201412.07

Transcript – Interview with Peter Van Onselen, Sky News


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Sunday, 7 December 2014

E&OE………………………………………………

Subjects: Paid parental leave, Senate, small business, women, Medicare co-payment, Temporary Protection Visas, child care, Assistant Treasurer, ChAFTA, Election, Tax White Paper.

PETER VAN ONSELEN:

I am joined live in the studio here now by Bruce Billson, the Small Business Minister, thanks for your company.

MINISTER BILLSON:

Morning.

PETER VAN ONSELEN:

Why is the Prime Minister breaking his promise on the Paid Parental Leave scheme?

MINISTER BILLSON:

We have got a Paid Parental Leave scheme that is very important for our economy, for women looking to balance a career, income needed to support their household expenditure and the ambition of families.

We have gone to the election. We have argued our case, but as Paul has mentioned the Senate is not keen to respect the mandate and the clear policy position. We need to get something done and recalibration and refinement is what is needed to try and show the Senate that this is an important policy measure that needs to be implemented.

PETER VAN ONSELEN:

But you haven’t even put it to the Senate yet and you’re already backing away from what we were told by the Prime Minister, over and over again, was something that he was not for turning on?

MINISTER BILLSON:

Look, we listen to what the Senators have to say, we collaborate, we get the Senate that the Parliament presents us with through the electoral process. Views have been made clear by the Senators and the crossbenchers; it would be reckless and quite unprofessional to ignore the clear positions that some have been articulating.

We are responding to that and putting forward a refined proposition that we will work through in the New Year, that we hope will earn the support of Senators.

Why? The economy needs it. Women and families, particularly balancing the need for income in their households and the ambition of family need it, our nation needs it – that is why we are finding a way forward.

PETER VAN ONSELEN:

But isn’t the truth of it that if you did put it before the Senate, the biggest embarrassment wouldn’t have been at failing because of crossbenchers, but rather because of your own side, you would have seen Senators en masse perhaps crossing the floor.

MINISTER BILLSON:

I’m not sure about that, I know some of the colleagues have had some views; we have got a very collaborative process within our Government.

I have been putting some views forward about how crucial this measure is for small business so that women working in smaller enterprises get the kind of support women in big corporates and in Government get, that is an equity issue.

We need this done and if we need to refine and recalibrate to get it done, that is what we’ll do and that is what is being foreshadowed today.

PAUL KELLY:

But why is it taking so long? I mean, we always knew this measure had to be amended. Why have we waited so long to get this change?

MINISTER BILLSON:

We work very methodically through a range of issues Paul. Your introduction and the wisdom it showed is that the Senate is not for making things straightforward and easy, and mandates do not count for much in the Senate.

So we are working through these things so it is implemented in the timeframe that we have foreshadowed.

There is some refinement and recalibration necessary to get it done and to get this important measure moving, that is the process and the pathway we have gone through.

PAUL KELLY:

Yeah but I put to you – this is the constant problem across the entire Government, it’s too slow on everything. It’s too slow to amend the Medicare co-payment; it’s too slow to amend the Paid Parental leave scheme. When is the Government actually going to increase the pace of decision making and actually speed up and begin to address the problems?

MINISTER BILLSON:

I would say what you’re describing are virtues of the Government – methodical, considered, surefooted, working through a range of issues and many moving parts that you touched on. That’s a virtue. So you might see that as a criticism, might not be as sexy and as reactionary as we saw under the Rudd Gillard Rudd Government, but we saw where that got the nation and where it got the Government.

We are working through the concerns that are raised, looking for a pathway forward, consulting, and collaborating. I think they are virtuous things Paul.

PAUL KELLY:

Okay, all that’s very good, now how confident are you that this will get through the Senate?

MINISTER BILLSON:

I’m very optimistic that a refined proposal, because it is compelling, compelling in terms of the need and the justification, supported by more resources into child care, is the kind of package that even the Senate will embrace.

