17 June 2015
Transcript - #2015085, 2015

Interview with Peter Van Onselen, Sky News

SUBJECTS: China Free Trade Agreement, small business package, food and grocery code, other small business measures

PETER VAN ONSELEN:

Alright let’s get right in to it. I am joined now by the Small Business Minister Bruce Billson live from the nation’s Capital. Thanks for being there Minister.

Let me start by asking you the breaking news around the signing of the Free Trade Agreement.

You would have been all across that as Small Business Minister. What if anything is in it for small business in this country, as opposed to obviously medium sized or indeed bigger corporations?

MINISTER BILLSON:

Well Peter it is huge news and it is the third of those North Asia Free Trade Agreements that open the door to hundreds of millions of prospective new customers.  

What we have been focusing on is how we can take advantage of that diplomatic achievement and turn it into jobs and economic progress.

For small businesses it is all about small business – the areas of food and agriculture, highly prized exports from our country.

PETER VAN ONSELEN:

Well let me jump in if I can. I mean I hear all of that side of it. And I am no protectionist, don’t get me wrong.  But Let me just play devil’s advocate for a moment.

There must be some concern amongst some small businesses here about businesses out of China that can do business cheaper and therefore have better access to our markets.  I don’t sort of care if you like because I think free trade is the way to go, but traditional protectionists might be worried about some of those things as would those small businesses – would that be fair?

MINISTER BILLSON:

I think that is a valid point but less relevant these days, when we think of the trajectory the economy has been on with lowering tariffs anyway. I mean there are some shrapnel tariffs still around.  They are fairly modest. They are in some cases 5% or single digits.

And for many businesses that have had to adapt and adjust to that, they have worked out a way of taking advantage of China maybe providing inputs into their business at a lower cost to boost their competitiveness here and then be able to export into other markets. And that is part of the story of trade.

We think this agreement and the modelling confirms that over the next 20 years there will be $24.5 billion worth of economic benefits, $174,000 jobs. Why? Because this gets us into the fastest growing market, and enables us to excel in high value transforming goods…

PETER VAN ONSELEN:

What did you have to give up to get it done so quickly?  Labor is concerned about that side of things. It can’t just be the sheer brilliance of the Trade Minister, as much as you will no doubt say that that was a factor.

There must have been things, carve outs that were no longer, courtesy of the speed at which this was done.

MINISTER BILLSON:

Well a couple of things, and let us not underestimate or undervalue the role of Andrew Robb.   These negotiations started back in 2005 under the Howard Government and some progress was made. But then under the six years of Labor it seemed to be cryogenically frozen.

Andrew Robb’s task - and a clear priority that the Prime Minister gave him - was to get these agreements done.

He has done that. We have had to look at some of those shrapnel tariffs that I mentioned earlier- that actually comes as a cost to the Budget. But it also makes it clear that we are open for business and the investment and the engagement with China is two ways.

So in terms of the movement of people in and out of our economies - For us Peter the services sector, 70% of our domestic economy, but only one in seven of our export dollars. Huge opportunities there. That is where there are mutual benefits in these trade opportunities and that is their purpose.

PETER VAN ONSELEN:

Let me jump in and get specifically to your portfolio. You may actually miss out on your usual Question Time performance today with all of the discussion around the Free Trade Agreement. Have you got a Dorothy Dixer coming?

MINISTER BILLSON:

I hope my insights on what might be relevant for the day get some kind of a run- who knows Peter? I might get my second group of questions in a year and a half from Labor, we don’t know.

PETER VAN ONSELEN:

You never know. But let me ask you this.

The Government is making a lot of what you have done, it has become a bi-partisan policy.  Labor has jumped on board and agreed with it, you will be happy for that because it has gotten through the Parliament.  And as a consequence small business is at the epicentre of government policy at the moment.

But at the end of the day, let’s be frank about this, what you are doing, as good as it might be, it is rats and mice stuff compared to what you could get done around Federation reform, tax reform – when are you as a Government going to get into the meaty stuff?

MINISTER BILLSON:

Well the meaty stuff continues to be worked upon.

You know I have led the call for a root and branch review of our competition laws to make sure efficient businesses big and small can thrive and prosper in our economy.  And where that contest to delight customers is out there, a small business isn’t blown out of the water by a big business, just because of the bulk of the big business.

That work is difficult. You know that has not delighted everybody, but that is the work we are focused on.

Even today Peter, you might have missed the really big news, the Food and Grocery Code - making sure suppliers had solid footing and were appropriately treated by the big supermarkets. Now you cannot say they are easy to get done, but we have got that done.  And we have Woolworths signed up, I think Coles are on the cusp of doing so, that all happened today.

The Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman, the election commitment we took - that has passed the House of Representatives today. So there is a lot going on. 

We have got the tax white paper process, that is important, and I encourage small businesses in particular to have their voice heard in that process.

We have got the Federation work and you know there are lots of moving parts there.

We are getting on with the business of governing well Peter, and we are getting progress across the range of portfolios, and in my area, I am thrilled about that – but we have more work to do.

PETER VAN ONSELEN:

Yep you are doing a good job.  We are out of time here though. But my one piece of advice to you would be- don’t hold your breath on the big reforms you are talking about because your head might explode.

Bruce Billson we appreciate your time, thanks very much.

MINISTER BILLSON:

Thanks for that kind of encouragement.