201412.10

Transcript – Interview with Steve Price, 2GB


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Tuesday, 9 December 2014

E&OE………………………………………………

Subjects: Small business, GP co-payment, Budget, Crowd-Sourced Equity Funding.

STEVE PRICE:

On the line to discuss the GP co-payment among other things is the Minister for Small Business, Bruce Billson.

Nice to talk to you again Minister.

MINISTER BILLSON:

Good to be with you and your listeners Steve.

STEVE PRICE:

How do you reckon the small business is travelling before we get onto this stuff in Australia at the moment?

We take a lot of calls at night from our small business audience in Sydney and I get a very mixed bag.

I had a guy last night who said he has never been busier, and others saying that they’re having a bit of a struggle.

Is it possible to generalise?

MINISTER BILLSON:

I don’t think it is because your calls are much the same as the feedback I get from those courageous men and women of small business and family enterprises that mortgage their houses to have a go in our economy.

For some it is pretty positive, very encouraging, particularly those embracing new business models.

For others that have had good businesses but the market and consumers are changing around them, it is pretty tough going but they all tell me there is no sloppy profit gap there, it is all hard work and they are having a red hot crack and that is why I am so fond of our small business community.

STEVE PRICE:

Let’s hope they have a good Christmas.

You could argue GP’s are a small business. Is it fair to cut their income by five dollars a visit for non-concessional adult patients?

MINISTER BILLSON:

GP’s in many cases are small businesses and they have been juggling the goal of providing outstanding patient care and running a viable business.

All currently exercise quite a degree of discretion in how they set prices, who they bulk bill, where those bulk billing incentives are available, particularly for concession card holders and kids under the age of 16. That is still there, that will all be there.

For other concession card holders nothing needs to change at all.

For pensioners, concession card holders generally, kids under 16 and veterans nothing needs to change.

For those that are in a position to make a contribution to their healthcare we are hoping they will do that and to bring about that discretion there will be a reduction in the payment that the Government makes to doctors.

Doctors can choose to recover that from their patients that are not outside the net, so it excludes pensioners and concession card holders, kids and our vets. Or they can choose to adjust their pricing elsewhere.

It is empowering the doctors to continue that relationship they have had. It is about being able to fund and afford the first class healthcare system that we have got and to repair the budget, all of which are important objectives and a task we cannot walk away from.

STEVE PRICE:

I take your argument on we have to reign in the cost of Medicare; I don’t think anyone can sensibly argue against that.

However, isn’t this just a clever way to make it seem that the doctors are doing the charging rather than the Government?

You copped a battering over introducing what Bill Shorten calls a ‘$7 GP tax’, what you’re really doing is turning the GP into the tax collector.

MINISTER BILLSON:

I don’t think that will be the issue.

STEVE PRICE:

That’s what the Opposition is trying to point it as.

MINISTER BILLSON:

They might but there is one thing that no one can get away from and that is the budget repair task is real, and it needs to be addressed. The Government is the only side of politics with a plan.

In this area many of your listeners, in fact – I for one – already pay a co-payment when I visit the doctor, and I am not unhappy about doing that because I am in a position to do so.

That makes sure that those bulk billed patients, the ones that are in a financial situation that is perfectly remittable, the doctors have some flexibility, they can shape their practices in the way they see fit.

I do not think anyone will be confused about why these policy changes have been made.

This is a new and improved proposal to basically ensure we can fund the health system we need for our ageing population- seeing individuals make a contribution to their healthcare that are in a position to do so, then making sure those that are not continue to have a world class health system that is affordable for tax payers and delivers the healthcare that they need.

I think this is a new and improved proposal. The feedback from Government backbenchers has been terrific, the feedback that I have had from my own community has been very useful and I think this is a good proposition.

STEVE PRICE:

Do you still have to get these changes through the Senate?

MINISTER BILLSON:

There is a couple of things that still need to go through the Senate. One of the things we are trying to do is make it easier for people that are making a co-payment by letting them simply make that co-payment rather than having to pay the whole doctors bill, and then get some of it back.

If you are going to a doctor and you need to make that $5 contribution or whatever your doctor sets it at, you can simply make that contribution.

It can settle the account and then the Medicare benefit schedule money will go straight to the doctor. That requires a change of the law that is something that we need to work with the Senate on.

The other change is a largely regulatory change. These are the normal course of events where rebates are set. A number of the rebates will be frozen, that is something that the Senate can disallow…

STEVE PRICE:

My understanding was Labor had already promised to do that anyway?

That doesn’t necessarily mean anything because they promised to make cuts that they’re already now voting against in the Senate, aren’t they?

MINISTER BILLSON:

It would be disappointing if Labor continues with this yobbo, objectionable behaviour where they block everything.
Labor froze Medicare rebates; this package looks to freeze other kinds of rebates to see those rebates frozen out until July 2018. That is something Labor has done themselves so I would be staggered if they oppose that.

In the other area it was all about making sure those that did not have the capacity to make a co-contribution were not required to do so, well that is what this package actually achieves. I think it is a good proposal.

