Interview with PowerFM, Murray Bridge

PRESENTER:        Well, in the studio this morning is the Federal Minister for Small Business, Michael McCormack, brought in by our local Federal Member for Barker, Tony Pasin. Good morning, gentlemen.

McCORMACK:   Good morning.

PASIN:                  Good morning.

PRESENTER:        Now, let’s talk about small business. We hear that here in Murray Bridge there is a move to combine some of the smaller entities into a larger one in order to focus more on small business in the region. Now, I understand that you are going to have an opportunity to discuss that in Murray Bridge today.

PASIN:                  I thought I would take the opportunity, with the Minister in Murray Bridge, to bring together a delegation from Council, from Regional Development Murraylands, from Bridge Street Traders and others to talk about – or to continue the conversation – about a Murray Bridge trading slash chamber of commerce association.

PRESENTER:        Now, for those who don’t understand, what are the benefits of actually doing that?

PASIN:                  Well, I find, when organisations and communities – particularly business communities – can speak with one voice to Government and to business and the community, they are much better at representing the interests of their members, which in this case, is small business.

PRESENTER:        Michael McCormack, do you agree? Is one voice for a community better to deal with for Government?

McCORMACK:   Oh, absolutely. There’s a bit of collaboration going on and certainly, with Tony’s approval and backing, it can only go forward from here. So I am looking forward to meeting the delegation and hearing more about what the Federal Government can do for the people of Murray Bridge and the wider region. And I am sure today will be some very positive talks.

PRESENTER:        Now, Michael, I was reading not long ago you are encouraging small business to apply for tenders for Government contracts and there should be more participation from small businesses across Australia. Unfortunately we have had issues with State Government and Federal Government not backing big business. We make steel here in South Australia but we have seen steel imported here into South Australia – but how do small businesses, then, if big businesses are struggling to get contracts, how can small businesses be seen to make themselves heard?

McCORMACK:   Obviously there’s the AusTender scheme, but I am really encouraging small businesses to participate in all Government tenders. Just last week I wrote to each and every Minister urging, encouraging and imploring them wherever and whenever they can to look at small businesses as far as their procurement strategies are concerned. Small business makes up 97 per cent of all business activity in Australia and they employ five million Australians. So, for those 2.1 million small businesses, 34 per cent of Government contracts are won. I’d like to see that number increase and I’d like to see small business participate in Government – certainly Federal Government – contracts. That’s why I wrote to all my Ministerial colleagues, because it’s something I hear as I go about the countryside. As I am in the electorate of Barker today with Tony Pasin, this is something I am going to be discussing with small business – you know, the way they can hopefully take part in the process.

PRESENTER:        Who are you going to visit?

PASIN:                  We’re off to McCue’s Bakery ..

McCORMACK:   Looking very much forward to that.

PRESENTER:        [Laughs] Yeah! I can personally recommend the donuts, can I just say?

PASIN:                  Well, you know, some people jokingly refer to me as the Minister for pastries!

                                [Laughs]

                                But that’s ok – I’ll let them get away with that one.

                                Marshall’s Conveyancing, we are visiting Farm Fresh- Carlo and Tracey De Michele – and then we are going to go down the street and pop in on a few people and say hello to some of the 1300 small businesses operating here in Murray Bridge. Now, I am just going to repeat that – 1300 small businesses in this community. Our Government – and Governments generally – talk about small businesses being the backbone of our community. Just imagine if the small businesses in this community were encouraged and incentivised to employ an additional staff member. In Murray Bridge that would be at least 1300 new jobs for employees. But equally, imagine on the flip side of it, if life was made more difficult for those 1300 small businesses and they were no longer able to employ or they cease to exist. We would have 1300 fewer enterprises and no doubt the employees who go with them.

                                So Michael has the privileged position in our party room – he speaks for small business. It’s a challenging role or job because when we look around the party room it’s jam-packed with people like me with a small business background – whether it’s on the farm with my father or in the dress shop with my mother or whether it was my own small business in Mount Gambier. So that’s one of the great strengths of the Government is the fact we come from a broad range of experiences, many of them, us, have had those sleepless nights wondering how we are going to get the wages paid.

PRESENTER:        Are you prepared for some of the issues you’re going to face today? Michael, especially if you are going to do a street walk through town there are issues on the main street of Murray Bridge with satellite shopping centres being set up around the place, which takes business away from the main street and we have seen a stalwart business – a shoe shop which has been there for decades now – closing down because they can’t attract any business to the main street. There’s been road works and other things, so how would you speak to those people who think these big shopping centres are coming in with big supermarkets and they take business away from the main street trader. How do they then still fight for the business if they have less resources to do so?

