22 July 2015
Transcript - #2015090, 2015

Press conference, Sunny Harbour Seafood Restaurant, Hurstville, NSW

SUBJECTS: China FTA, Australia/China relations

DAVID COLEMAN:

Welcome to Sunny’s restaurant in Hurstville. The media conference is to welcome and acknowledge the national Small Business Minister, Mr Bruce Billson who is joining us in Hurstville today.

We have held a very successful free trade Seminar just across the road in Hurstville earlier today with scores of businesses from all sorts of different industries that would benefit from the Free Trade Agreement with China.

Obviously here in my community, the relationship with China is extremely important and it gets more important every year and the Free Trade Agreement will help with that a great deal.

Mr Billson, thank you for joining us and I will hand over to you to make some remarks.

MINISTER BILLSON:

Thank you David - nihawma to all of you and thank you for coming today. I am thrilled to be here with my friend, David Coleman and to be amongst many from the Chinese business community that operate here in Hurstville.

It is a day of celebration of the closer economic relationships the Free Trade Agreement represents between Australia and China, as well as the discussions we are having about new market opportunities in Korea and Japan as well.

I am very excited about the possibilities. My two recent visits to China showed a wonderful shared sense of enterprise and entrepreneurship, a real common quality that is between Australia and China.

Our two nations have a trading history that dates back many, many generations; particularly in the South and East of China. And we see time and time again, enterprising Australians of Chinese origin making a wonderful contribution to our community, to our economy, to the goals that we share as two nations partnering for the mutual benefit of each other.

Today we are sharing some insights with local businesses that are already trading and investing in and through the China/Australia relationship; sharing their insights, their wisdom, giving some advice about how to effectively build strong linkages between businesses, between people, building on the hundreds of thousands of Chinese visitors that come to our country, the 77,000 students of North Asian origin that are part of the New South Wales education system.

All of these are just some of the many linkages between Australia and China. That is what we are celebrating today and I am very excited on behalf of our government that the trade agreements between Australia and China open up a new dawn of economic opportunity and mutual benefit between our two countries.

Something worth celebrating and discussing and exploring in the forum that we are hosting here today. 

DAVID COLEMAN:

Thank you Minister. We have some time for some questions; and very happy to take any questions that you might like to ask.

REPORTER:

What will small business be expecting with the coming FTA? What are the effects?

MINISTER BILLSON:

The vast majority of exporting businesses into China are already small businesses. They might not be the highest value exporters, you would think, of energy and resources - particularly some of the meat and livestock relationships they are larger in value, but in number, the majority of those engaging in trade between Australia and China are small businesses.

What we are doing today is sharing the experience of those who are already seeing the advantage and benefits of closer economic relationships with China, how to take advantage of Austrade, what our export market development branch program looks like, how our export finance and insurance corporation can provide credit facilitation, what kind of opportunities internet platforms – e-commerce.

China is already the largest e-commerce market in the world. There is more than 300,000 Chinese engaged in online purchasing of services and goods today.

With the relationships of JD.com of Alibaba, of other platforms that are reaching across our two markets, is another opportunity for us to delight Chinese customers, to welcome Chinese investment to our country and together to build our economies and future prosperity.

That is what we are sharing today and some how-to insights to help small business be confident that they can succeed but also competent – being able to win the contest of delighting customers and growing their business through this trade relationship.

REPORTER:

Are there any benefits in terms of importing from, say, China?

MINISTER BILLSON:

Yes, very much so. Part of the relationship we see many of the, well almost all of the tariff lines for Chinese inputs into Australia removed. Now that represents a better opportunity for Australian consumers.

But importantly, the majority of imported goods from China become inputs to business activities here in Australia. So they actually represent an opportunity to reduce cost of key inputs into the Australian economy and therefore improve the competitiveness of Australian businesses.

So there are a lot of benefits there. There for consumers, also benefits there for businesses that look to Chinese imports for technology, for equipment, for componentry and in return, our service economy as well can see benefits.

Both for improving the scale of operations internationally, delivers benefits for local consumers, but also opens the door for others to benefit from that expertise as well.

DAVID COLEMAN:

Other questions?

REPORTER:

[inaudible question Re Bill Shorten’s support for union attack on FTA]

MINISTER BILLSON:

I am incredibly disappointed with Bill Shorten’s remarks and very disappointed that Labor seems to have changed its tune. Just recently, Bill Shorten was trying to claim credit for some of the work in the trade negotiation and attributing some of the progress to the previous Labor Government.

Now he seems to have abandoned that appetite to push on with a trade agreement. And the campaign the union movement that Bill Shorten is endorsing is absolutely false and misleading.

The arrangements that have been entered into through the agreements with China, dealing with major project facilitation, represent the same arrangements that operate in dozens of other countries that partner with Australia.

A couple of simple ideas: If a Chinese investor is keen to make a $150 million investment in a major project in our economy, we should welcome and facilitate that investment.

If they identify that a shortage of a particular kind of skill might hold up the completion of that investment, or make it not able to be finalised, that identification of that skill shortage is a responsibility any investor has to make, any local business has to make.

That has not changed under the China FTA. What we have said to investors if you think and you can demonstrate that the skills you need to complete a major project of over $150 million, risk that project not being completed, tell us about that up front.

Show us that evidence, show us the steps you have taken to see that there is not that skill available in Australia and then that opens the door to make use of the 457 Visa.

That still requires the skill that is coming to Australia to meet the certification and qualification requirements in Australia and for that person to be paid as if they were a local trade’s person.  

