17 March 2016
Transcript - #2016030, 2016

In the role of: Minister for Small Business and Assistant Treasurer [21 September 2015 - 18 July 2016]

Interview with Michael Brissenden, ABC AM

SUBJECTS: The Government’s changes to Section 46, the Budget, Safe Schools Coalition Australia.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN:

I'm joined live in our Parliament House studio by the Assistant Treasurer and Minister for Small Business, Kelly O'Dwyer. Kelly O'Dwyer, welcome to the program. 

MINISTER O'DWYER:

Great to be with you Michael. 

BRISSENDEN:

So why did you decide to reverse this decision, this is the effects test decision, why did you decide to do it?

MINISTER O'DWYER:

Well, there has been a very long process leading up to this decision. Professor Ian Harper, who is a very respected economist, called for submissions on changes to the competition law and there were just under 1,000 submissions all up to that review. He made recommendations on a whole variety of measures including a change to the misuse of market power provision. He said…

BRISSENDEN:

Okay, so is that different from the position you were at six months ago when you rejected this idea?

MINISTER O'DWYER:

Well, let me just finish Michael because he actually said that the misuse of market power provisions that currently stands, currently means that people can engage in anti-competitive conduct. Now that's clearly not good for the economy to have anti-competitive conduct. We want to have a competition policy that protects the competition process. That means that all business, regardless of size, can get out there and can have a go, they can back themselves and they can be enterprising and that's what we want to see. We want to see enterprising, flourishing businesses that survive or thrive on their own merits. 

BRISSENDEN:

Sure, didn't you reject this idea though six months ago?

MINISTER O'DWYER:

Well, no, we didn't actually…

BRISSENDEN:

Well, it didn't go to Cabinet. 

MINISTER O'DWYER:

come to a final decision six months ago because we said we wanted to do some further work which we did. We've stripped the emotion out of this Michael and just looked at the facts here. We've had two round tables in addition to what Harper did looking at this issue, examining this issue further. We've had further submissions and we evaluated the facts. We want to have a misuse of market power provision that's enforceable, that works and we know that with the changes that we're making, as recommended by Professor Ian Harper, that will be the case. 

BRISSENDEN:

Okay, a lot of the heat around this issue comes from the two big supermarket chains clearly, Woolworths and Coles. There's a concern that this will push prices up which in a sense isn't such a bad thing for producers, for farmers and the like, who have been complaining about the pressure that's put on them by Woolworths and Coles. So if this pressure is taken off, presumably the prices will go up, won't they?

MINISTER O'DWYER:

When you have a very strong and competitive process, it means you're protecting competition which is ultimately, in the long term interests of consumers, to have robust competition. Now there has been a lot of speculation as to the impact and we will see that play out but what I do know is that it is in the best interests of consumers, it's in the best interests of the more than two million small businesses in Australia that make up 97 per cent of all business in Australia. It is good for innovation, it is good for our economy because it will increase competition and it will increase productivity when you have that strong competitive process. 

BRISSENDEN:

I mean it's also the market at work, isn't it?

MINISTER O'DWYER:

Well, that's what we're protecting. I mean this is a pro-competitive move. This is protecting competition. This is actually in support of competition. It's not against protecting particular competitors and their vested interests. It's actually saying that we should protect the competitive process. There are some people, you know, who would actually like to see their position protected. We say, that's not in the best interests of consumers. 

BRISSENDEN:

Okay, we all know we can go into Coles or Woolworths and buy a litre of milk for a dollar, we all know that that is an unrealistic price but if the producers are paid the right price, then that price will go up, surely?

MINISTER O'DWYER:

Well, look, as I said, there's a lot of speculation around, around these changes in terms of the broader impact but one thing I can absolutely guarantee is that for consumers it will be an absolute win, for small business in Australia, it's an absolute win and for the competition process, it is an absolute win. 

BRISSENDEN:

Is it going to be an absolute win if you're paying $2.50 for your litre of milk rather than $1? It's hard for a consumer to see that. 

MINISTER O'DWYER:

You're speculating on the impact of the price of milk and we've heard from the big supermarket…

BRISSENDEN:

Oh well, and on lots of other things. 

MINISTER O'DWYER:

We've heard their very words themselves that they have uttered that they are going to continue to have a very strong and competitive products in their supermarkets and good luck to them. 

BRISSENDEN:

Okay, on the broader tax issue which obviously is a big point of discussion at the moment, what's left on the table?

MINISTER O'DWYER:

Well, we are looking at a whole range of tax measures and I know that this is the time of great speculation, Michael, in the lead up to a Budget but in March I'm not going to be announcing the Budget and the measures that we're going to be delivering in May at the very usual time that they are delivered and by the Treasurer. 

BRISSENDEN:

Can we rule out tax cuts?

MINISTER O'DWYER:

This rule in, rule out game, I think, you know, we've played that out over quite some months and we have quite clearly said that we will be making the decision and announcement regarding the measures in the Budget on the night of the Budget, they'll be announced then and everyone is, I'm afraid, just going to wait until that happens. There's nothing unusual in that. Every year there is speculation. There will always be speculation going forward in the lead up to a Budget but May is the date of the Budget. 

BRISSENDEN:

Okay, so there won't be any separate announcements before then because there was some discussion that there would be up until recently?

MINISTER O'DWYER:

The Budget will be delivered in May and everyone will be able to see exactly what the Government's got proposed there. 

BRISSENDEN:

The messaging though in the last couple of months has been all over the place really. I mean we've had tax cuts, we've got no tax cuts, we've got GST, we've got no GST changes, we've got the Budget itself with discussions about when that's going to be – you have to concede it doesn't appear to be the sort of economic leadership or economic confidence the Prime Minister promised when he took the leadership. 

MINISTER O'DWYER:

Well, Michael, what I would say is there's been a lot of speculation. The Government hasn't made announcements in relation to all of those things that you have just run through. The Government makes announcements…

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: But it has encouraged discussion. 

MINISTER O'DWYER:

After a very serious period of examination just as we have done with the changes from misuse of market power. We have had a very serious examination of this issue and we have reached an outcome, made a decision and we have announced it. That's what we do with taxation measures, that's what we do with all of the changes that we consider. The Government's made some very critical announcements in relation to media reform, we've made some critical announcements in relation to Senate reform. We've had a big package that we announced in December around innovation, the National Innovation and Science Agenda which again, is all about encouraging growth in our economy. We examine the issues, we make an announcement. That's how a typical good government works. 

BRISSENDEN:

Okay just a couple of quick questions. Do you think your conservative colleagues are pushing for another inquiry into the Safe Schools Program simply to get the result they want?

MINISTER O'DWYER:

Well, there is a current inquiry on foot and it's been considered by the Minister for Education...

BRISSENDEN:

But it sounds like they won't be happy until the inquiry actually comes to the conclusion that the thing should be scrapped.

MINISTER O'DWYER:

I'm very fortunate that I'm in a very robust party with people who've got a variety of opinions on a range of matters and we listen to them, we consider them. Ultimately a decision's made and then announced but you know, the Safe Schools Coalition was a policy that was announced by the Labor party in I think 2013. They funded it, were examining whether it's still fit for purpose, whether it's doing what it set out to do. Obviously, there's a very serious issue around bullying in schools. That is an issue that does need to be addressed and the question is whether this program is delivering on that. 

BRISSENDEN:

Okay, Kelly O'Dwyer, thanks for joining us. 

MINISTER O'DWYER:

Brilliant.