In my consultations with small business -particularly women of enterprise that are creating opportunities in our economy for themselves and others – they have put to me a blended proposition of a recalibration of Paid Parental Leave, more resources into child care. That is the path where we are going down and that is terrific, it is exactly what I think we should be doing, what I have been advocating and what is being embraced in a thoughtful, considered way.

PETER VAN ONSELEN:

If you are embracing the potential now for rebates for child care isn’t that open to exploitation? I mean, you’re going to have to really dot your I’s and cross your T’s on this one because otherwise we’re going to have a scenario where people that are willing, as things stand at the moment for whatever reason, to engage in child care for free, perhaps extended family et cetera, they could now be part of some sort of a tax loophole as a result of the adjustment that we’re looking at.

MINISTER BILLSON:

We are getting way ahead of things here Peter, I mean we have got the Productivity Commission report, we have got a commitment to refine and recalibrate and fine tune the Paid Parental Leave system. We know and the feedback is that Paid Parental Leave -a fair dinkum Paid Parental Leave scheme – is needed, but there is also a need to look at the through-life care requirements of a young family and that is why improvements in child care is necessary.

We can work through the PC recommendations; do the refinement that is necessary for the Paid Parental Leave scheme and then put the package forward.

PETER VAN ONSELEN:

The biggest PC recommendation is that you don’t need the Paid Parental Leave scheme, what you need is more into child care, but you’re going to try to do both?

MINISTER BILLSON:

Yes, and that is what is needed and that is what the feedback is.

I was honoured to be amongst 40 of our finest women entrepreneurs at a roundtable we were having, talking about innovation and what we need to do to energise enterprise.

The clear message was we need both and that is the message that I have heard, I have listened to, we have teased out through our discussions, I have fed into the Prime Minister and our deliberative processes and we will come out with a better proposition that has every prospect of passing the Senate in the New Year.

PETER VAN ONSELEN:

You mentioned that the Government is being calm and methodical, what is wrong with the voters that they don’t seem to see it because you’re trailing badly in the polls?

MINISTER BILLSON:

Well, the way we go about our work is something we have influence over. What we can get as outcomes others have an impact on and the voters are seeing a lot of noise.

I saw the Assistant Treasurer Chris Bowen, a man I have some regard for, even boasting about how it is the Labor year of resistance.

Now, that is interesting and that might be very good in terms of the Labor vote seeing Labor muscling up to everything but there is no clear plan, in fact there is no idea.

Can you think of one idea, one policy proposition that Bill Shorten and Labor have introduced this year? There is not one. Now that is what the public is seeing, this idea that Parliament should be dominated by yobbos.

PAUL KELLY:

No, the public is seeing something else Minister.

PETER VAN ONSELEN:

It’s not something that is reflecting well on the Parliament and of course that takes a bit of bark off the Government.

PAUL KELLY:

The public are seeing more than noise. They are reading all week about the divisions in the Government, so let me ask you, how much concern is there internally about Joe Hockey?

PETER VAN ONSELEN:

Well the concern is not about Joe Hockey. Joe is doing an outstanding job.

PAUL KELLY:

Well, why are we reading these reports on a daily basis about how unhappy the Government is with the Treasurer?

MINISTER BILLSON:

You asked me my sense of it, and I work very closely with Joe as one of the two Cabinet ministers in Treasury, Joe and I work closely together.

History will look very fondly on Joe because Joe’s job as Treasurer is not just a P&L, an expenses and incomes task, like some sort of glorified accountant.

That is not what his job is.

Right now, the game is changing and that is what Joe is in the vanguard of communicating.

We can’t sit back and just let default policy positions play out and somehow they will correct themselves. We can’t rely solely on our natural advantages. It’s a bit like cricket in the 70’s – natural gifts that gave you a winning edge.

Our economy has natural gifts, it used to give us the winning edge but like cricket the rest of the world has realised how to lift its game – we need to lift our game, so this is an important time of transformation and transition.

Joe is leading that work, not just here but internationally. The game is changing and Joe is leading that work and I admire his work in that regard.

PAUL KELLY:

Well, do you concede that all the newspaper reports this week about Joe Hockey have been damaging?

MINISTER BILLSON:

Unhelpful but grossly overblown.

