201412.13

Transcript – Interview with Brett McLeod, 3AW


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Friday, 12 December 2014

E&OE………………………………………………

Subjects: Korea FTA, Prime Minister’s Office

BRETT MCLEOD:

One of the successes of the Government this year, one of the runaway successes, has been various Free Trade Agreements or freer trade agreements is probably a better way of putting it, but they will certainly reduce the cost of imports and increase the export market for small businesses and our farmers and that sort of thing.

One of them has been signed and actually comes into activation tomorrow, that is, the Korea-Australia Free Trade Agreement. So what does it mean for you and I?

A man who will know is the Federal Minister for Small Business. Bruce Billson, good afternoon.

MINISTER BILLSON:

Brett, good afternoon to you and your listeners.

BRETT MCLEOD:

First of all, does this mean we get cheaper stuff from Korea?

MINISTER BILLSON:

Yes we get cheaper stuff from Korea but more particularly, a lot of our producers and the businesses that offer world class goods and services get a better, clearer run into Korea, into a really important market and that will create jobs and growth for our economy.

BRETT MCLEOD:

We have seen in recent years a huge change in the sorts of products we import from Korea, I think it used to be seen as a bit of an allsorts and now a lot of our cars, a lot of our electronic goods and so forth are coming from Korea. Will we see a change in the cost of those?

MINISTER BILLSON:

They will come down slightly.

As you know the tariffs on imported cars have come down progressively over many years. The remaining tariffs will come away over time as was the plan that has been in place for some years. So we will see some reduction in costs there.

And you are quite right Brett, the quality of the product coming out of Korea has been quite spectacular in recent years and the Korean economy was keen to make sure they could show their wears into Australia – motor vehicles, some the electronic equipment and the like that they are very good at.

They were keen to get into our market and we are spectacularly keen to get our services, our primary industry, particularly food products, into Korea and build on the strong relationship we have around resources and energy.

The economies are quite complementary Brett. The things the Koreans do well are very attractive to us and vice versa.

That is why we are very, very keen about the start of this closer economic relationship.

BRETT MCLEOD:

I should point out we are talking about South Korea, not North Korea.

MINISTER BILLSON:

Yes, good point.

BRETT MCLEOD:

We do not need to import missiles that do not work and Mao suits.

MINISTER BILLSON:

Yes, that is a big topic in its own right. All you need to see is some of those maps of the globe at night to see how illuminated and energised South Korea is and a whole lot of darkness in the North, but that is a big issue on the Korean Peninsula.

One of the things the Koreans are focused on is growing their own economy and securing their own future which is very much around energy, around resources and around food – things that we are very good at and they look to Australia to continue a really strong relationship where at the moment, we export about twice as much by value to Korea as they import here.

We are hoping to continue with the strong relationship and grow more opportunities for our businesses here into the Korean market.

BRETT MCLEOD:

What are they taking from us?

MINISTER BILLSON:

Mainly at the moment Brett it is around resources primarily. The big ones are obviously iron ore, coal, some petroleum products, but there is a growing interest and appetite in our services area in things like education, even tourism, but particularly in the area of food.

One of the things that we do well we are a world class premium producer of food of great quality. Korea sees us as a partner in their future and when this deal was inked, the Korean leadership said we now have security for our energy, our resources and our food because of this relationship with Australia.

The other thing I would add Brett is I am sure your listeners would know that about $7 out of every $10 that is generated in our economy is generated by the services sector, yet when we look at our exports and our profile of our economic engagement, only $1 in $7 comes from the services sector.

So we see a really huge opportunity there for services, whether they be law firms, accountancy firms, communications, a whole lot of technical expertise, building expertise, advice on energy efficiency and there is a whole raft of services that we do very well as an economy and as a nation and there is a big appetite for that contribution into the Korean economy as well.

BRETT MCLEOD:

We are getting towards the end of the year and there is a general feeling that the Federal Government – you cannot reach the end of the year fast enough. That there has been, as Tony Abbott himself put it, a lot of barnacles that have slowed down the ship of Government and as Joe Hockey said, they quoted that just a short time ago on Sky News this afternoon, that the Government made a mistake in the way it tried to market some of the more unpopular Budget measures like the GP co-payment and that sort of thing. Would you agree with the Treasurer on that?

MINISTER BILLSON:

I think we can improve our game. I think the thing that I get most, even when I was walking down the street in Frankston today, was lots of encouragement from people who recognise leaving things the way they were under the previous Government is no strategy for our future.

We do need to make change and I suppose one of the learnings that has come out of the year is the need to explain what the case for change is, what the implications are for individual people and frankly, spend more time on that communication task.

I think to use an analogy – I often say in politics people are more interested in the steak than the sizzle. We have been very much steak orientated, but clearly a bit of sizzle is required to make sure there is a good understanding of what we are trying to achieve and what the benefits are for our nation and our citizens in the longer term.

