1 July 2015
Transcript - #2015071, 2015

Interview with Kieran Gilbert, AM Agenda, Sky News

SUBJECTS: Greek crisis, ESS, superannuation, China

KIERAN GILBERT:

With me to discuss the Greek crisis and other issues of the day, the Small Business Minister, Bruce Billson, at the start of this financial year a lot coming into effect in relation to the small business sector, we will get to that in a moment.

But first of all on Greece, Minister, the Government must be watching developments very closely with that country, really on the precipice.

MINISTER BILLSON:

Yes we are watching and monitoring the situation very closely. Fortunately our direct interests in Greece economically are relatively modest and to our great credit we have a strong and resilient banking system, fundamental strengths in the economy, but we are watching to see what happens in the next half hour or so. There is an IMF debt instalment that is due and, as discussions continue we are watching to see which direction they take and whether a work around can be developed between Greece and its creditors.

KIERAN GILBERT:

Let us look at some other issues then. The Australian Financial Review reporting that the Expenditure Review Committee had sought advice from Treasury on reigning in the tax treatment, tax exemptions for superannuation. This shows the Government was considering a move in this direction but it seems, pulled out once Labor had announced similar plans Bruce Billson.

MINISTER BILLSON:

Yes, I would not read it quite that way Kieran.

I mean, Labor, yes, is the party of increasing taxes on people’s superannuation, sees the superannuation nest egg of Australians as the way to remedy their own budget challenges.

We do not see it that way. We have made it clear, in the area of superannuation, there will be no unexpected adverse changes – that has been our commitment - we have none planned, but through the ordinary course of Government doing its business, officials bring forward ideas and it is the job of Government to decide which are worth pursuing and which are not.

Which are consistent with our policy objectives and our goals for the country and which are not and that is the ordinary course of governing and that is what happened in this account and we will expect to see officials to bring forward (INTERRUPTED)

KIERAN GILBERT:

But these were at the request of the Treasurer.

MINISTER BILLSON:

Propositions get brought forward all the time Kieran, that is the ordinary course of business and it is then up to Government to decide which of those propositions, if any, are consistent with our Economic Action Strategy.

We have made it clear, we think people deserve certainty and predictability in their superannuation. We are not introducing, and have no plans to introduce any unannounced adverse changes.

We want to encourage people to provide for their retirement. Labor is the party that sees superannuation as a piggy bank to be raided when there is a budget problem and they are the ones that put up taxes on superannuation so it is quite clear what the Governments position is and we will (INTERRUPTED)

KIERAN GILBERT:

So the Government was not considering a move in this direction until Labor announced such a policy and now you want to, you basically pulled out of that policy because you want to draw a line between you and Labor saying they are the ones going to increase taxes.

MINISTER BILLSON:

No, our position has been clear and consistent Kieran.

I think you and I have spoken about this for well over a year about superannuation and our position has been consistent.

No unexpected adverse changes to superannuation, we have none planned for the future.

Labor is the one that wants to put up taxes on superannuation and sees peoples efforts to provide for their retirement as some kind of if in a budget dilemma ‘break glass’ and raid other peoples superannuation.

That is not the approach that we take and our position has been consistent.

KIERAN GILBERT:

Now, as Small Business Minister obviously a number of measures kicking in today, as of July 1 including the small business tax cut. Also changes to the Employee Share Schemes, how much of an impact is that going to have do you think?

MINISTER BILLSON:

Very significant Kieran, I mean, in 2009 the previous Labor Government changed the way Employee Share Schemes were taxed to make them generally unattractive and really lose that opportunity of giving the team, the employees, in a business a stake in the business.

Now we know where we can align the goals of an enterprise with that of the employees, that is great for productivity, that is great for improved business performance but it is also important in the area of start-ups and crucial growth phases of businesses where you are trying to recruit world class talent, you might not be able to pay them handsomely but giving them a stake in the business is something that will see them join the team and help to grow the economy and the jobs that flow from it.

So this is a really fundamental change, it has been widely welcomed, it is a 200 million dollar investment in supporting our efforts to energise enterprise and we are hoping to see it really be a positive influence on start-up and growth businesses looking to include and retain great talent as we take on opportunities to grow our economy that the rest of the world want, we want that activity to be undertaken here.

KIERAN GILBERT:

And in their defence, it has had bipartisan support, hasn’t it, these measures in relation to small business from Labor.

MINISTER BILLSON:

It has, correct.

Yes on the Employee Share Schemes, to Labor’s credit, they did actually recognise the mistake they made in 2009 had been particularly damaging.

I mean that was the consistent voice that we were hearing right across the small business, the start-up community, whether it be the tech community or whether it be the life sciences community or even people just looking to bring their team in as part of a succession plan for their enterprise.

So yes Labor recognise they made a mistake there, that is one thing, we have done something about it, we have changed it and now we are looking forward to greater support for that crucial area of our economy.

KIERAN GILBERT:

The Food and Grocery Council now, the new code I should say, the Food and Grocery Code, it was criticised as being only voluntary but you have got all the major retailers on board now because, as I understand it, Coles have signed on now.

MINISTER BILLSON:

Yes it is exciting and it is what we anticipated, and in fairness to the major supermarket retailers, they have done what they have said they were going to do.

The only voluntary option available Kieran was whether you committed to be bound by the code.  Once that decision had been made, the code is binding and make sure that major supermarket retailers and wholesalers are providing clear and transparent terms and within which they are dealing with suppliers, they are not unilaterally changing the rules, they are not demanding payments that are not justified and have not been negotiated up front. It is all about playing fair and giving both the supplier and the supermarket retailer clarity about that important relationship and giving everyone a fair go.

We still need Metcash on board. Metcash are saying they are going to comply with the code without actually committing to be bound by it, that sounds a little bit of a fudge to me but, a little bit of work still to be done there but the major retailers are on board and that is a real positive first step and a first for our country and hopefully that will see better, more healthy, more transparent and predictable relationships in that area of our economy.

KIERAN GILBERT:

I want to ask you one final question before you go- on comments made by Michael Thawley, the Secretary of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet. A well respected former diplomat as well, he says, China is not ready to take on the responsibility either economically or politically or security wise as a world leader.

This is quite a blunt assessment of the rising and ever emerging China. Is this the view of the Government?

MINISTER BILLSON:

We see China as an important partner. We have a good, positive and constructive relationship with China as we do with many other countries.

You saw our Prime Minister just visiting Singapore where we have had a long standing close economic, cultural and a defence relationship with Singapore.

China has an important leadership role to play amongst others in our region and in our globe and we are engaging constructively and positively. That is our approach, we have seen that in our actions. The trade agreement and investment support is another part of that, our preparedness to (INTERRUPTED)

KIERAN GILBERT:

And the Thawley comments?

MINISTER BILLSON:

… with China in the Asian Infrastructure Development Bank is another example - so I have seen reports of Mr Thawley’s comments, I have not seen the whole transcript but we are about partnerships, we are about building those, we are strengthening those, that is good for our region, that is good for global security and it is good for our citizens and that is the approach that we are adopting.

KIERAN GILBERT:

Bruce Billson, thanks for your time. We are out of time.

MINISTER BILLSON:

Thanks Kieran.