Australian Government coat of arms

Prime Minister of Australia

The Hon Tony Abbott MP

Joint Doorstop Interview, Melbourne

Thursday, 31 October 2013

Prime Minister

Subjects:

the Federal Government’s commitment to grow small business; the Australian automotive industry; the Federal Government’s commitment to repeal the carbon tax; intelligence agencies; Operation Sovereign Borders; live cattle exports; parliamentary entitlemen

E&OE

PRIME MINISTER:

It’s good to be here at Croydon shops. It’s good to be at Ronald King. Ronald King is a local business that’s been operating for almost 50 years. It’s a third generation local business and we want to see more businesses like this. We want to see these businesses flourish and we want to create the economic condition that make it easier for small business to start, to grow, to expand, to employ, to invest because small business is not just at the heart of our economy, it's also at the heart of communities.

Places like this shopping centre are not just places for people to provide for themselves, they're places for people to meet, to recreate. They really are at the heart of so many Australian towns and suburbs and that's why it's so important that we do what we can to create the right conditions for small business to flourish.

Every small business is providing a service. Most small business are employing people and small business is at the heart of the creativity which our economy needs.

The average small business person has put his or her life on the line in a way that big business people don't. The average small business person has a mortgage over his or her house to keep the business going and that's why small business is a section of our community which deserves particular respect from government and from officialdom.

The new Government took some very strong policies to the election which we are in the process of implementing to boost small business. We will abolish the carbon tax, we will reduce company tax, we will cut red tape costs by at least a billion dollars every year and as Minister Billson announced yesterday, there will be a root and branch review of competition policy, so that small business and big business are competing on a genuinely level playing field where small business gets a fair go.

I'm going to ask Bruce to say a few words now about some of those initiatives, but I'm particularly pleased to be here with Michael Sukkar, the new Member for Deakin.

Michael is an outstanding local Member. He was a fine local candidate. He was born in Deakin. He went to school in Deakin. He got his first job in Deakin. He lives in Deakin and I know over the last 7 or 8 weeks he has been embedding himself in this electorate and that's exactly what a local Member should do. A local Member should be listening, learning and fighting for the people of his area and that's exactly what Michael Sukkar’s doing and I know he's going to have a long and successful tenure as the member for Deakin, but Bruce, over to you and then we might hear a bit from Michael.

MINISTER BILLSON:

Thank you, Prime Minister. As you have seen, Prime Minister Abbott is the Prime Minister for Small Business. We know and understand how crucial small business is to the economy and to so many livelihoods. Almost half of every person with a private sector job is employed in a small business. That's why today we are here celebrating the launch of Shop Small. Very important initiative; the month of November we're encouraging consumers if they are like the Prime Minister, like myself, like Michael, very keen to see small business flourish, to continue to employ, to invest and to innovate. We need to put some of our hard earns behind that belief.

We're encouraging people to consider spending some money in a small business to show that this is something that's valued in our community. That just as we see Michael Sukkar, having the Deakin community running through his veins, small business runs through the veins of our economy and this community and we need to show our support by thinking about making our purchases at a small business.

Shop Small will run for the month of November. It's an initiative that began in the United States. I want to acknowledge American Express, also the National Australia Bank, MYOB, Virgin Australia – they've all got behind this campaign. They work alongside small business and they want to see small business success.

We as a government also want to see small business success. Under the previous government, 412,000 jobs were lost in small businesses across the country. The share of the private sector workforce provided by small business shrunk from 53 per cent to 43 per cent. We need to stop that decline, turn it around and put the business back into small business. One of those initiatives is our root and branch review of the competition law.  We want to see big and small businesses compete to earn customers, to innovate, to succeed, but we want to see that on a level playing field.  Competition should be on the basis of merit, not on muscle. We want to see small businesses able to flourish because what they do, they do well, and not be impeded by big businesses misusing their mass, their market power or some mischief to stand in the road of efficient small businesses. That's why this root and branch review is so important – hasn't been done for a generation. We need to make sure the competition tool kit is fit for today's economy and gives all of our enterprising Australians a chance to succeed and prosper. But Michael, this place runs through your veins. Welcome us to the electorate of Deakin and congratulations on your election.

MICHAEL SUKKAR:

Thank you, Minister Billson and can I also thank the Prime Minister for visiting Deakin today. Small business is such an integral part of the Deakin electorate. I grew up in the Deakin electorate as Tony said and in fact grew up in a small business family. So, I have a certain perspective on the challenges, the rewards and the opportunities that small business provide and in the last two months that I've been further embedding myself in the electorate and speaking to small businesses and residents, there's certainly great confidence now that we are open for business. A change of government has certainly begun a new phase for confidence with small business, but what is also coming through very clearly to me in that two-month period is small businesses want the Labor Party to accept the mandate and to ensure that the carbon tax is repealed. That is something that is mentioned to me on an ongoing basis so I would encourage them to do so and can I thank again Minister Billson and the Prime Minister for visiting the Deakin electorate. It's very valued. Thank you.