PAUL KELLY:

What’s the source of this?

MINISTER BILLSON:

I should ask you that Paul.

PAUL KELLY:

No, I’m asking you because these reports suggest that there is large scale concern within Government ranks about the Treasurer.

MINISTER BILLSON:

Yeah I think that is ridiculous. I mean, we have got work to do but let’s not underestimate the importance and significance of this work. It’s not just about income and expenditure, it is about preparing our nation for the transformation that is being inflicted upon us by changing global circumstances and our need to be our very best as a nation, in terms of our economy to make sure we see improved living standards within reach for generations to come.

That is a big conversation to be had. That is not a conversation had easily on Twitter. That is not a good conversation to have in a bit of chat going on around the halls of power. That is a difficult and deep conversation, with long term implications.

Joe Hockey is leading that discussion, he is in the vanguard of the simple fact the game has changed and we need to change with it.

PAUL KELLY:

Okay, just on the same issue, there have also been many, many reports about concern on the part of the party and senior ministers about the operation of Tony Abbott’s office. How deep are those concerns in the Government?

MINISTER BILLSON:

Well I can only talk about my own experience, which is overwhelmingly positive.

PAUL KELLY:

You have no problems with Tony Abbott’s office? No problems with the Prime Minister or Peta Credlin?

MINISTER BILLSON:

No. I don’t darken the Prime Minister’s door unless I need to.

I’m here to solve problems, not create them. And whenever I have input and insight and a view to share and I’m looking for support, the hearing is outstanding.

I’m obviously tested, I mean, you were talking earlier about why we don’t make a nimble knee-jerk reaction to certain things, well part of that is making sure there is rigour in our thinking and that we have thought through our propositions.

I value that – that buttresses our work. The relationship is extremely positive in my eyes and I’m pleased to be part of the Abbott Team and working collaboratively and collegiately with it.

PETER VAN ONSELEN:

Do you have direct access to the Prime Minister, because I am told that only the leadership group do, otherwise you have to go through the office?

MINISTER BILLSON:

I have, I am one of the Prime Minister’s Cabinet ministers and I have spent 18, nearly 19 years in public life contending in a marginal seat around the great, southern metropolis capital of Frankston, my insights are valued, my contribution is appreciated and when I have some views I’m not shy about putting them up and they are always put firmly, well evidenced and they are received with reciprocation.

It’s the kind of quality interaction I look for and that is exactly what I get.

PETER VAN ONSELEN:

We’ve been talking about the economy, Paul Kelly editorialised about the difficult economic environment if you like, made more difficult I suppose for the Government to deal with without an Assistant Treasurer, it has been a year now without an Assistant Treasurer, we’re coming up to your second Budget, there is no guarantee that there will be any sort of reshuffle before then according to the words of the Prime Minister.

Is this an acceptable situation?

MINISTER BILLSON:

Well we have got depth in our team; Arthur Sinodinos is an outstanding political mind and a great contributor. We know of the inquiries that are underway and the Prime Minister has made it clear he is looking for those inquiries to be concluded. It is not our gift to shape the timing of that conclusion to the inquiry and its work, so we are pushing on.

PETER VAN ONSELEN:

In hindsight, someone should have been put in the role acting, not the Finance Minister, but someone new to put more hands on the wheel if you like.

MINISTER BILLSON:

Look we have got a lot of contributors. Our policy committee contributes ideas and insights, Mathias Cormann has been doing an outstanding job, there is certain synchronicity between his role in Finance and the specific role of the Assistant Treasurer – and the work continues.

The work has been methodical, ministers are being tested on their Budget propositions and how it contributes to the story of jobs and growth and improved opportunities for the future.

That is all working fine and I hope the inquiries exonerate Arthur sooner rather than later because he is an outstanding individual and a great mind.

PETER VAN ONSELEN:

Stay with us here on Australian Agenda, we are talking to the Small Business Minister, we’re going to take a short break, when we come back the panel join us.

