Transcript by The Hon Brendan O’Connor MP

Small business advisory services funding; Tony Abbott’s lack of commitment to small business; help for retrenched Queensland public servants; royal commission into child sex abuse; Select Council on Housing and Homelessness meeting

Location: Doorstop, Brisbane


Well, it’s great to be in Brisbane today to announce those organisations that are in receipt of money to provide advice to businesses across the country.

The Gillard Government established the Small Business Advisory Services, and we dedicated $27.5 million to that end. This round is $12 million, and I’m happy to announce that there’ve been 62 Enterprise Centres that will receive funding to provide advice to small businesses across the country.

This has been a very competitive process, many, many Enterprise Centres and others have tendered for this work, and of course therefore those 62 that have been successful, have shown and demonstrated a capacity to provide the best possible advice to small business in this country.

We know that small businesses are the engine room of our economy, small businesses employ almost five million Australians, and it’s therefore important that the Federal Government dedicates resources to provide the best possible advice to those businesses that want to not only survive, but thrive.

This Government is proud of the fact that during the Global Financial Crisis, we invested and we ensured through the stimulus package that literally tens of thousands of small businesses survived, and didn’t hit the wall. We are also very proud of the fact that we’ve announced some very important initiatives for small business.

Well this announcement is on top of those initiatives to help small businesses in Queensland and around the country, to ensure that their businesses grow.

I should also say, given that the Leader of the Opposition, Tony Abbott was out today indicating his support for small business, that his actions belie his words.

Tony Abbott, when he was Small Business Minister, allowed the horrendous Business Activity Statement to apply on his watch. Tony Abbott voted against the stimulus package in the Parliament, which of course, if it hadn’t passed, would have seen the destruction of businesses around the country.

Tony Abbott also opposed the instant asset tax write-off initiative that small businesses asked for, and also opposed the loss carry-back initiative, and has promised to scrap those initiatives if he’s elected to Government.

Tony Abbott pretends to be the friend of small business, but he joined with the Greens Party to oppose the proposed tax cut to small business after the budget.  So Tony Abbott is no friend of small business, and indeed his actions clearly belie his words today.

He said today he visited over 100 small businesses around the country, well it’s not visiting small businesses, if you’re just using them as a backdrop for a doorstop. It’s not visiting small businesses if all you’re doing when visiting them, is scaring those businesses, and we know that Tony Abbott has spent more than 12 months terrorising small businesses, to make them believe that the carbon price reforms were going to impact horrendously on those businesses.

Well what we know since 1 July , those claims are entirely untrue, and today we saw of course the best consumer sentiment record in the last 19 months, which I think is a testament to two things.

Firstly, the good economic record of the Federal Government, ensuring that we’re fiscally responsible, and ensuring that we are providing the circumstances in which the Reserve Bank can reduce the cash rate, we inherited a 6.75 per cent cash rate, it is now down at 3.25 per cent, lower than any time during the Howard years.

We also know that as a result of the scare campaign by the Opposition, businesses and certainly consumer and business sentiment were down. But now people have seen through those claims, we’re seeing a rise in consumer and business confidence, and that is of course reflected in today’s report.

I’m very happy to also announce the Start-Up Queensland initiative, this is a $200,000 initiative to provide support directly to Business Enterprise Centre Australia, who will dedicate the resources to Business Enterprise Centres in Queensland, to provide the opportunity for those sacked public sector workers to start up businesses, and get the advice that they need.

We’ve already provided extra support for those retrenched workers so that they can get back on their feet, and get jobs in Queensland, but we know that many of them would like to start up their own businesses, or be indeed franchisees, but they need certain support. So Start-Up Queensland, a new Gillard Government initiative, will provide support for those retrenched public sector workers. If they choose to set up a franchisee or small business, they can access the right advice, so they start the business effectively, and that business of course not only survives, it thrives.

I’m happy to take any questions.

QUESTION: Do you really think it’s a good idea to be encouraging people to open up their businesses when people are struggling, and consumer spending is weak?

BRENDAN O’CONNOR: Well, we’ve got the strongest economy in the advanced world, we have low inflation, low unemployment, we have the lowest debt of any developed nation, our debt as a ratio to our gross domestic product is one-tenth the mean average of every other developed nation. We have good economic growth, 3.4 per cent, so we are in a very good place when you compare us with every other developed economy in the world. Our unemployment figure, as I say, is very low.

What we want to do of course is to make sure that those existing businesses who need the advice, good advice, are able to access that, and that’s why we call upon the Business Enterprise Centres to be there in regions across Australia, to provide advice to businesses that are currently in existence, but also for those people who choose to set up a business.

One of the great things about small business people and their inspiration is their inclination to take a risk. But we want them to take a calculated risk, we want them to be prepared before they embark on that new business, and the best way to do that is to get the best possible advice, and the Small Business Advisory Service does provide extra advice.

In the end of course, the business people make their own decisions, governments don’t make them for them, but we can lend support, and this initiative today, and the announcement of the $12 million of funding to these Enterprise Centres, is going to help those businesses make the right decisions.