PRIME MINISTER:

Ok, do we have any questions?

QUESTION:

Prime Minister, the South Australian Premier's just given a press conference expressing concern about the impact on small to medium businesses in the automotive supply chain if Holden and Toyota stops manufacturing. Where do you stand on that?

PRIME MINISTER:

Obviously I want Holden and Toyota to continue in Australia and the incoming Government almost in its first act freed the motor industry generally from the $1.8 billion fringe benefits tax that it was subject to under the former government and I'm just a little disappointed that the Premier of South Australia was not as vocal as he should have been about that dagger aimed at the heart of every motor business in this country. So, we saved the motor industry from that $1.8 billion tax hit which the former Labor government had in store for it and if the Premier wishes to further help the motor industry he should be saying to his federal colleagues, ‘Get rid of the carbon tax’ because the carbon tax adds about $400 to the cost of every car produced in Australia. That's an unnecessary burden on the competitiveness and the prospects of the motor industry. Get rid of the carbon tax if you're serious about helping the motor industry to survive and prosper in this country.

QUESTION:

Is the federal government prepared for the car-making industry to shut in Australia if the price is too high in terms of industry assistance?

PRIME MINISTER:

The last thing we want to do is to lose jobs. We want to create jobs. We certainly want to create more jobs. We want to preserve the jobs we’ve got and we are committed to the policies that we took to the election which include very significant ongoing assistance for the motor industry.

QUESTION:

Prime Minister, Industry Ministry Ian Macfarlane was quoted in The Australian today saying that there’s a chance that Australian car manufacturing can’t be saved. Is he wrong?

PRIME MINISTER:

There’s no doubt that a dynamic economy such as ours is going to evolve over time. Absolutely no doubt about that, but the important point is that we create jobs and preserve jobs. I want to see jobs in the motor industry preserved and if possible created. I certainly want to create jobs overall in the economy and again, that’s why we’ve got to get taxes down, we’ve got to get regulation down, we’ve got to get productivity up and this is why everyone who is fair dinkum about an ongoing, viable motor industry in this country should be saying to the Labor Party in Canberra, the best Christmas Present that you can give to the motor industry is allow the carbon tax to be repealed. You said before the election that the carbon tax had been exterminated. Well, be true to your word and allow the carbon tax repeal legislation to go through the Parliament.

QUESTION:

But the crucial and outstanding point though is industry assistance which you have charge of.

PRIME MINISTER:

There are a whole range of things that need to happen if jobs are to be created and if our economy is to flourish and getting rid of the carbon tax is a very good start. Getting red tape down, getting productivity up, getting exports up, all necessary if jobs are to be created at the rate they should be in our economy. And again, just look at the state of the motor industry in this country under the former government compared to where it is now; under the former Coalition government compared to where the Labor government put it. Under the Coalition government, production was higher, employment was higher, exports were higher because we had in place policies that worked. Unfortunately what we’ve seen from the Labor government is higher taxes, more regulation, more burdens in the way of business and that’s been bad for the car industry.

QUESTION:

Australia’s electronic spy agency is being reported to be spying on South East Asian neighbours. What’s your thoughts on this?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well the thing about every Australian governmental agency is that we all operate in accordance with the law. Every Australian governmental agency, every Australian official at home and abroad operates in accordance with the law and that’s the assurance that I can give people at home and abroad. Our people operate in accordance with law. Now, as for the precise workings of our intelligence organisations, it’s been a longstanding practice not to comment on that.

QUESTION:

I’ve got another follow up question, Prime Minister, on the car industry. Is there a split within Cabinet though? The economic ministers like the Finance Minister, the Treasurer, seem to be running much harder lines than say for example Mr Macfarlane in the industry portfolio. Is there a Cabinet split on this?

PRIME MINISTER:

No, I think there’s a tendency, if I may say so – and I’m speaking now as a former journalist – I love the media and I respect the profession in which I used to work, but inevitably there is a tendency on the part of the media to ask the same question or a slightly different question of different people and if there aren’t robotic answers, to say, ‘aha, so and so is at odds with such and such’. Well, I just want to assure you that the Government is absolutely at one in its commitment to give the car industry every chance of success. It’s been a very important part of our economy for a long time. As I’ve said repeatedly, I want us to be a country with a car industry. I certainly believe that we have a very strong manufacturing future and the best way to help the car industry and the best way to ensure that we continue to be a manufacturing nation far, far into the future is to get taxes down, get regulation down, get productivity up. Unshackle the creativity of the Australian people. Allow the Australian worker to produce at his or her best and I have no doubt that all of our industries, including the motor industry, can survive and flourish.