[Commercial break]

Welcome back, you’re watching Australian Agenda. Paul Kelly and I have been speaking to the Small Business Minister, Bruce Billson; we continue to do so but are joined on the panel by Niki Savva and Simon Benson.

SIMON BENSON:

Minister, good morning.

MINISTER BILLSON:

Good morning Simon.

SIMON BENSON:

As we speak, the Prime Minister I think is due to make an announcement on the Paid Parental Leave scheme. Now, I want to ask you this, your Government in Opposition attacked the former Labor Government when it decided to set a benchmark of $150,000 a year for families, that those earning less than $150,000 were in need of Government assistance, those earning above it were apparently rich.

Now, as I understand it you have set the same figure for your Paid Parental Leave scheme so women that work hard that earn more than that will not have availability or access to that scheme. Aren’t you doing exactly the same thing that you accused Labor of doing, which is class warfare, people who are rich and people who are poor, those that need Government assistance and those that don’t?

MINISTER BILLSON:

That is just ridiculous Simon. I mean, nice try and good of you to come in so quickly on this topic but at the moment we have got a deficient scheme that pays at minimum wage.

Now there is an awful lot of daylight between minimum wage and high income earners that you are describing.

What we are trying to find is a way in which we can implement a fair dinkum scheme that will get through the Senate that supports our policy objective of saying to families and particularly women, you can choose a pathway of economic security and family and we will support you during that transition.

What we have said is, let’s refine and recalibrate the Paid Parental Leave scheme, a great win for small businesses. Let’s remember if you are in a big Government office or a big corporate you get benefits that are not available in small business. We want to extend that support to small business and complement it by a strengthening of the child care system that is the feedback we have got, realistic of what the Senate will embrace and we want to get on with this.

So, policy purity is not something that you can die in a ditch on at the moment otherwise you will come back at me saying ‘Why haven’t you got on with it?’ We need to get on with.

SIMON BENSON:

So you’re saying this is policy pragmatism is it?

MINISTER BILLSON:

It has to be pragmatic.

SIMON BENSON:

Because previously the scheme was fine as it was, now you’re setting means-testing or caps on the scheme, is that a political reaction to the policy or a fiscal reality reaction?

MINISTER BILLSON:

No, it’s realism. I think it is about two per cent of women who earn over $150,000 a year. Now we could battle in the ditch and get nothing for any women, or we could get on with what we can deliver and we want to get on with this.

I mentioned how important this is for women in smaller enterprises. I do not want people choosing their career option and their career pathway based on the fact that Governments have had a scheme for donkey’s years and big corporates offer paid parental leave schemes and that is not available to women who choose a career in the engine room of our economy.

So let’s get on with that. I think that’s a perfectly reasonable, defensible and pragmatic way of dealing with what we are faced with in the Senate and a policy goal to get on with this important measure.

NIKI SAVVA:

Minister, can we just change tact slightly to the Free Trade Agreement with China. There are obviously going to be great benefits for small business in that, so I am just wandering what kind of measures you’re putting in place to make sure that small business is aware of them and can actually exploit it?

MINISTER BILLSON:

Excellent observation, these trade agreements open up a whole word of new possibilities for small business. In business there is no substitute for customers and what these agreements do is open the door to hundreds of millions of new customers, particularly smaller businesses in the services sector.

Let’s remember, seven out of every ten dollars generated in our economy is in the services sector, yet only one in six of our export earnings is in the service sector and so many of those small businesses are there.

NIKI SAVVA:

But what specifically are you going to do to make sure that small business is aware of what can happen and how you can help make it happen?

MINISTER BILLSON:

There are three things that we are doing: one is small businesses are front and centre of our engagement and outreach. You might remember when the Prime Minister, Andrew Robb and I went with some 500 businesses to China, 200 of those were small businesses.

Secondly we have reshaped the export market development grant program, to make it more targeted and more supportive of small businesses reaching out for these possibilities and then landing the jobs and growth potential that they offer.

Thirdly EFIC, the Export Finance and Insurance Corporation, an important financial institution to help small businesses into these markets where the traditional sources of funds might not care to go. That has been refocused and recalibrated.

