14 September 2015
Transcript - #2015104, 2015

Interview with Greg Jennett, ABC Capital Hill

SUBJECTS: Leadership speculation, Canning by-election, small business, Effects Test (Section 46)

GREG JENNETT:

One of them is the Small Business Minister Bruce Billson, who joins us now. What seems to be wrong? To the outside observer, what's wrong with this Government that this issue of leadership keeps recirculating?

MINISTER BILLSON:

I think the Prime Minister is on the money, it is a bit of a Canberra chat kind of thing. I have spent a few days in my electorate and there wasn't a word about this. It was all about the important issues; about growing the economy, about creating more jobs and there are good signs we are making good progress there about security, not only in a personal sense and in a financial sense, but also in a major regional sense.

Security, these were the issues that were raised with me. That is where we are focused, that is where I am focused and you will probably find me pretty uninteresting on the other stuff, which I frankly don't have a lot of time for and interest in adding to.

GREG JENNETT:

I won't try to make it more interesting than it is, but will ask some questions about it anyway. What's the best explanation then for why multiple ministers are back grounding about their dissatisfaction and their intentions through the remainder of this year?

MINISTER BILLSON:

I should take that as a comment, not a question. I don't know what you are told. All I know is whenever I am asked, including by the ABC and others, for a bit of inside skinny gossip, that is not the business I am in.

If you want a comment from me, let us have it on the record. Happy to disclose my views, happy to speak frankly. I do not know what other information you are getting and frankly, I am not that interested.

I have got two million Australian small business men and women counting on me to work as hard for their success as they do and the millions of jobs that they create. I have got to tell you, that is a full plate and that is fully where my focus is.

GREG JENNETT:

Is it treachery?

MINISTER BILLSON:

What, working to support small business?

I would not have thought so, that is my responsibility and frankly that is what gets me out of bed in the morning.

They are very important to our economy. A huge contributor to economic prosperity and jobs and that is why I am absolutely focused on the small business community and their needs and what we can do to make this economy the best place to start and grow a business.

GREG JENNETT:

I think you said on previous episodes of this, that Ministers who may be backgrounding or briefing the media should be sacked or remove themselves. Is that still a position you hold and a call that you would make to colleagues today?

MINISTER BILLSON:

That is always the position. There is no other position.

Being a Cabinet Minister is an extraordinary responsibility; an incredible honour and it comes with great discipline. And that is the discipline to work in a collegiate way with our colleagues to speak frankly and open with other Cabinet Ministers in the Cabinet table about the challenging issues our nation faces and the opportunities for the future we are all working hard to achieve.

Those disciplines are significant and people who cannot live by those disciplines should do something else. That is simple. That is pretty straightforward. That has been my view and it continues to be my view, Greg.

GREG JENNETT:

And those colleagues have been read the riot act – to use the Prime Minister’s words previously. Why are they not getting the message?

MINISTER BILLSON:

Well they do not ring me Greg. You ask them. If you are getting phone calls, you ask them.

I know for the 19 men and women that sit around the Cabinet table, the boardroom of our country, shaping opportunities, the prosperity that our citizens can reach for, dealing with incredibly challenging issues, some of them international – some of them domestic.

We need the best effort of everybody and that is what I bring to the table every day. If someone has got time to do other things, well you can talk to them mate. But that is not what where I am about and that is not where I am going to spend my time concerned about. 

GREG JENNETT:

It’s no historical accident that some of this is bubbling to the surface again in the lead up to the Canning by-election. In that sense, do you think it is designed to be doubly damaging?

MINISTER BILLSON:

Well the Canning by-election is an important election, not only for the candidates but for the people of Canning. And we are very fortunate; have you met Andrew Hastie?

He is a fantastic, incredibly talented, wonderful individual offering himself as the Liberal Party candidate, who has served our country, who we have invested in as a nation to build his leadership potential and his capacity to bring about change and to achieve outcomes in a team environment.

What an outstanding candidate! And if I was living in Canning I know who I would be voting for – it would be Andrew Hastie, he is a great candidate.

