was a fire sale at second-hand car dealers and Harvey Norman.

That sounded a little bit confused and we were saying to Labor be clear on your position.

JANINE PERRETT:

I thought they were. I thought they had said they were going to support it.

MINISTER BILLSON:

They were all over the shop  until quite recently. That is what they have said quite recently. And that is what we have acknowledged and thanked them for that.

JANINE PERRETT:

So then they came to the party, did what you asked, why did you not go along with it?

MINISTER BILLSON:

So the legislation was presented to the parliament. I introduced it last week. It was to be debated this morning, where it was a day for small business issues and concerns to be front of mind, the focus of the parliamentary process today and what Labor sought to do was gag that debate so that small business men and women could not have their issues and ambitions discussed.

We said this is just a shabby political stunt.

Your Members in Labor want to talk about it. Our Members in the Coalition want to talk about it. Small business deserves a day to have their issues front and centre in the nation’s parliament. So we voted against the gag and now it is being debated and it will be voted on early tomorrow morning.

JANINE PERRETT:

Can I be honest? I have been listening to parliament since the Budget and to say you needed a day to further small business issues, every time you turn on Parliament, people from your side are repeating what is there, the engine room of the economy. Basically you are just spinning it and it is a lot of press releases.

What exactly was going to further it? Of the 31 people today, what were the big issues that they were going to raise? How was it going to advance things? When you say this needs to come quickly, doesn’t small business want certainty? Rather than letting a lot of politicians grandstand, from both sides, why not just get the bill done and get on with it?

MINISTER BILLSON:

You are wrong. That was not what the issues are about. What has come forward in the discussion is colleagues have talked about other aspects of the package. Other measures that we are working on. Fixing employee share schemes. The damage that Labor did by bringing forward...

JANINE PERRETT:

Yes PR for the Budget members.

MINISTER BILLSON:

All of these issues were what was canvassed in the parliament today. The parliament, the House of Representatives will pass this bill tomorrow.

You know Janine, most people know, there are two houses of parliament. A bill cannot be enacted until both houses pass it. The Senate is not sitting right now. So whether it was passed at dawn this morning or dusk tonight or early tomorrow morning - it does not get to the Senate any quicker.

So it was a political stunt, a shabby effort, an appalling affront to small business men and women who deserve to have their interests and concerns front and centre in our nation’s parliament. There is not enough of that Janine. There should be more of it. That is what today was to be about.

Instead, Labor wanted to guillotine that, not have its appalling record in relation to jobs lost in small business canvassed, not have the Government’s program further explained an ventilated, not have the input of members of parliament who work with their local small business people talking about what else they thought a government which a right on the side of small business can do for them.

I do not think that is too much to ask Janine.

Small Business people deserve that and I am happy that we did not support the gag and we have had a good debate, a good discussion today.

JANINE PERRETT:

Because Bruce, I do not want to tell you this but I do not think most small business people are sitting around listening to parliament all day. They are actually working.

MINISTER BILLSON:

I think that is right. But what they do want to know Janine is that their members of parliament are focused on their needs.

Do you know today for the first time in over 550 days, I was asked a question about small business from Labor.

And you know what it was not about? A policy issue. Something that mattered to small business men and women.

It was about their political tactics and stunts while they are high fiving themselves on how spectacularly clever and how captivated some in the capital media gallery might be by their shimmies and manoeuvrings.

Small business people do not care for that. They want to know their concerns are front and centre. 

JANINE PERRETT:

Would you not agree though that these kind of, and I agree, silly stunts outside the ‘bubble’, to use a word used this week of Canberra, – you are trying to instil confidence, does it not frustrate you that all this carry on just makes people roll their eyes about politicians? It does not help confidence does it?

MINISTER BILLSON:

Janine, that is exactly why we voted against the gag. It was a guillotine motion to stop the debate on the package and to deny members of parliament, both sides. It is curious even Labor members wanted to talk about it even when it was not scheduled for part of the business today.

JANINE PERRETT:

Being honest, I know you are a straight talker.

MINISTER BILLSON:

I am trying to be as straight with you as I can.

JANINE PERRETT:

Of the 31 speeches today, or the 31 people who were destined on your side to speak, do you think they were all going to advance the argument or could we condense it a little bit?

MINISTER BILLSON:

Janine they could advance the argument, condense it, raise new issues, convey and communicate to the nation’s parliament what the men and women, many of whom mortgage their house to create jobs and opportunities for themselves and others, are asking of them as local members and want brought before the parliament.

You cannot tell me Janine if you have got half a heart for business you do not think one day, one opportunity when we have not had a question from Labor in 550 days, a day to discuss the issues of small business is too much to ask. Come on Janine, that is nonsense. Half of the jobs in the private sector are in small business, they deserve that respect.

JANINE PERRETT:

Every time I have turned on, I have been hearing about the backbone of the economy and what is in the Budget for small business, but I must have just been lucky and heard that.

