6 July 2015
Transcript - #2015074, 2015

Interview with Leon Compton, 774 ABC

SUBJECTS: Greece, Q & A, Intergenerational Report

LEON COMPTON:

Bruce Billson is the Acting Treasurer and the Small Business Minister. Bruce Billson, good morning.

MINISTER BILLSON:

Good morning to you Leon and your listeners.

LEON COMPTON:

What impact do you think the No Vote overnight will have here in Australia?

MINISTER BILLSON:

We are certainly closely examining the consequences from the No Vote.

Fortunately, our direct economic and financial interest in Greece is relatively modest and our hand is supported by a strong economy, good institutional arrangements, a credible pathway back to surplus. So in that respect it is something of interest, something we are watching closely but something that is very much in the court of the European community itself now.

LEON COMPTON:

Are you worried about the risk of contagion to Portugal, Spain and Italy?

MINISTER BILLSON:

There is obvious interest in whether that consequence may arise but it is a little too early to call and I would not get too far ahead of events that are happening on the other side of the world.

It is half past one in the morning over there now. I understand later today that Europeans will have a bit of a phone hook up to work out where to from here and then the European Finance Ministers are scheduled to meet on Tuesday.

Obviously they have got a very clear focus on supporting the Euro and ensuring that the European economy more generally stays on a positive trajectory- so there is lots going on there.

For us, as I say, we have got minimal direct financial and economic exposure but a keen interest in seeing what is happening there and what the next steps might look like.

LEON COMPTON:

The suggestion is that many voted no because it would just force Europe to come back with a better deal, they do not think in fact that they'll be out of the currency at all.

Australia lends to the IMF, the IMF has lent $35 billion to Greece. Should the IMF get back in there again? Should more Australian money go into pumping up the Greek economy?

MINISTER BILLSON:

You will probably see the European Central Bank being the first port of call. There was, as your introduction outlined, probably three in five Greeks voted no to the specific package.

My understanding is there was a rather large volume of documents made available for Greek voters that essentially summarised the latest proposition on the table from the European bankers that are the finance lifeline for Greece.

That was rejected, but there was not an alternative proposition put on the table and that is where the focus is now. I understand the Greek government is assessing what to put forward to the European bankers.

It is curious, I am not quite sure that the no vote necessarily strengthens the Greek hand. I have seen some reports where they feel that it might embolden their negotiating position. I am not quite sure whether it will play out that way. There has been a number of debt instalments that are ones already passed that has not been met, more to come.

I think that the European creditors are looking quite soberly for a credible plan to get the Greek finances back in shape. That is the next few days bit of work. Yes, we are a contributor to the IMF and member of the board but at this stage much of the focus is on the European Central Bank. There is the need for essential liquidity, just to keep even the modest ATM withdrawals and those essential settings in the Greek economy ticking over. I think that will be the immediate focus of the European Central Bank and the European creditors.

LEON COMPTON:

It is interesting, we talk a lot about trying to pull money out of their banks and I do not imagine anyone is putting money in there at the moment either with any confidence at all.

Bruce Billson is our guest this morning; he is the Acting Treasurer and the Minister for Small Business in the Australian Government. Minister, can we move onto a couple of other issues of the day?

MINISTER BILLSON:

Sure, if you would like Leon.

LEON COMPTON:

How does it improve the national discourse for Ministers to boycott the Q&A program?

MINISTER BILLSON:

I think what is happening with the Q&A program, even the ABC has recognised there is a need to have a look at how it has been operating, some of the editorial decisions. I know with my invitations to appear on Q&A, my focus has been- is there likely to be any discussion whatsoever about my area of responsibility being small business, and that has not appeared to be the case, so that has certainly been framing my personal decisions about whether to involve myself or not.

I understand Minister Joyce won't be proceeding with his appearance tonight in light of what the ABC itself has decided to do about the Q&A program and that seems a reasonable response, I would have thought. 

LEON COMPTON:

The ABC made a dumb decision, it has apologised for it and yet still, weeks later, the government feels the need to boycott the program?

MINISTER BILLSON:

Is that a question for me or the Board Leon, about the action the Board has taken?

LEON COMPTON:

It is a question for the Ministers who have, Barnaby Joyce, who has decided to cancel on short notice. Yesterday on Insiders, he absolutely thought he was heading to that program this evening.

MINISTER BILLSON:

I think the focus should be around the decision of the Board. It was the Board's decision to investigate Q&A and I think that was a constructive step for them to take and I would expect. I have not spoken with Barnaby about it, but I imagine it is in that light that he has decided not to appear on this immediate week's programs. That would be my take on it.

LEON COMPTON:

What does the Ministry think needs to happen before it will appear again on the Q&A program?

MINISTER BILLSON:

I cannot talk for the whole Ministry. I can give you my perspective and my perspective is a preparedness to participate when there are topics that are relevant to my area of responsibility. That is essentially the frame that I look at it through.

As a regular viewer of Q&A I sense that some of the audience balance numbers are a little bit curious, I know there is a process where people try and declare their political allegiance so that there is broad spread of opinion, but I have seen many shows where a Coalition member or someone with a centre right world view or a more conservative view makes a very valid point and you can hear a pin drop.