So those three practical tools, supported by Austrade, and what I am calling celebration of the pathfinders, these are people that have already made this journey and showing other small businesses you can too, here are footsteps that guide you to these markets – that is the approach that we are taking.

SIMON BENSON:

You talk about the opportunities of small business, but one of the burdens that you have made quite clear on small business is penalty rates. Now considering all the battles that you’re having on a number of fronts politically, is that an issue that you will have the courage to tackle before the next election?

MINISTER BILLSON:

Well a couple of things: one, the Parliament does not set penalty rates. The independent umpire, the FairWork Commission does that so that is one issue.

Two, within the current law there is scope for businesses to argue, usually through their industry associations that the rate of the penalty rate is impeding their economic prospects and therefore the chance of their staff to work and to get shifts, so that machinery is at play.

Alongside that we have announced the Productivity Commission examination, of whether the whole regime supports our goals and ambitions. I already believe that a number of industry associations will be making the case that the penalty rates are unhelpful in their eyes, they can point to what would be better.

It is not the existence of penalty rates that is the issue that is raised with me most; it is the rate of the penalty rates.

SIMON BENSON:

If you had the authority or power to tackle that issue, what would you like to see with penalty rates?

MINISTER BILLSON:

Well I think what is needed is a proper understanding that if those settings are excessive, that denies people the chance to work at all. These are the challenges that are being raised with the commission. This is what the Restaurant and Caterers Association raised. They said the way in which the Commission had set the rate of the penalty rate meant many cafes and restaurants could not serve and meet their customer’s needs on weekends and the like, and people were losing shifts because of it.

They made that case, they evidenced the impact, they explained that this was costing opportunities for work and damaging business viability and without a viable business you don’t have an employee. They made that case and that rate of penalty rate was adjusted by the Commission.

So that machinery is there now, there is a review of the so-called modern awards where there is another opportunity. And then there is the broader discussion, does this regime actually support the economic objectives and national goals of our country, that is the best way to tease out those questions.

PAUL KELLY:

Are you prepared to take on big business to get the effects test up into competition law and what’s your response to the campaign being waged against you by big business?

MINISTER BILLSON:

I’m used to being at the pointy end of a bit of a campaign…

PAUL KELLY:

This is more than a bit of a campaign.

MINISTER BILLSON:

Yeah but I’m a resilient character.

PAUL KELLY:

Are you going to win on this?

MINISTER BILLSON:

I think so, I think so. I mean, what we’re looking for is a competition policy framework where efficient businesses, big and small, can thrive and prosper, where that contest in the marketplace is determined on merit, not on muscle.

Now we know section 46, the current misuse of market power provisions, I have characterised it as a hunting dog that won’t leave the porch. It promises much but in operation it has not lived up to much of its ambition. It does need some refinement and I think the Harper Review has pointed to a pathway that I’m very interested in. But that is not the only point of the Harper Review. It was some 22 years ago when we had Professor Hilmer carry out that important piece of work.

Now the economy has changed, the world has changed; we have talked about new market opportunities and dynamism in the economy. We need a toolkit in the competition space that supports the new and emerging economy. This one point you make is, I understand it is the fixation of some, but there is so much more we need to do to get our economy humming.

So yes Harper is addressing this issue, yes there are some vested interests running hard against the Harper committee’s preliminary recommendations, they had until the middle of last month to make secondary submissions.

I’m looking forward to reading the conclusion of that work early in the New Year but we do need to make sure the toolkit is fit for purpose.

PAUL KELLY:

In other words, what you’re telling us is that while Tony Abbott listens to big business a lot, he’ll take them on, on this issue.

MINISTER BILLSON:

Tony Abbott listens to business, Tony Abbott listens to people, Tony Abbott listens to good advice, he listens to me too and you can put me in wherever you want there.

What we are saying is this is an important opportunity for microeconomic reform to drive our economy forward. Let me give you some quick numbers: in the 70’s – seven people in the workforce for every one retiree, today – five in the workforce for every one retiree.

Middle of this century, less than three people in the workforce for every one retiree, we need to make our economy hum and we need to make sure we have got all those settings right if we are to secure the jobs and prosperity for the future.