But let us go to some other real announcements today rather than - as you say - silly shenanigans in the parliament.

You announced an Ombudsman today. Again, going back all those years to last century when we were fighting for small business, this is another thing that has been talked about for a long time.

Explain the importance of having an Ombudsman for small business.

MINISTER BILLSON:

What we need is in government, not only the Cabinet level a dedicated Minister making the case for small business day in day out, we need someone - an advocate, someone who is an ally for small business in the bureaucracy -making sure when someone comes up with a program or policy idea, bureaucrats do not do the lazy thing just go to bug business or big unions, they actually engage small business in that process.

Secondly Janine, you and I both know when small business is involved in a dispute, particularly with a big business or a government department, small business invariably loses. They run out of money, patience, their own mojo – this needs to be fixed so we have got this small business and family enterprise ombudsman advocating small business interests throughout the bureaucracy complementing the work that I do at Cabinet and also offering a concierge service for dispute resolution.

If there is a dispute a small business is experiencing, the best thing we can do is get it dealt with, get it done and get people back to business. It can be hard to find how to do that and in some cases government is not that helpful either.

This role will change that and it is a landmark boost for supporting small business -recognising that they do not always have the opportunities that big business has and it can be particularly damaging for a small business.

JANINE PERRETT:

In fact, the biggest problem I can see with it is that it could be too successful. We both know that small business firstly, they do not have a lot of money for legal things. This is going to be a God send for them. Are you a bit worried you are going to be inundated with rather petty disputes and things that do not run the gamut and the poor ombudsman is going to be spending a lot of his time rather than cutting red tape, having to explain to people why he cannot get involved in their small disputes?

MINISTER BILLSON:

As a concierge,  Janine guiding that small business person to where the best avenue is to resolve their disputes - it might be a state based small business commissioner, it might be a retail tenancy tribunal, it might be some other ombudsman or some other agency that it set up to deal with that concern.

What a time poor small business does not always have is a PHD in the constitutional feng shui of government and they need someone who can help guide them to where the best avenue is to get an early resolution and a good outcome so they can get back to work.

JANINE PERRETT:

Ok. A couple of other quick ones because we are going to run out of time. You have strangely come under fierce attack from a strange quarter. Renowned business writer Robert Gottliebsen has got himself in quite a lather over the draft fair contracts legislation.

He claims that you have been conned by dropping protections on fair contracts legislation from what he thinks should be about $2 million contracts down to $100,000. He claims that is useless, you should issue a public apology or consider resigning, that you have let down one of your key promises.

What do you say to Mr Gottliebsen about this issue?

MINISTER BILLSON:

He is normally well researched, he normally knows what he is talking about but what a pathetic effort that one is.

The Government went to the electorate arguing that the unfair contract terms protections currently available for consumers should be extended to small business transaction that are consumer like. So where a small business is faced with say an advertising contract Janine that says you has signed up for three years but if you do not tell us between May 17 and 21 you do not want to renew, we will deem it to be automatically renewed for another 3 years. If you want out, you have got to pay our 3 years. That is an unfair contract term.

That is what we have sought to deal with. Where the $100,000 proposition comes in is that is where there is the consumer like contract or up to $250,000 for transactions that run over multiple years.

Beyond that, we expect as you would, small business would make their own inquiries. They would get advice, they would be diligent about the contracts they signed up.

The Commonwealth is not about being a contract nanny. We are about making sure those take it or leave it contracts that small businesses often get foisted on them as a normal course of doing their day to day business, that in embedded in them are not unfair terms that harm and damage a small business and simply strengthen the position of the stronger party.

That is what we said we would do, that is exactly what we are doing, and that is exactly what I sent to Robert in a text tonight. Give me a call if you are not clear on what is going on. You kind of got the wrong end of the pineapple there but love a good bit of colourful writing.

JANINE PERRETT:

It was very colourful.

MINISTER BILLSON:

I admire what he does.

JANINE PERRETT:

Here is on. Totally nothing to do with small business but I will throw it in because it is the story of the day. Should we be having an inquiry into the bid we put in for the World Cup in Qatar given what has happened with FIFA and Sepp Blatter today?

MINISTER BILLSON:

I think others are having a look at it to see whether it is caught up in some of the allegations so whoever instigates the inquiry, and there has already been some questions about payments, I think you have got some law enforcement agencies having a look at what FIFA has been up to.

JANINE PERRETT:

And Australia’s money.

MINISTER BILLSON:

We are not immune from that so I imagine if anything arises that points to anything inappropriate involving our country that will generate lots of interest and lots of inquiries Janine.

JANINE PERRETT:

Ok, thank you very much for that and for explaining to us that small business can continue to spend up big. It is going to go through tomorrow. That is the word from the Small Business Minister.

MINISTER BILLSON:

Let us energise enterprise Janine.

JANINE PERRETT:

Thanks for your time tonight.

MINISTER BILLSON:

Good to see you.