13 August 2015
Transcript - #2015097, 2015

Interview with Justin Smith, 2UE

SUBJECTS: Samsung washing machine recall, same sex marriage

JUSTIN SMITH:

It has been two years since Samsung issued their urgent recall for their top loader washing machines. Shockingly, one recalled machine bursts into flames each week, in this State alone, since April. Once a week - blows up - unbelievably dangerous.

But despite the fire risk of the... How many is there?...144,000. About 144,000 machines that have been replaced, I think only half of them, we have had only recall for about a half. 

Federal Small Business Minister Bruce Billson is in charge of recalls etc and he is on the line. Hi Minister.

MINISTER BILLSON:

Hey Justin, how are you?

JUSTIN SMITH:

I’m alright.  Thanks very much for the chat.  

MINISTER BILLSON:

You are welcome. I thought you were having me on to talk about the virtues of ‘Bruce’ as a name after hearing from Chris.

JUSTIN SMITH:

Ha, ha. Minister what would you like as a name?

MINISTER BILLSON:

I have come to terms with my own name, actually. We went through the Kingswood Country, and a few comedic acts that used to take the mickey out of Bruce. I think that has hardened me up for public life to be honest with you.

JUSTIN SMITH:

You went through the Monty Python famous ‘Bruce’ sketch.

MINISTER BILLSON:

I did. I did.

And ‘Don’t Bring Me down Bruce,’ I remember was a song that was sung to me when I wasn’t playing well in my sporting team.

JUSTIN SMITH:

We had Bruce the shark in Finding Nemo.

MINISTER BILLSON:

Yes.

Audio of Bruce the Shark.

JUSTIN SMITH:

Ha, ha ha. There we are Minister.

MINISTER BILLSON:

Suffered much.

JUSTIN SMITH:

Samsung. I wouldn’t say we are at crisis point here. But it is only a matter of time before we see some homes being burnt down, and lives… well lives are already at risk. What are we going to do about it?

MINISTER BILLSON:

Sadly we have already seen fires in houses, which is one of the reasons why we are trying to think of new ways of getting the message out to people who might have one of these top loading washing machines.

I am really grateful for your interest in this Justin, because the company has done quite a lot in spending money through advertising, media/radio buys, mail outs, letter box drops, following up all of the contact information they have.

And there are about 144,500 suspect Samsung top loading washing machines that have been bought between 2010 and 2013.

And for some of them, the moisture sneaks into an area where there is electrical equipment and that can cause smoking. I think at last count there have probably been about 70 fires, so it is serious stuff. And people are just scratching their heads wondering, how do you get the message out to people who own one of these machines to get on the phone and get the recall support that they need.

JUSTIN SMITH:

Minister, there have been no houses burnt completely to the ground, have there?

MINISTER BILLSON:

Not that I am aware of. There have been areas of substantial damage, particularly around the laundry areas and adjoining rooms. 

Some have been particularly darkened areas, where the flames and smoke have caused quite an amount of surface damage.

Samsung has been, by all accounts, and there may be some exceptions, but I have been told have been quite prepared to deal with that.

The real challenge for us though, and NSW Fair Trading and the NSW electrical safety authorities are leading the work-but we have to get this message out somehow that if you have one of these Samsung top loading models, they tend to start with SW or WA - have a look at them, have a look to see if they are part of that recall.

For people who feel that they can’t move their machine to see what the model information is on the back , ask someone who cares about you to say ‘hey, can you just pop by and have a peak?’ – We want to get the repairs done so people can be safe and comfortable knowing they aren’t at risk of a fire or smoke episode.

JUSTIN SMITH:

So Minister the company has done the right thing, the states have done the right thing, the Federal Government has done the right thing by putting out the recall.

But do we need to maybe change the recall system? I mean should it have been the responsibility of the retailers or the company to know who bought these machines and then they go around, they either physically go around or they make direct contact with the person and say ‘listen, sorry the machine is bung, we are going to have to fix it up’.   Do we need to change that system?

MINISTER BILLSON:

Yes - well in the first phase back in 2013 that precisely is what happened.   All of the retailers and suppliers, registered consumers who might have sent the card in in relation to warranty schemes or even where there has been marketing cash back promotions Justin, all of that data has been harvested, and direct contact has been made. 

But even with that, with two rounds of newspaper advertising, radio advertisements, even letter box drops in some areas. To be honest with you, one of my staff members got an email because they happened to be identified in the Samsung communication system.

So they are trying many avenues, but the reality is, the recall hasn’t been effective. We have still got almost half of the machines still out in people’s homes.