PETER VAN ONSELEN:

Those statistics sound very much like a good reason to have tax reform and to have more consumption tax because income tax clearly won’t cut it if those figures are right.

MINISTER BILLSON:

Look, we have got a tax setting now that has some certain characteristics to it that are different from other developing economies. Is that good, is that bad? That’s why we have got the Tax White Paper sitting alongside the Federation Reform piece, because the two need to travel together and where taxes are contradicting or impeding what are clear national goals, well that is the sort of discussion that we need to have, not just the demography but also what taxes mean for people’s choices, their behaviour, their incentives and energising enterprise, which is what we need in our economy.

NIKI SAVVA:

Minister, do you think the Prime Minister will listen to you on the sort of things that need to be done to improve your prospects in Victoria? Polls at the moment show that the Coalition’s two party preferred vote is running at about 42 per cent, which is the worst of any state and clearly the Victorian election result showed that first term Governments have no guarantees and you’re clearly in a lot of trouble there, so what do you think needs to be done?

MINISTER BILLSON:

Well Niki, Victoria is the Massachusetts of Australian politics; it is always a little bit more left than the rest of the economy.

NIKI SAVVA:

So do they not get Tony Abbott or does Tony Abbott not get them?

MINISTER BILLSON:

Victoria is really experiencing, I think, some of the most significant changes and transformations in our economy. The weekend election where Labor was elected was very interesting in that it was all the public sector unions that were out saying let’s get rid of Denis Napthine and a good competent government because the Labor crowd will do more and we’ll get more money out of it for the public sector unions.

Now, that is not a sustainable strategy, that is not a plan for the future, that is optimising short term political tactics.

NIKI SAVVA:

It worked.

MINISTER BILLSON:

And it did, so we have got a conversation to have. It was a bit like the last election in Western Sydney over the whole period of the Rudd Gillard Rudd Government. There was not one net new private sector job created in Western Sydney. It was all jobs funded by and dependent upon tax dollars.

Now, we talked earlier about the Budget, that you can’t keep saying your future is about taking more taxes off other people to keep funding more public servants. That is not the future for Victoria so it is very crucial that the economic vitality that we are working day in, day out to deliver for our economy, no one stands to gain more from that than Victoria, as it needs to adjust and look to a new future in a great state.

PETER VAN ONSELEN:

Can I ask, in Victoria, in your opinion, did the change of leader help or hinder the re-election efforts?

MINISTER BILLSON:

At a state level, well I think there was a view in some people’s eyes, unexpectedly having won Government, the incoming Coalition was not well prepared to implement a program so there was some lost momentum and a window shortly after an election where you can frame the voters’ understanding of what you are about and what your program is. I think the change…

PETER VAN ONSELEN:

Are we still talking state politics?

MINISTER BILLSON:

Yes we are, nice, I like the Segway, witty… but so this was an opportunity that was missed in Victoria and I think the change to Denis and the focus that was needed to explain the plan, the Coalition Government had an excellent plan for Victoria, not enough people knew about it…

PETER VAN ONSELEN:

So the change of leader was good but it just didn’t get them over the line.

MINISTER BILLSON:

I think that’s right, I think that’s a fair account and it’s a good team and they were doing good, competent work but my sense was they had not incited enough activists…

NIKI SAVVA:

So there’s nothing to say that it’s a disadvantage to change leaders in the first term?

MINISTER BILLSON:

Well we’re talking about Victoria and you’re trying to pivot and run a cunning correlation with a Federal level.

I don’t think anybody could suggest that in the first year of the Abbott Government we have not done much.

I thought we were talking about a different take, that there was too much going on and so I’m not quite sure the parallel is transportable like that.

SIMON BENSON:

Could we talk about the national scene, in that context, there was a poll out today, a Galaxy poll in the Sunday Telegraph which showed a 2PP of 54/45 – that’s a diabolical position for a first term Government to be in only 12 months after getting power with a quite a clear mandate, a popular mandate.

What has gone wrong, how do you fix it?