BRETT MCLEOD:

Mind you, a bit of sizzle coming out of the Prime Minister’s office, if you believe some of the commentary and some of the quotes about unhappiness with his right hand woman, with Peta Credlin who the Prime Minister again was defending last night in language that would not have sounded out of place under Julia Gillard.

MINISTER BILLSON:

That whole discussion is frankly a crock, as far as I can tell. I work very closely with the Prime Minister, with his extraordinarily capable chief of staff, the whole prime ministerial office. They are an outstanding outfit.

And what that office and what the Prime Minister’s leadership brings is a certain discipline, a requirement for we, Ministers to be able to bring forward well-argued, well-evidenced cases. We need to have our arguments and our ideas tested and challenged. That is a logical role of the Prime Minister and the advisors around him.

That is working perfectly well and that is the way it should be Brett.

You and I might come up with a great idea on a phone interview on 3AW on a Friday afternoon but we might need to dig a bit deeper and consider other factors. That is the kind of rigour you would expect from the Prime Minister’s office. That is what we get.

He is doing his job very well in terms of interacting with his Ministers. I am a Cabinet Minister, I can speak with him any time I need. I do not darken his door.

My aim is to solve problems, not create them and in many cases I will test some of my ideas with the advisors that are around him to make sure I am putting forward the best game and the best ideas I can. That is the way the process operates.

It is going well and some of the commentary is just utter, utter nonsense and a distraction when we have got important work to do.

BRETT MCLEOD:

So you do not have a problem with Peta Credlin?

MINISTER BILLSON:

No. We get on like a house on fire. I do not darken her door, nor the Prime Minister’s door needlessly but when I am looking for support, advice, collaborative effort, I get all that, and in spades. Absolutely professional and what a great contribution both of them are making to the wellbeing of our country.

BRETT MCLEOD:

There is obviously some backgrounding going on by some people for whatever reason against Peta Credlin. What do you say to them?

MINISTER BILLSON:

It is hard to work out what the motive is but I cannot find a virtuous one there.

This is in a very important role. The Prime Minister is leading, I would say a challenging conversation with the Australian public, around how we cannot just sleep walk into the debt and deficit trajectory that we were heading towards under the previous Government. That does involve change and adjustment, that does involve shaking up some things and communicating what that is about and how we are doing that wisely and involving people in a collaborative way and making sure our policies are the best developed and our best game each day.

That is important work and supported by a great team in his office.

Peta Credlin is a superstar with a very sharp mind. She is a patriot and I have great admiration for the contribution she makes to what is essentially a team sport. Politics and governing is not about any single individual, it is a team enterprise and we all bring strength to that task.

BRETT MCLEOD:

You just have to hope everyone is playing on the same team.

MINISTER BILLSON:

You would hope so. I am not quite sure what some of the chatterboxes are on about but if they could put their head down and make a contribution in a positive way I think that is all the better for the nation as well.

BRETT MCLEOD:

I have got to ask you this Bruce. You have been walking around the streets of Frankston today. Have you had anyone come up to you and say – gee we miss Geoff Shaw?

MINISTER BILLSON:

Frankly no. No one has done that today. They have offered a few other observations but not of that character. There was a lot of atmospherics surrounding that.

I am sure your listeners know that Frankston is the greater southern capital, the Riviera of Melbourne and for anyone who has not been down here for a while, come down, take a fresh look. The sandcastles are being built, the yacht club is being redeveloped, we have got South East Water’s headquarters being constructed.

This is a great community. I admit it. It runs through my veins. I love it and I think anyone who really comes down and wants to be a part of it cannot help but love it.

BRETT MCLEOD:

I was down there for the sandcastles earlier this year. I will be down again next year.

MINISTER BILLSON:

Yes, when are you coming back? I think we have got superheroes this year. Does that include broadcasters or not?

BRETT MCLEOD:

I do not think we could fit in that category. I will happily come and play in the sand.

MINISTER BILLSON:

Even fetchingly handsome ones like you Brett.

BRETT MCLEOD:

That is enough. You do not have to put the spin on now.

MINISTER BILLSON:

Happy Christmas to you and your listeners. Have a safe one. And can I just put in an ad for our local businesses?

BRETT MCLEOD:

Yes.

MINISTER BILLSON:

Buy local, buy small. Shop local, shop small.

If you love those entrepreneurs that make up the livelihood and the economy of our communities, put some ‘hard earned’ into them when you are thinking about Christmas presents. They need to have customers and it is just an important part and a complexion to our economy that does not get enough attention. We can all do something about that as consumers. That is my encouragement for your listeners.

BRETT MCLEOD:

I think that is a good encouragement indeed. Bruce Billson, thank you for your time.

MINISTER BILLSON:

Good to chat. Take care Brett.

BRETT MCLEOD:

The Minister for Small Business.