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Transcript of interview with Kieran Gilbert: Sky News AM Agenda: 1 September 2015: political gossip; competition policy review (Section 46)



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MINISTER FOR SMALL BUSINESS BRUCE BILLSON 1 September 2015

Interview with Kieran Gilbert, AM Agenda, Sky News, Canberra SUBJECTS: Political gossip, competition policy review (Section 46)

KIERAN GILBERT:

First, I am joined by his Cabinet colleague, the Small Business Minister Bruce Billson. Mr Billson thanks very much for your time.

MINISTER BILLSON:

Thank you Kieran.

KIERAN GILBERT:

What do you make of Peter Dutton’s comments that some in the media, particularly Fairfax, he says are conducting a bit of a Jihad against the government at the moment - were his words?

MINISTER BILLSON:

There seems to be plenty of an appetite amongst some in the media for a bit of gossip, I would think it is more appropriate for WHO Magazine or something, along with Kanye West’s announcement that he is going to run for the 2020 US Presidential campaign.

I mean, that is where a lot of this stuff belongs. But we have got serious work to do. We are doing a positive job on job creation that is important to the Australian people. We have got an Economic Action Strategy we are implementing; we are making sure people are safe. These are key priorities for Australians and that is our focus.

KIERAN GILBERT:

But you are complaining about the media. This is something that Julia Gillard did against NewsCorp back in 2013. Mr Abbott said at the time, if fundamentally, if you want good coverage, you have got to perform well.

MINISTER BILLSON:

We have got work to do. That is my focus. You know occasionally you give me a call trying to find out a little titbit about what is going on and I give you nothing, because that is not my style. I focus on the work at hand.

We have got an important responsibility for our nation and for the citizens that we represent and elected us to govern well. We have got a good plan, 335,000 jobs created since the election of the Abbott Government.

The last month, ten times the rate of job formation compared to the average monthly rate under the last year of Labor. We have got things to do and we have to get on with those things. And that said, if I have got any energy…

KIERAN GILBERT:

…Complaining about the media - does that help?

MINISTER BILLSON:

If I have got any energy, I put it into the things that we have to work on - and that is our action plan and making sure we govern well to build jobs, growth in the economy and security for our citizens.

KIERAN GILBERT:

Yeah sure, and I will get to some in your portfolio area…

MINISTER BILLSON:

Back to that, how about we give that a bit of a go?

KIERAN GILBERT:

We will, we will get onto that because there is a very important piece to be considered by Cabinet today in your portfolio.

But just in terms of this issue of blaming the media, this is something that Julia Gillard did, as I say, back in 2013. She was not happy with NewsCorp, today it is a flip of the situation. The Immigration Minister, your colleague, bagging Fairfax. You say it is like WHO Weekly.

MINISTER BILLSON:

My colleague was talking about the gossip peddlers. He was talking about gossip peddling. My view - put it in WHO Weekly. Put it in there. The important work of governing well for our country - that is my focus.

We have got an important action strategy to roll out. Now that is the focus we need to bring And for colleagues that want to background the media - they can either pardon themselves from Cabinet because there are disciplines that they are not living up to or they need to be punted.

It is as simple as that.

KIERAN GILBERT:

Would you agree with Arthur Sinodinos?

MINISTER BILLSON:

No, no, I am agreeing with me. Focus on the work. Get on with the business of governing well. Carry responsibility of being a Cabinet Minister with grace and dignity and discipline and get back to work. That is all that people ask of us.

As I travel around my electorate, that is the benchmark that I am judged by. It is about performance, it is about focus, it is about any energy that we have got - put it into the important work at hand and that is the focus I bring.

KIERAN GILBERT:

So, that is pretty much the message yesterday from Arthur Sinodinos wasn’t it?

MINISTER BILLSON:

It is my message for today. It is fresh, you can have it Kieran. It is yours. You can have that as the scoop for the day. Billson says focus on the job at hand. You know I do not get into backgrounding journalists.

Anything I say is on the record. I do not get into commentary on what colleagues think and do not think. I have got an important responsibility, a great honour and I take that with great seriousness.

KIERAN GILBERT:

You think all of your colleagues do that?

MINISTER BILLSON:

Well that is what I hope they do and that is what I do. But I judge my performance by the way I conduct myself. That is the benchmark I have set. That is about being a responsible Minister. We have got important work to do, let’s get on with it.

Jobs, growth, security. We are making some good progress but there is more work to do.

KIERAN GILBERT:

Why do you want to change Section 46 of the Competition Act? This relates to I guess, protecting small business from…

MINISTER BILLSON:

No, that is wrong.

KIERAN GILBERT:

It’s not? So explain what it is then.

MINISTER BILLSON:

Let’s be clear. We have done, we have had a Harper Review which is what we took to the election and an independent, objective, sober analysis of our competition framework. Not just the laws, but competition policy and the institutional arrangements.

Fifty-six recommendations. Very important recommendations about the access regime, concerted practice, how the ACCC is organised - those things are very important. One of those recommendations related to Section 46, which is the misuse of market power provision.

Now what that says is if you are a business with substantial market power and then you use that market power to cause harm in the economy, there should be a sanction to that. Now the law in Australia is drafted in such a way as it is not effective. It is unreliable, it needs to be renovated. Harper has made some recommendations.

That is not about protecting one business from another, that is about saying to businesses, big or small, with substantial market power - be thoughtful the way you use it. Do not harm the economy, do not harm consumers by using your might to take out or block other competitors from having the opportunity to compete in the economy.

KIERAN GILBERT:

Sure, but in a large part, doesn’t it protect smaller to medium businesses against the big guys?

MINISTER BILLSON:

It protects businesses without market power.

KIERAN GILBERT:

So small…

MINISTER BILLSON:

But that is not only, because some people have said - oh you are recommending this because you are an advocate for small business. Yes I am an advocate for small business. But I am an advocate for a vibrant economy that supports entrepreneurship.

KIERAN GILBERT:

How come the Business Council doesn’t like this?

MINISTER BILLSON:

Well, they can speak for themselves and they have had every opportunity, as all the lobbies have, to push their case. But let’s be clear. This law is designed to make sure that those businesses with the biggest market power use that market power in a way that does not harm the economy and consumers.

They have obviously got an interest in having the law, not quite as useful as I believe it needs to be but…

KIERAN GILBERT:

Isn’t their argument that basically, business should not be penalised for something that they, which was inadvertent, that they were not aware was going to be the result?

MINISTER BILLSON:

The law says ‘do not harm the economy if you are in a position of might’. That is what the law says.

KIERAN GILBERT:

Shouldn’t it have some intentas well?

MINISTER BILLSON:

Well that is what the law says at the moment. Is purpose, purpose needs to be shown. That is it was the intention of causing harm; not to the economy as a whole, but to an individual competitor.

We think that needs to be reframed to bring the law up to where it is in other economies. In Australia, dominant businesses can do things that they could not get away with in any other advanced economy in the world.

Our business people are as able and as intelligent, they can navigate what are laws that I want to see brought in line with the rest of the world.

And at the same time, we give enterprising people a chance to compete in the economy and not have their opportunity blocked by a business fortifying its position to protect its own interests and in doing so excluding new participants who might want to delight customers in a way that has not even been thought of.

It is about an agile, nurturing, supportive economy that encourages entrepreneurship for all, not just the preservation of the power of those that currently have it.

KIERAN GILBERT:

Small Business Minister Bruce Billson, appreciate your time. Thank you.

MINISTER BILLSON:

Nice to see you. Nice tie. Pretty plain one today.

KIERAN GILBERT:

Thank you, low key