McCORMACK:   What the Federal Government has done is move to charge online shops – online retailers – which are coming in from overseas, to charge GST. So that’s one thing we are doing as a Government. We are also trying to cut taxes for small business, to 27.5 per cent. It’s already at its lowest level since 1967, but we want to cut it even further. We are trying to make more businesses – tens of thousands of small businesses – able to access the instant asset write-off programme. We are also out there talking with the national energy regulator and key stakeholders to try and get energy prices reduced for families and small businesses. The average household in South Australia is paying almost $1,000 more than in other States for their energy bills each and every year. Now that has to stop. It cannot continue. South Australian small businesses need to know that when they flick the switch the power will come on – not just when the wind blows, not just when the sun shines – but there has to be energy storage and base-load power for those small businesses to be able to operate. I spoke to a financial planner in Adelaide yesterday who has his own generator – his own back-up generator. I mean, a financial planner, for goodness sake! That is just beyond ridiculous.

PRESENTER:        But on the flipside, there is an Adelaide Hills business absolutely raking it in from money installing generators to people’s homes.

McCORMACK:   Well that’s probably true too. There’s always the good and the bad. But you see energy prices is something I hear loud and clear. I have been to South Australia many times as a Minister and I am sure when we do our drop-in sessions today and pop into a few small businesses we will hear all sorts of things from those businesses about the challenges, but also the opportunities, that particularly in an electorate or a region such as this, the trade agreements we have been able to broker as a Government, with South Korea, China and Japan, are really benefiting local business – particularly agricultural ones.

PRESENTER:        Michael, you did bring up the ‘P’ word – power. This is something we are all very passionate about here in South Australia right now. We are being called a backwater, there’s a fight on between the State Government, the Federal Government, SA power networks, the energy regulator – we are hearing it from all sides about what the answer is. There are independents here telling us we need to have gas power. There’s coal power – Tony and I spoke recently about that – where’s the solution here? We’re all sitting around waiting for everyone to finish the discussions. We need it now. We have lost power time and time and time again in this State in the last six months. There are people who went for days and days without power. It is completely unacceptable in 2017 that we are dealing with such unreliability. Everyone is blaming everyone else. Everyone has a different solution. Where’s the end?

McCORMACK:   I can tell you what the solution isn’t and that’s renewable targets which are just unreasonable and won’t do anything for the environment. For a start, one of the things we need to do is get around the table and see how best we can – as a collective – a bit like what we are doing today on a smaller scale with the businesses – as a collective, talk with State Governments, with key stakeholders, with energy suppliers, and of course the Federal Government and making sure we have a solution going forward. But the State Labor Government here is intent on renewable targets which just will not meet the mark. All they are going to do is push up prices – up and up and up. And of course Bill Shorten and his Federal colleagues want to impose an economy-wide carbon tax. Now, that’s not going to work either. Not for small businesses. Not for family budgets and that’s why we as the Coalition Federal Government want to put downward pressure on energy prices and ensure we have a mix of energy supplies – coal-fired, hydro power, all that sort of thing – but we need to have the discussion and obviously work in with State Governments. And those State Governments which don’t want to come to the table, well their people are going to suffer as a result.

PRESENTER:        We hope that at the end of these discussions there is a result, because we are sitting back in South Australia and waiting and continuing to get our power turned off in the meantime. So hopefully discussions will lead to something positive in the future.

                                While I do have you both here, there’s obviously been a lot of discussion about welfare reform in Federal Parliament. I am hearing reports the legislation is dead in the water. I hear other reports from Coalition members that they are continually striving to come to an agreement at the end of the day on welfare reform. Where do we stand today on that Bill – on that legislation? Will we see it happen, maybe, with some amendments?

McCORMACK:   Taxpayers need to know their Federal taxpayer dollars are going to where they are most needed. And obviously Australia has a very good welfare system where if people fall on hard times they are not slipping through the cracks and going on to the poverty line. They need to make sure – certainly – if they lose their job or if their circumstances change for the worse, then they are looked after. That’s what our Federal Government does. That’s what all Federal Governments do. But at the moment there are some people whose circumstances change and they don’t, or they aren’t, offering up that information. So we need to make sure that for those people whose circumstances do change they are still receiving welfare that reflects their needs. We need to make sure those dollars are going towards the most vulnerable in society. That is what we are endeavouring to do, that is what we will always endeavour to do. I know as we go out and about the countryside people tell me that they want their taxpayer dollars going to the people who need it the most, not those people for whom circumstances have changed for the better and who are still receiving welfare payments.

PRESENTER:        Do you feel like there are some people who are out of touch with those people who are currently on welfare payments? We saw last night on Q&A with the Attorney-General, who said, you know, ‘just call Centrelink and get it sorted’. When’s the last time you called Centrelink?

PASIN:                  I can tell you Claire, my office and I are calling Centrelink every day. I understand the frustration. Can I say this – what I think we need to be focusing on is ensuring, particularly with the childcare rebate, we are backing hardworking Australians and small businesses. I had a situation yesterday where one of my own staff members came to me and said, ‘it just doesn’t make any economic sense for me to continue to work here.’ Now this is a well-paid, smart woman, a mother, who is saying to me that she has now hit the $7,500 cliff, and as a result of which her family’s financial budget is strained.

PRESENTER:        Yeah, a friend of mine is a lawyer who can’t afford to work!