Let’s contrast it with the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme: concession card holders – I think they are paying about $6.30 per script at the moment – then after about sixty scripts the pharmaceuticals are free.

Here, the original plan talked about a $7 contribution for 10 visits, that raised some concerns. Now we are saying for those concession card holders you do not need to make a contribution but for those who can we are looking for them to do so, mindful that the Medicare levy only pays for about half the costs of the Medicare system.

A sensible and reasonable discussion, I think this is a new and improved package and it warrants the support of the public and the parliament in my opinion.

STEVE PRICE:

One hundred million dollars is a significant amount of money, but the scheme one, the $7 co-payment would have saved the budget $3.6 billion, this revised policy will save it $3.5 billion. Was it worth all the pain?

MINISTER BILLSON:

I think the idea of having a price signal is worth the pain. That makes some sense because we have a world class health system and we want to make sure the care and the support that it offers goes to those that need it and that if people can make a contribution towards their healthcare, good, let’s encourage that.

The big savings are in the longer term where the growth in demand we thought would have been mildly less and therefore more affordable in the longer term.

Yes there is a $100 million difference but we are thereabouts, $3.5 billion Steve is a big contribution to the budget repair task.

Whoever is in Government cannot avoid it, we have to deal with that, and this is a sensible measure of doing so in a thoughtful way, through a new and improved package.

STEVE PRICE:

We had the Murray report released yesterday, I note today that you’ve made some comments about making the ability for small start-ups to crowd found easier. How do you intend to do that?

MINISTER BILLSON:

There is a couple of ideas around. Those small businesses that listen to 2GB late at night, because that is probably how much clear air they get, if they have got a new business idea trying to get the funds to get it off the ground can be a really tough assignment.

The big banks will want to know what your track record is and that is mighty hard to prove when you have just got a new idea or a new business proposal.

So getting in crowd sourced equity funding means you can go to the broader public, present your idea and say can you make a modest contribution towards the creation of the business.

At the moment you get caught up on all the company share market requirements of prospectuses and all sorts of things -which make sense for much bigger businesses where there is much larger sums of money involved. But crowd source equity funding – people wanting to get behind our entrepreneurs, put in their $2,500 or so, streamline the arrangement, make it more attractive so that we can get these enterprising Australians into the economy, creating the jobs and growth we need.

STEVE PRICE:

What sort of laws would you have to change?

MINISTER BILLSON:

There is a couple of things. In the corporate fund raising area, if you or I went out with a share offer for a big corporation, we have got all sorts of requirements to meet in terms of prospectuses, evidence of the business model and all the records that would enable someone thinking about investing in a bundle of shares to enable them to make a good decision.

Here we are saying this is a smaller proposition, with smaller sums of money – right size the regulatory engagement. Make sure that there are not excessive hoops to jump through.

Make sure there is clear information so that if you or I wanted to get behind a business person with a good idea and put a couple of thousand dollars into the business we have got all the relevant information we need.

It is not overwhelming and that way a new business can go into the marketplace and actually get that start-up money. At the moment most businesses that want to go down this pathway work around the current rules. They actually say, well don’t give me equity, don’t have an ownership share in the business – can you pre-order something, for say the next two years, and when I get enough pre-orders we can get off the ground.

You and I might produce some magazines for vertically challenged young men that are marrying well above our batting average… there might be a market for that magazine, someone might want to be a part owner, but we cannot offer that at the moment because they might go out and say buy two years of subscriptions. We get a thousand blokes like us ready to go and then we are away!

We are trying to streamline this, open up another avenue for finance for enterprising Australians to get the economy humming to create the jobs we need and frankly to replace the 519,000 jobs lost in small business under the Rudd Gillard Rudd governments. We have got to turn that around.

STEVE PRICE:

We talked a couple of times on our entrepreneurs show on a Wednesday night about crowd funding websites that actually facilitate this happening. So you would be making the way they do business easier and simpler?

MINISTER BILLSON:

Yeah, the discussion paper we are putting out says we need what is called an ‘intermediary’. That is those websites that you are talking about.

STEVE PRICE:

Yeah we talked to Kickstarter a couple of weeks ago.

MINISTER BILLSON:

Yeah there are some great people around, we are drawing on their knowledge so we can land this well and take on board the field evidence.

In a normal company if you wanted to get the shareholders together it is an exercise in notification, you cannot do that online, even though those people you are talking about are saying online through websites we can present the proposition, disclose the relevant information, put the appropriate warnings in that this is a business and many businesses succeed but many do not, but if it goes well you will be a part owner in a small business and then making sure the regulatory arrangements sort that through.

New Zealand has done it, we can learn a bit from them. The United States is a pretty light touch but sometimes that can end in tears. We need to make sure we have got a good arrangement in our economy so that Australia becomes the best place to start and grow a small business. We are not there yet. My work will be done when we are but there is plenty to do.

STEVE PRICE:

Minister, always a pleasure to catch up Thanks for your help during the year, thanks a lot.

MINISTER BILLSON:

Thanks Steve. Happy Christmas to you and your listeners. Be safe and shop local and shop small if you get the chance!