So what is being said about that arrangement is completely false. It is a good arrangement recognising we have some skill shortages. If we can bring in skilled labour to meet that shortfall to make sure projects are completed; that is what we want to do.

The second part of the agreement says, and I will use an example in my own community: A local glass manufacturing business bought some technology that printed images onto glass. The technology came out of China.

When that technology was to be deployed, it proved difficult and needlessly complicated to get the skilled technician from China to come to Australia to demonstrate and set up the equipment.

That is of no help to anybody. What the trade agreement says; if you are a technical expert coming in with some equipment, you should be able to deploy that equipment, make sure it is operational and then return as part of a normal business transaction.

They are sensible changes that Bill Shorten and Labor should support because they are pro-growth for our economies, pro-jobs and good for our national interest. That is why we support them and Labor needs to re-think its position on this important issue.

DAVID COLEMAN:

I might just add to that as well, Matthew. I think on a Free Trade Agreement with China, Labor is trying to scare people and that is absolutely wrong. The Free Trade Agreement is a very positive thing for our country.

Fifteen years ago, Australia’s trade with New Zealand was bigger than its trade with China. Now our trade with China is seven times as big as with New Zealand.

Which shows enormous growth and more than two-thirds of our trade with China is exports going from Australia to China and less than one-third is imports. 

So this is a very positive thing and it is the right thing for our economy and I think that national leaders should be sensible about this because this is good for Australians and good for Australian jobs.

… Other questions? 

REPORTER:

457 Visa, so… someone who use this kind of Visa to pay the import is much lower wage than compared to the minimum wage. 

MINISTER BILLSON:

People that are not respecting the integrity of the 457 Visa system need to be held to account.

If there are any Australian businesses not doing what is required of them - and that is to pay a 457 Visa holder as they would be paid if they were a local staff member.

If you have got examples of that, please share them with me. We will send the authorities out after those people, because that is not what is required. A 457 Visa holder is to be paid as if they were an Australian worker.

If people are underpaying them, they are breaking the law. And if they are breaking the law we need to hold them to account because the 457 Visa system, the integrity of it and its reliability is very important to make sure that businesses can get the skills that they need to grow their business.

It is not an alternative way of getting cheaper labour. It is about addressing an unmet skills need that we need to grow our economy and economic prospects for Australia.

If people are not doing the right thing, they need to be held to account because it is an important Visa system, the integrity of which needs to be protected and if people are doing the wrong thing, they need to be held to account.

REPORTER:

There is a very simple question for our audience. What does small business in Australia mean and especially for you? Under the contract of the China and Australia FTA, what are you going to do as the Minister for Small Business?

MINISTER BILLSON:

A couple of things we are doing to help small businesses take advantage of the FTA are to provide seminars like today. There are more than 100 of those seminars working across our country to explain what is in the Free Trade Agreements, not just with China, but also with Japan and Korea.

We are then explaining that there is help available for small businesses to make sure they are ready and able to be an exporter, to build up their own capacity, how to nurture the relationships that are very important, to make sure the trade relationship can be built from personal relationships.

How our export market development grant program can be accessed, what Austrade – our trade advisers – can do to help a small business and also some learnings from wise people who are already engaged in trade all designed to make sure small business has the confidence and the competence to take advantage of these trade agreements.

The other thing we are doing domestically is looking to energise enterprise.  To win trade markets you need to be competitive and you need to be able to delight your customers and beat your competitors.

That means, making sure your own business is running well. That is why in our country, we are trying to remove red tape – needless costs, obstacles to businesses – innovating and meeting new customer needs.

That is what the budget package was about; $5.5 billion of tax incentives to help people invest in new equipment, to see a reward for their entrepreneurship. So getting the local competitive environment right helps small businesses win competitive opportunities in export markets as well.

So that is our two pronged approach. Helping small businesses domestically to be the best they can and as competitive as they can be and then preparing them to take advantage of the trade agreement and knowing what is required and how they can be ready to be exporters, whether it be goods or services.

That is the approach we take. Thank you.

DAVID COLEMAN:

Any other last questions?

REPORTER:

Recently the Australian China property investor policy has been tightening and it is very hard to try and get more than 80% new property purchases. I am just wondering, how do you think the property laws will change in the near future for Chinese investors in Australia?

DAVID COLEMAN:

I think the issue of housing and housing affordability is a really important one in our community and obviously very much so in the Hurstville area where prices are going up. I am on the House Economics Committee which is currently doing an enquiry into this issue.

We obviously do not want to discourage investment in housing because it is important that we are developing more homes. We have got a growing population; we need to develop more homes.

But equally, the Reserve Bank and APRA have made some comments recently about some concerns they have about the very rapid growth in investor related loans. So I think that Australia will remain a very good place for investment as it has been historically.

But obviously, anyone who invests in Australian property needs to comply with the rules in relation to investment, foreign investment rules and more generally the access to finance and ultimately of course, people will make their own decisions about what investments are right for them.

It is a really important part of our economy and continuing to have property development is important because it employs a lot of people in our area.

MINISTER BILLSON:

Just before we conclude, may I just pass on my respect, thanks and appreciation to Australians of Chinese origin for their contribution to the nation and the economy. I admire the enterprising character of Australian Chinese.

I am grateful and respect the commitment to family and to be involved in their local communities and this is fantastic.

It is part of our story as a nation, it has been an extraordinary contribution and you see it all around in Hurstville- how people of Chinese origin are making a remarkable contribution, not only to our local economy but helping to open the door to the global economy and to key markets.

We are very grateful of that contribution and I admire that entrepreneurial spirit and thank you all for your interest today. Zàijiàn.