Then there is a counter view put by someone with a more left leaning or Labor orientation and there is rapturous applause. That is an indicator about that the balance in the audience seems not to line up with what is asserted at the beginning of the program. That would be one thing.

Probably around selection of panellists to make sure there is a good spread. I mean if it is about airing ideas they should come from across the spread of…

LEON COMPTON:

How can you possibly complain about that at the same time as boycotting the program? The next time anyone in your government says there is a left wing bias, we'll be asking, you were given a chance to appear and it hasn't happened.

MINISTER BILLSON:

No, I think you're joining up a few things there Leon. You are just asking me what my observations were and that is what I was responding to, what my views are. If you are talking specifically about Barnaby Joyce's attendance tonight, I would not conflate those too far.

As I mentioned earlier, my own approach to Q&A when enquiries have been made about my availabilities focused more on whether it is like to cover, at all, any of the topics that I have responsibility for.

Because that is my role within the government and that is where I can best make a contribution. Of course, we will move onto other areas throughout the program, but that is the frame through which I approach the subject.

LEON COMPTON:

Let us move onto other areas now. In Frankston, the heart of your electorate…

MINISTER BILLSON:

Yep, great part of the world.

LEON COMPTON:

What do people think about same sex marriage?

MINISTER BILLSON:

It is a blend. It is quite a spread of opinion and it is an opinion that has evolved, Leon. I suppose a number of years ago, friends of mine that were part of the gay community or very exposed to that discussion and debate that has been going for some time, were really keen to have a mechanism for a public recognition, a formal declaration in front of family and friends of ones devotion to each other and that was very much the flavour.

I have been happy to advocate a concept of committed life partnerships to facilitate that. That was an ambition some years ago. It seems the agenda has moved on now, where there is a very strong desire from the same sex couple community to use the word marriage.

That then generates a number of other reactions from other members in the community. Of good will, good people but who feel very strongly about that term and what it represents.

You have got good people on both sides of the argument with very strongly held views and at the moment those…

LEON COMPTON:

My question is what is yours I suppose? At some point, either you or as in Ireland, the broader community or have they put a tick in a box. Do you support same sex marriage?

MINISTER BILLSON:

I just gave you my, where I have been Leon and that was about looking for a mechanism to support the public recognition, declaration, sharing before family and friends and for some years I have been advocating for committed life partnerships.

That seemed to be a good responsible course of action recognising strongly held views, but now that is thought not to be adequate by those looking to support the same sex couple designation and definition and terminology.

LEON COMPTON:

Would you support same sex marriage? I am trying to understand where that takes you to.

MINISTER BILLSON:

It is quite simple, it is very simple Leon. It is very straight forward. I am delighted that people find love wherever they find love. How that is recognised and acknowledged and recorded publically, I felt we had a pathway forward that respected both points of view.

Now, we are at a point where there seems to be no reconcilable position between those wanting to see marriage being a proper noun for a partnership for life to the exclusion of all others, between a man and woman and marriage meaning something more general in terms of a relationship between two adults.

Those two schools of thought are not reconcilable. I went to the last election saying at public meetings, being asked this question what was my view? I explained what my view was and that meant that I was not in favour of changing the definition of marriage.

I continue to work to find whether there is a consensus that is available because strongly held views are being advocated by good decent people with goodwill to all people. But those points of view now don't sit neatly beside each other.

So we have a different sort of policy challenge now.

LEON COMPTON:

It is coming up to 13 to 9, this is 774 ABC Melbourne. My guest this morning, Bruce Billson, the Acting Treasurer and Small Business Minister.

Minister, what has happened to the Intergenerational Report? Have both sides of politics put it in the too hard basket?

MINISTER BILLSON:

No, no, I think I did a speech three times on the topic on three separate occasions last week. It still is at the heart of the challenges we face as a nation. I mean, we still have a demographic challenge and an opportunity, an ageing population.

In the 1970's there were seven people in the workforce for every one retiree. Today, it is about five and by the middle of this century, which frankly is not that far away….

LEON COMPTON:

They're the issues laid out in the IGR, where are the legislative responses?

MINISTER BILLSON:

You have seen a couple.

You have seen the pension measures that were supported in the Parliament that would see a greater degree of taxpayer funded income support going to those requiring income support with very modest assets and those with a million dollars in assets in addition to their personal home for couples.

Seeing their opportunity to access income support reduced, that is already part of that.

We have work going on to improve the productivity in the economy so that those participating in the economy can be as productive and supportive as they can be.

A whole new package to support people back into work; the job active program; new infrastructure to support apprenticeships; new incentives to get people that have been out of work, whether they are mature aged or young or in between back into the economy by supporting employers to make those decisions.

There is activity going on everywhere Leon. We could have a good 20 minute discussion across a range of portfolios. Even the Agricultural white paper, released on Sunday, was all about accessing new markets and new economic opportunities and new structures for family and farming businesses to engage in that economy.

You can even put in the northern development strategy trying to unlock economic opportunities up there so that we can achieve the great promise of our country. That is the next generation will have it better than we have.

There is activity going on everywhere.

LEON COMPTON:

Appreciate you talking with us this morning.

MINISTER BILLSON:

Thanks Leon.

LEON COMPTON:

Bruce Billson, Acting Treasurer and Minister for Small Business.