PASIN:                  See, this is madness. We need to make sure these productive people are in the workplace. We want to raise that cap to $10,000 for those on high incomes and an unlimited cap for those on low incomes. I just can’t understand why, particularly other MPs in the State – and myself and Rebekha Sharkie debated this on your programme a while ago – I just can’t understand why the Nick Xenophon Team is standing in between hardworking Australian families and access to affordable childcare. Quite frankly, it’s madness. Because these are the very people we should be incentivising – just like the small businesses we will be going to see and listen to – about how do we make life easier for them? In the employee space, it’s ok you’ve got a young family, they’re in childcare. How do we make life easier for them? What we don’t want to do is cut off their childcare rebate at $7,500 , which equates to two or two and a half days per week across the year. I think this is an easy measure, because we’ve got three ‘P’s which drive out GDP. Population – reasonably stable; it’s productivity and it’s participation. And the big ‘P’ is participation. We need to get families back to working. Particularly working mums. But there are working dads out there as well, but we need more people in the workforce. It’s no good for your friend the lawyer if she can’t afford childcare.

PRESENTER:        There’s some well-earned skills going to waste there, that’s for sure.

PASIN:                  Skills, Claire, that I must say the state – the Government – has invested heavily in. Because your friend has attained a law degree, at least half of which the Government subsidised so she could go into the workforce and contribute significantly to our nation and our GDP. Now, that’s just withering on the vine, effectively, whilst she is doing the very important task of looking after her children.

PRESENTER:        I did have a number of callers on the day you and I discussed this who said – clearly from some gentlemen – that women should just stay at home like it was in the olden days, and look after children if they can’t afford to have their children in childcare. That’s a really tough thing to hear from people who don’t understand what five years out of the workforce can do for your career when you go on maternity leave. What do you say to those people who say it’s a privilege to have children and you should stay at home and look after them?

PASIN:                  I say it’s about providing people with choice. I am very grateful and very lucky my wife is able to stay home and care for our children, who are aged seven – albeit Bella is in school – and an eighteen month old. But that was a choice we could make. Very many people in an economy that requires two incomes can make that choice, so we need to make it easier for them.  Because, as you say, Emma, the longer you stay out of the workforce, the harder you may find it to return.

PRESENTER:        Well, we will see how this builds up and goes as it progresses through. Maybe some amendments will change people’s minds and we will get some welfare reform.

                                Michael McCormack, in the studio with Tony Pasin this morning. You are about to head out and visit some businesses around Murray Bridge and hopefully get some great feedback from around the region about some ideas and the businesses around this area. It is a fast-growing region, Murray Bridge, so it will be interesting the kinds of feedback you get from businesses, Anyway, enjoy being out and about today. Enjoy those donuts.

McCORMACK:   Looking forward to it. I stayed here last night – it’s a great town and we had a great meal, contributing a little bit to the local economy.

PRESENTER:        Did you now?

McCORMACK:   Absolutely. Had a great meal at the Murray Bridge Hotel. We talked to a couple of locals, they were very friendly!

PASIN:                  Well, Claire, you said earlier about black-outs. There was a night in September last year I was booked into the Murray Bridge Hotel that night and went downstairs for a meal. All the lights were out, there was a black-out, so we were eating schnitzels by candle light. I don’t know how they were cooked, to be honest, but the lights were out and it was a long night for that small business and for the community.

PRESENTER:        Now before I let you go. You, Tony Pasin, were telling me about getting into demolition derby – what is that all about?

PASIN:                  Well the demolition derby is the Keith and Tintinara Show Society’s big showcase, their big event. It’s on Saturday 25 March and if any of your listeners have neve been they must go. They get seven to eight thousand people at this event and there’s everything from tractor pulls to tanks smashing each other. This year they have the V8 super boats for the first time. So if anyone knows Glen Simpson from Keith – the man is a marvel – and he’s created this event which contributes so significantly to the local community and the economy and …

PRESENTER:        … the Tintinara Tractor Pull is a great event, that’s for sure,

PASIN:                  Yeah, but can you just imagine the Keith oval – which is probably the driest spot in my electorate – and there’s going to be a V8 super boats race.

PRESENTER:        Are they bringing in a giant swimming pool, is that how it’s going to work?

PASIN:                  I notice their sponsors include a number of earthmoving companies, so that might give you an idea. It’s just great. They literally move heaven and earth to stage this event and I would encourage everybody to be there – you might even see some local politicians. We are just waiting on some of the events, provided I can clear it with my wife and my life insurer!

PRESENTER:        Minister for Small Business, Michael McCormack, will we see you behind the wheel of any heavy machinery?

McCORMACK:   Not likely, but I have seen Tony Pasin on a cricket field and he is a demolition derby himself, so he is very, very good, just like he is in Parliament, let me tell you.

PRESENTER:        [Laughs]. Gentlemen, thank you very much for dropping by the studio today. Good luck as you go out and about in Murray Bridge.

PASIN:                  Thank you Claire.

McCORMACK:   Yeah, thank you.  

Cristy Houghton