There has been a compulsory recall that NSW Fair Trading has activated in recent weeks. That has generated a bit of interest. You might be critical of me Justin, but I actually mentioned it in Question Time just before the winter recess.

JUSTIN SMITH:

Oh no, politicians!

MINISTER BILLSON:

Well I thought while we have got the media’s interest and air time, what can we do?

We have shared information with our parliamentary colleagues on all sides of the House saying ‘put a little bit of information out into your communities’.

And I am really grateful that you have an interest in it as well.

The simple message is, if you have one of these top loading Samsung washing machines and its model number starts with SW, and I can go through all the long numbers, but that will drive your listeners insane. SW or WA, please get on to the recall line and get the remedial work done.

JUSTIN SMITH:

It is good talking to you again. Thank you very much for taking some time talking to me.   How is political life for you at the moment?

MINISTER BILLSON:

It is character building at the moment. So we keep going, there is a lot to do in the small business space.

We have spoken before about how we are making some in roads though.

The number of people employed by Australian small businesses is up, the number of Australian small businesses themselves are up, the share of the private sector workforce is up and who can forget how well that small business budget package has been received?

Another instalment of which Justin has just gone through the Senate to make sure that the two thirds of small businesses that are not incorporated but actually operate as sole traders, Tony’s tradies, through partnerships and trusts- that they get some tax relief as well.

So we keep focused on that, that is what people want us to do in the capital here.

JUSTIN SMITH:

There are a few things almost like a Samsung washing machine in the laundry: travel entitlements, same sex marriage.

MINISTER BILLSON:

You are very alert. That is incredibly perceptive of you Justin. I have picked up there have been a few other issues at play. You are very alert sir, nothing gets past you and for that you can call me Bruce.

JUSTIN SMITH:

Ha ha. If you want another name, call back. We can make it happen.

MINISTER BILLSON:

The trick with names is to have it work well when you are a youngster and then not have it make you like a peanut when you get a bit older.

There are sort of cutesy names that are lovely for little boys and then they turn out to be middle aged, slightly overweight, not quite athletic types like me. And then a name like Toby just doesn’t quite work for me.

But anyway there is one of the great challenges. For all those people who have parenthood ahead of them, don’t just think of the moment: Look at the acronyms that might spell an unfortunate term. So many things to think about. Gee I am helpful to have on aren’t I?

JUSTIN SMITH:

You are, you are. I would be remised though… As a Liberal MP, a Victorian Liberal MP I am going to have to ask you, an internal polling leak today says particularly Kelly O’Dwyer’s seat of Higgins would be lost to the Greens. How do you feel?

MINISTER BILLSON:

Look mine is slightly more earthy if I could put it that way.

It has been a marginal seat for each of the seven times I have contested it and I just get over the line by a smidgen.

But where there is such a potentially divisive or polarising issue like this where you have got traditionalists that believe marriage is a proper noun and means a particular kind of relationship between a man and a woman. Then same sex couples who I have great respect for looking to have their relationships formally recognised. And you either delight one side of the argument and devastate the other or vice versa: That is where we are at the moment, and I would like to think we can bring some thought to the table in finding mutually…..

JUSTIN SMITH:

What would you like? I know you are bound by the party. But would you like to do? Would you like the party to allow a free vote or do you want to take it to a referendum after the next election, what would you like personally?

MINISTER BILLSON:

Well for about 10 years I have argued to leave the definition of marriage between a man and women.

But I have also argued and put forward the case Justin that there should be committed life partnerships as a designation for same sex couples.

10 years ago that was thought to be very forward looking and quite satisfactory.

But the campaign seems to have moved on, where for the same sex relationship lobby if it is not the word marriage it is nothing- and that has really got us into a difficult spot.

So I have honoured my undertakings to my electorate and that was to maintain the position I have had. I understand that this is deeply personal, so I actually thought a free vote for our colleagues made some sense.

But we did take to the election, last election, a policy position and I think you would go off like a bag of prawns on a hot summer day if people starting walking away from these commitments. That gets us to where we are now: deeply personal, no clear solution that will properly respect and be satisfactory for all sides of the argument, a real foundation issue for our community, why not let the people decide?

The citizens can chaperon in what our community as a whole feel is an appropriate way to respect and recognise these important relationships

JUSTIN SMITH:

Only a true Bruce could have a bag of prawns’ reference.

MINISTER BILLSON:

Did you like that?

JUSTIN SMITH:

That was wonderful.

MINISTER BILLSON:

Thank you. Take care.