MINISTER BILLSON:

Clearly, we haven’t peaked early have we Simon? In all seriousness, we went to the election with a clear plan about restoring hope, reward and opportunity, about building a strong and prosperous economy…

SIMON BENSON:

And that plan hasn’t worked obviously.

MINISTER BILLSON:

Well the plan is being implemented and I think people are wanting to see the benefits of it. That $550 on average going back to households from the abolition of the Carbon Tax, we’re seeing some good indicators in the economy, some green shoots in the economy. People want to see the benefits of that.

No one could doubt the outstanding work that Scott Morrison has done on stopping the boats. In terms of the work we have got on the Budget, you know we were the only people with a plan.

The commentary that Paul touched on in his introduction, one thing that was also consistent was the only plan to Budget repair is the one the Coalition has. There is no other alternative so I think we have got the building blocks in place.

Have we excited and enchanted and delighted people? Perhaps not, but we have got work to do and we continue with our work to get the country back on track and to restore that hope, reward and opportunity that motivates us all every day so that the great promise of our country that the next generation will have it better than us. Just set and forget, just inherited the Labor approach, is never going to get us there, there is a need to implement our program.

SIMON BENSON:

Okay, you mentioned Scott Morrison before and earlier you mentioned the problems with the Senate, I think Paul mentioned they’re one of the most obstructionist since the 70’s, it’s fine to blame the Senate for a lot of your problems but Scott Morrison got through arguably one of the most controversial pieces of legislation, TPV’s, he got that through the Senate but you have not managed to get a lot of your finance and economic Budget measures through the Senate.

So you can’t really blame the Senate can you? If you can get TPV’s through the Senate, why can’t you get the other stuff through?

MINISTER BILLSON:

No, I’m not in the blame game, I’m talking about the reality of the Senate and that is there is an eclectic range of views that we need to navigate.

You’re not right on the Budget and on economic measures – 75 per cent of 400 Budget measures have been passed and are being implemented and we continue to work on getting the rest of the program through.

SIMON BENSON:

Sorry, I will qualify that, that the structural reform measures that you need to make sure the economy does not go spiralling south even further, they’re the ones I’m talking about.

MINISTER BILLSON:

And on those structural reforms, remembering that the Budget repair task was not all bells and whistles at the front end, because we need to nurture those green shoots in the economy and nourish confidence…

SIMON BENSON:

Can I just bring you back to the question on the Senate? It’s a negotiating problem though, isn’t it?

MINISTER BILLSON:

I will come back to that. I’m not sure it is, I think it is also about an appreciation that there is a problem to be solved. Now, nobody could contest the disaster that was left for the Abbott Government by the Rudd Gillard Rudd Government with its border protection policies. Nobody could contest that.

So the need for change was absolutely compelling. Thirty thousand detainees, unavoidable, action was required so I think there is in that case that change was required was self-evident. In the areas that you’re talking about in structural reform, I think that is where there is work required.

Let’s take higher education – those structural reforms are saying to students, who on average will earn a million dollars more over their working life with their degree than someone who does not have a degree but finished Year 12, a million dollars more over their working life, we are saying we would like the students to pay half.

SIMON BENSON:

Can I just bring you back to where I was wanting to go…

MINISTER BILLSON:

But I’m right on your point Simon, it might not be the answer you’re looking for but I’m right on your point that change…

SIMON BENSON:

I’ve got to interrupt you before you go down this path…

MINISTER BILLSON:

…structural change, the case of it needs to be I think more strongly made so that the Senate says yes there is a problem here to be solved. Whereas in higher education, they go, no it’s all peachy, just let it keep going.

You can’t let it keep going, and even in the debate last week it was clear people who had reservations were thinking leaving it the way it is, is just going to see atrophy in our higher education area.

I think the case for action, we need to make more strongly. It’s self-evident on border protection, outcome delivered. On these other areas of structural reform, I think we need to be stronger in our advocacy that there is a need for policy action and the only action plan on the table is the one we are proposing.