GREG JENNETT:

Is it not inescapable that those who are backgrounding – at this moment – are kind of launching a pre-emptive strike of some sort against the Prime Minister, so as to get a result which may be even more damaging to him?

MINISTER BILLSON:

No one is that insensitive about the time and the effort, the dedication, the selflessness that Andrew Hastie is displaying in working very hard to bring our positive message and I must say, quite a record of achievement, to the voters of Canning.

I don’t think anyone is serving any good purpose by standing in the way of that focus and that drive. He is an outstanding individual, and you know what? As a nation, we should welcome someone of his calibre, being prepared to put his hand up and to make that contribution in public office after serving our nation in other forms.

So good luck to Andrew, he is a great candidate and I wish him well for the weekend.

GREG JENNETT:

Your position on the leadership seems abundantly clear, but what is it about polling at any point in the last 18 months, that gives you confidence that your own seat of Dunkley could be retained – on the numbers that we have seen for so long now?

MINISTER BILLSON:

Performance.

GREG JENNETT:

Who’s performance?

MINISTER BILLSON:

The performance of the Government.

At the end of the day, most people are more interested in the steak than the sizzle. When we get nearer to the election time, they will be looking at the more than 300,000 jobs, ten times the rate of job formation than we inherited from Labor.

That is important. The increased participation, the record numbers of business start-ups, the growth in the housing sector, retail sales are up, export sales are up, more women than men are forming businesses today.

This is a time of great opportunity and great achievement but there is more work to be done. As we get nearer to the Election Day, the focus will be on the steak not on the sizzle; on the content and the plan and the progress we are making not on the Canberra chat.

That is what gives me optimism and that is what I get back as feedback from my electorate when I am working very effectively with my local community.

GREG JENNETT:

We have heard a lot about the plan and it was celebrated at its two year anniversary only recently, but why the distractions? Why has the Government not been able to sustain a long term pitch around some of the sausage issues as opposed to the sizzle?

MINISTER BILLSON:

Well, it is steak, we can go sausage if you want. There is another analogy there about policy formulation, but we will save that for another day. You might have picked up I have tried a few times Greg, to bring you back to policy. I will keep trying.. I know you are looking for a bit of sizzle.

They say that politics is show biz for ugly people and maybe that is the kind of theatre you are looking for but I am focused on politics in the sense that politics is the art of implementing good policy.

We have got good policy, we are making good progress. I am hoping the vision will move on to the steak, not just on the sizzle. That is where I am focusing my energies and I would recommend it to all of the journalists here at the Kremlin in Canberra.

GREG JENNETT:

Alright, let’s get one steak question in. Lest we be accused of talking only about leadership. But in your own portfolio, one of the big things you are trying to carry through the Cabinet process is what they are calling the ‘effects test’ to competition law.

You want that finalised by October? I think the Nationals came in behind you and passed a resolution strongly in support. Will that help carry the day for you?

MINISTER BILLSON:

I hope so because I think the argument is compelling. In our economy, we want to be able to ensure that efficient businesses, big and small, have the chance to thrive and prosper. The effects test, for those that aren’t up with the jargon, relates to a part of the law that deals with the misuse of market power.

Our laws currently don’t work and enable dominant incumbents to fortify their dominance by excluding new entrants from being able to delight our customers and compete in the economy.

We have got the weakest misuse of market power laws in the world, yet we have got one of the most concentrated economies. It needs to be fixed. If there is support coming from the National Party, I welcome that because I think the policy arguments are compelling

GREG JENNETT:

And are you carrying the day with those policy arguments in the room?

MINISTER BILLSON:

Well it is part heard and without going into all the nitty gritty of Cabinet, which you know I am frustratingly unhelpful to you and then pouring out on those sort of internal issues; it is part heard by Cabinet.

I will present the relevant information to my peers and colleagues and we will form a view on that as part of our response to the 56 recommendations from the Harper review, which looked at a whole range of competition policy law institutional issues.

What we are talking about is one of those 56 recommendations.

GREG JENNETT:

Alright then, Bruce Billson with a hearty lunch of both steak and sizzle, thanks for your time today.

MINISTER BILLSON:

Thank you for having me.