201411.12

Transcript – Interview with Leon Compton, 936 ABC Statewide Mornings, Hobart

E&OE………………………………………………

Subjects: Freight across Bass Strait, red tape, GST reform, AusTender website, HMAS Tobruk

LEON COMPTON:

At St Helens there has been a business breakfast there, where small business people have been catching up with the Minister for Small Business, Bruce Billson, to talk to him about issues on the east coast, about opportunities. It’s a time when we’ve been talking a bit about small business, so many public servants potentially might be thinking about starting theirs for the first time.

Bruce Billson, Federal Small Business Minister, good morning to you.

MINISTER BILLSON:

Leon, good morning to you and your listeners.

LEON COMPTON:

What sort of questions did you get from the floor this morning when small business people on the east coast gathered?

MINISTER BILLSON:

The great thing was the energy and the optimism; there were so many business people there with ideas, a sense of these delicious possibilities almost within reach with a little bit of help with some infrastructure.

The on-going concern about the cost of moving goods and humans across Bass Strait and a real focus on facilitation of projects was the flavour. But gee, a lot of optimism and positivity in the room Leon and that’s just what we need.

LEON COMPTON:

What’s specifically that you can deal with as Federal Minister for Small Business?

MINISTER BILLSON:

There are a couple of things certainly in the red tape and regulatory area. A lot of the small business people were saying, ‘Look Bruce we’re already time poor and we’ve got Government imposition on things that really do not add much and contribute to the wellbeing of the community – can you just get some of that stuff out of the road’ and that was a really strong flavour that came through in the discussion this morning Leon.

Those head wings and obstacles that need not be there, there is a whole bunch of work going on in that space. Costs was another big topic. Obviously the freight and costs across Bass Strait were topics. There was good support for cost reduction measures, such as the abolition of the Carbon Tax, but a real focus on needing to keep an eye on those impositions on business.

And the last thing which was really interesting was some young people in the room who echoed what a lot of the more mature people were saying, which is why don’t we celebrate enterprise more? We need to energise enterprise and elevate the discussion and really pay respect and give support and encouragement for enterprising people, creating livelihood opportunities for themselves and others in their communities.

LEON COMPTON:

A lot of people feel locked out from State and Federal Government tenders in Tasmania from small business because they are just not of a scale to get in the game. What can you do to help them?

MINISTER BILLSON:

We have started on that work. There has been about $2.2 million spent on changing the Commonwealth procurement processes so that they are better aligned with small business opportunities. What we find, and I suppose it is almost a response to risk aversion Leon, where bureaucrats think ‘Oh look, it is probably easier and I’m less likely to be criticised if I go with a big tender, involving big businesses, no one can criticise me for that’, but what this Government has brought to the table is a view that if you bulk up tender requirements and bundle different bits of work, you freeze out a lot of very, very skilled and efficient small businesses that could do parts or components of that tender, so that has been working its way through the Department of Finance.

Even the AusTender website Leon, some tell me that is too complicated and there is work underway to make sure businesses operating in particular regions are aware of opportunities that are there. Then if a small business does win some Government work – simple idea – pay on time. You know if you pay your tax late you get fined, we think that discipline should be reversed and if you have got a Government delay in getting your payment then there should be interest paid on that.

So there is work going on there. More needs to be done because Government procurement should be a great place for efficient small businesses to get a better piece of the action.

LEON COMPTON:

The Prime Minister the other day said that he wants the country to have a mature conversation about tax reform. What sort of taxes should we reform to best help small business?


MINISTER BILLSON:

Last night and this morning we had a range of views around tax. Tax complexity Leon, being too complicated and too confusing, and that small businesses are happy to make their contribution but don’t make it harder than it needs to be to do the right thing. There is about six or seven taxes Leon that raise about 92% of all the tax revenue across the three levels of Government, and then there is more than 100 of additional taxes that make up that last 7 or 8 per cent.

So there is opportunity for some streamlining, really strong views around pay roll tax, a lot of businesses are saying ‘Hang on, I’m doing the right thing here by the states in creating work opportunities, why do I get penalised with pay roll tax’, and of course to bring about change in that regard, you would need to see some other way of producing income for the States and Territories if change was made there.

That’s why we need that sober conversation about the tax structure and system that best supports our goals as a nation and our ambitions for our communities and that is what the debate will be shortly kicked off about.

LEON COMPTON:

Would lifting and broadening the GST and getting rid of a range of other tax be good for small business on the whole?

MINISTER BILLSON:

Look there is a few different sides to that. One is for the businesses that are operating in areas where a GST does not apply, then that can be viewed as a good thing in terms of reporting obligations and compliance costs. There are other businesses even in the medical field where certain types of activities might not attract the GST, but then other types of therapies and interventions do and I often hear people saying it drives them insane and it is extraordinarily complicated.

The last area is around where the GST does not land at all, a few of the businesses were pointing to what is called the low value threshold, that is the benchmark of $1,000 below which GST is not applied, and they are saying that is hardly tax equivalent, what could be done about that.

So the range of ideas around that could assist more businesses wanting to get involved because we need to find efficient ways of funding essential works and services and then making sure the system to implement it is not so overbearing so as to cause problems in its own right.

LEON COMPTON:

Where to from here, what are you up to for the rest of your time in Tassie?

MINISTER BILLSON:

I’m about to walk down the main street of St Helens, what a spectacular part of the world this is. Fantastic local businesses, great services here. I’m surprised that the 7,000 people that live here on an ongoing basis, there isn’t another digit either in front or behind that because it has got so much going for it and lots of enterprising people, there’s some water front and wharf upgrade projects that the local council want to discuss.

One of the local businesses has got a bit of an idea for one of our redundant warships that they think would be great off the coast, to support dive activities in the pristine water around this part of the world.

LEON COMPTON:

Okay, you would’ve heard about… you’ve heard about the proposal around the Tobruk, the potential thinking of the Tobruk. What response have you given to the community on that?

MINISTER BILLSON:

To be perfectly honest with you, first I’ve heard of it Leon, so the proponents Peter Paulson and some of the local economic development people involved with the council and the business enterprise centres have raised that with me this morning and I’ve undertaken to go and do some homework and see what contribution I can make to get a good outcome for the east coast.

LEON COMPTON:

Good to talk to you this morning.

MINISTER BILLSON:

Thanks Leon, take care, best wishes to you and your listeners.

LEON COMPTON:

That is Bruce Billson, the Federal Minister for Small Business on 936 ABC Hobart.