SIMON BENSON:

Well you did get around to answering my question in the end. So what you’re acknowledging is that you claim that border protection was a disaster, you convinced people of the disaster, therefore you got your policy through the Senate. You also claim that there was a Budget disaster; you have clearly not convinced people that there is a Budget disaster; therefore you can’t get your policies through.

MINISTER BILLSON:

And the structural reform measures like in higher education, like in health, some people are content to say, no problem here, no need for change.

Anyone who has had a close look at it knows that is not right, that’s the work we have got ahead of us, to communicate so there is a broader appreciation, that doing nothing is not an alternative at all.

SIMON BENSON:

But isn’t there also a need to perhaps reset your policies? I mean there’s one thing about selling it.

MINISTER BILLSON:

Weren’t you just giving me a touch-up about resetting on Paid Parental Leave? I mean, you’re quite right, but let’s be consistent. Adjustment, refinement, fine tuning, that is a part of the process and that is exactly what we are doing on Paid Parental Leave and there was some suggestion that that was not the right thing to do.

Christopher Pyne on higher education, fully engaged, already put forward some changes and some adjustments, Peter Dutton working in a similar collaborative mode, looking for a pathway to get this important work done and we need to navigate the Senate, that does involve some adjustment and fine turning, I thought that was a virtue, I thought that is realistic in the current political dynamic.

That’s what we are doing but then you were quick to give us a bit of a touch-up on PPL for doing much the same thing.

PETER VAN ONSELEN:

Before we run out of time, just finally if I can ask you, the Prime Minister promised to bring the Budget back into broad balance, is that something that is going to be achievable now?

MINISTER BILLSON:

It is still the objective; it is still our driving motivation. The timetable is the issue, so the precision in the timetable…

PETER VAN ONSELEN:

He promised to do it by about I think 2016/17.

MINISTER BILLSON:

And this is what I’m making my point about, that timetable is less clear because of moving parts on terms of trade, the income we get from what we export, I mean those things are having an impact on the timetable but we are resolute and I think the Australian public understand this.

Small business does, they know if you are paying your overdraft on your Visa card you can’t do that forever.

We are borrowing a billion dollars a month to service our debt, this is why we need to make sure that lead is out of the saddle bag of our economy and future generations, and we need to push on with that work.

PETER VAN ONSELEN:

But should he have not said that? Obviously it is not quite the humdinger that Wayne Swan put on the return to surplus, but, nonetheless there is a bit of a timetable there which is obviously not going to be met, as you say.

MINISTER BILLSON:

Let’s be reasonable though, you can only arrive at conclusions on the evidence available to you at the time.

Remember when Joe Hockey laid down the Budget and he had marked down what iron ore prices were and then there is this shrill call that he had been overly pessimistic, turns out Joe was right on the money, but the dip in iron ore prices was actually more than he had anticipated, after being criticized for being too pessimistic.

So, again, moving parts, we need to manage those widely. We have got the team to do it and we have got a plan, we’re the only side of politics with a plan and that puts us way ahead of the yobbo shouting we get from Labor these days.

NIKI SAVVA:

So the team is the team, the team stays as it is?

MINISTER BILLSON:

The team is a deep team, to use a cricket analogy Niki, we bat well down our order. We have got a good team that steered the Coalition through the difficult years in Opposition after an election loss, into Government, a developed plan, clear priorities, safe hands.

NIKI SAVVA:

No need for a re-shuffle?

MINISTER BILLSON:

Well, that is the Prime Minister’s call but you don’t change a cricket team because one person drops a catch, that’s ridiculous… Let’s use a netball analogy, you cough up a pass, you don’t wipe the team.

There is work to be done, we bat deep, we have got good talent, but we’re the only team with a plan to do what is needed for our nation and that puts us way ahead of Bill Shorten, who has managed to convince two Prime Ministers he was on their side before backstabbing them, come up with no new idea, no new policy proposal, he’s a throwback to the 70’s. That is not what is going to get the country moving.

PETER VAN ONSELEN:

Alright Small Business Minister Bruce Billson, you’ve been generous with your time, thanks very much for joining us.

MINISTER BILLSON:

Thank you for having me.