QUESTION:

Mr Abbott, is your government in talks with Iran over the repatriation of asylum seekers?

PRIME MINISTER:

We are doing everything we humanly can to stop the boats and we are doing everything we can to work with other countries to ensure that that’s happened and while there’s still a long way to go I’m pleased to say that the boats are stopping. They’re coming at about 10 per cent the rate that was happening under the former government in July. Under the former government, in July, arrivals were at the rate of 50,000 a year. The trickle had become a flow, had become a flood. Well, I’m pleased to say that the flood gates are closed. The boats are stopping. There is still a long way to go but rest assured they will be stopped under this government. They will be stopped.

QUESTION:

Has there been contact made with Iran?

PRIME MINISTER:

I’m not going to comment on the details of discussions and which particular country we’re talking about on which particular issue, but you’ll understand that we are talking to everyone that we need to talk to in order to ensure that the message goes out to the people smugglers and their customers that the game is up. Don’t try it because if you try it you will never come to Australia. You will never, never come to Australia if you seek to get here illegally by boat.

QUESTION:

Prime Minister, there’s been horrific video of treatment of sheep in Jordan released overnight. Barnaby Joyce has rejected the need for any further regulation or oversight here. Does this kind of vision make you reconsider your thoughts on the live export trade?

PRIME MINISTER:

I caught some of the vision this morning and yes, it was disturbing but it’s a very foolish government that makes policy on the run on the basis of one or two media reports. Now, we support the live export industry. I want to make that absolutely crystal clear. The Government supports the live export industry. It is a good industry for our country, it’s a good industry for our farmers and it is a good industry for our partners around the world and we want to do the right thing by the countries of the world and many of them are well served by a live export industry and we’re not going to play games with our customers. We’re not going to play games with the food security of other countries. That said, it’s important that the industry proceed on a sound footing. We believe that appropriate precautions have already been put in place. This footage certainly is being investigated and if the rules are being broken, well, we will ensure that that ends and that the rules are enforced.

QUESTION:

At what point do you think our responsibility for these animals ends when they're exported to another country?

PRIME MINISTER:

I just want to say that I think the existing system is a good system. The existing system is designed to ensure that animals are not mistreated. We're investigating this matter and if someone has done the wrong thing suitable action will be taken.

QUESTION:

On expenses, Don Randall paid back the money that he spent going to Cairns, but you seem to have differing accounts of why he went. Why do you say he went?

PRIME MINISTER:

I think this matter has just been fully dealt with.

QUESTION:

Nick Minchin says MPs should be required to give more information about their reasons for expenses claims as well as three-monthly reports. Are they proposals you'll consider?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, again, we've been up hill and down dale on this matter and I accept that the public are absolutely entitled to expect politicians and every member of the community to act with integrity and with honour. I'm confident that that is in fact the case and the fact that Mr Randall has repaid the money is to his credit. The difficulty is that there is no system that won't, from time to time, produce arguments at the margins. The important thing is that where there is doubt it is resolved in favour of the taxpayer and that's exactly what's happened in this particular case.

QUESTION:

On the NBN, have you broken your word by cancelling the NBN roll-out to the homes promised it within the year?

PRIME MINISTER:

No, we haven't broken our word. It was always misleading of the NBN to claim that the roll-out was taking place when all that had actually happened was that planning had begun for a roll-out to take place sometime in the far distant future. The whole NBN was based on misleading assertions and promises that were constantly being made and constantly being broken. The NBN, under Labor, was way over budget, it was way behind schedule. For the first time in its existence there is now honesty about the NBN. For the first time since it began, people are being honest and fair dinkum and straight about the national broadband network because the NBN is going to operate on a very different basis under the Coalition. Because we're going to put fibre to distribution points and then use, in most cases, existing technology, we can deliver much faster broadband, much more affordably and much sooner than under the former government's plans.

Our guarantee is that in three years' time every household in Australia will have access to download speeds of 25 megabits. Now, this is five times the current average maximum download. This is going to be a massive improvement on the current situation. This is going to be an achievement that would simply have been impossible under the Labor government because the Labor government was determined to dig up virtually every street in Australia. It wasn't a broadband project, it was an infrastructure project. We are going to bring it back to core business and that's why it's going to be far more successful under the Coalition than it ever would have been under the former government.

Thank you.

[ends]