QUESTION: We might have a strong economy, but businesses are shutting down, they’re just not surviving, and people aren’t spending, did that concern you, that you’re going to be encouraging people to open up businesses?

BRENDAN O’CONNOR: Well, I just said to you, the consumer sentiment is highest now than it’s been for 19 months, and one of the reasons for that, of course people were concerned about the global economy, indeed they looked, they turned their eyes to Europe and were concerned about what’s happening there, but most people in Australia know that our economy is strong, we’ve got good economic growth, low inflation, low unemployment, low debt, and therefore it’s a good time to set up a business, it’s a good time to live in this country, and everybody knows it.

It doesn’t mean we haven’t got challenges, we have. And that’s why we have to put in place certain initiatives to help small businesses. For example the instant asset tax write-off. What that does is provide support and cash flow improvements for businesses that might be struggling in sectors of our economy that are not doing so well.

We also know because of the high Australian dollar some businesses are being challenged as a result of that, and therefore we need to make sure we spread the benefits of the mining boom. The loss carry-back initiative and the instant asset tax write off are material examples of how we can spread the benefits of the mining boom by ensuring that we spend in those sectors of the economy that are not doing as well as the mining boom.

So I’m not here to pretend that things are entirely rosy but if you look around the world there is no better place to do business than Australia.

QUESTION: Just can you clarify the $200,000, is that the only amount that Queensland’s getting?

BRENDAN O’CONNOR: The $200,000 is only for Queensland and it’s the new initiative. I’ve announced two things today; $200,000 for Start Up Queensland. This is actually money specifically dedicated to those sacked public sector workers, that were sacked of course by the Newman Government, if they want to embark on to set up a small business or create a franchise.

And so we are providing that support for them because not all of them will want to go back into the workforce as employees, some would like to start up their own enterprise. And if you’ve ever been sacked from your job I can assure you from my own experience you sometimes contemplate taking another path in life. And we should allow those employees who may have felt the brunt of the decision by Premier Newman to take another path and set up a business. So we’re giving them that advice through Start Up Queensland.

But on top of that the $12 million spend is a national spend, but of course millions of which will be for Queensland. So we are making sure, through the Business Enterprise Centres, there’s sufficient advice for businesses in Queensland and across the country.

QUESTION: Coming to the issue of a Royal Commission. Some critics are saying that it’s too broad. What’s your opinion?

BRENDAN O’CONNOR: Well I think that we need to make sure that we cast the net broadly enough so that we do not deny those victims of abuse the right to have their stories told. I think it would be rather cruel to confine a commission’s terms of reference and deny victims of child abuse the possibility that they could talk to that commission.

And therefore the Prime Minister made it very clear that while we’re looking at determining the terms of reference – and we’re doing that by consulting with state Governments, religious organisations and those organisations that represent victims and their families – and we’ve already made clear that this has to go to not just one religious organisation, not just religious organisations, but also those organisations, those in the not for profit sector that have actually been undertaking the care of children. And we also have to examine what has happened under state care.

It would be completely improper, in my view, for us to confine it in a manner which would exclude so many people who’ve been victims of abuse. And ultimately it’s important – and I think the test of the commission will be that we find a national response to prevent the systemic failures to respond to child sex abuse allegations and child sex abuse in this country, so we protect the children of today and the children of tomorrow.

QUESTION: The Federal LNP MP Andrew Laming has tweeted today that he’s had a gutful of jobs for relatives. Could both sides of politics though be accused of that?

BRENDAN O’CONNOR: I’m not sure, I don’t speak to Mr Laming, he’s not sort of someone who I spend much time talking to. You might want to ask him what he’s referring to, but – unless you want to tell me what you think he’s referring to.

QUESTION: In regards to state politics here.

BRENDAN O’CONNOR: Specifically?

QUESTION: Bruce Flegg’s son being a lobbyist and having quite a lot of access to his ministerial office.

BRENDAN O’CONNOR: Well it is interesting to see the Liberal Federal Member of Parliament is attacking another state Liberal Member of Parliament. And really I think it’s up to Mr Andrew Laming to explain why he’s attacking the former Minister for Housing in the state.

QUESTION: Would the Honourable Catherine Branson QC make a good Royal Commissioner?


QUESTION: Would the Honourable Catherine Branson QC make a good Royal Commissioner?

BRENDAN O’CONNOR: There are many eminent people that would make good commissioners. I think the good thing – one thing we don’t lack I think in this country are people with the capacity and compassion to fill what is going to be a very very challenging job, or jobs.

Let’s not underestimate the impact that this commission will have on those people that are directly engaged. You just think about what they’re going to hear, who they’re going to deal with, and therefore the Government is certainly very conscious of making sure that we create this commission and ensure that its composition is not only sufficiently capable for doing its good work, but we make sure that we protect the interests of those people that are part of that commission.

I won’t go to specifics about whether one person or not, I would only say that we have many eminent people who would serve the commission very well.

QUESTION: The PM has dodged questions about whether she received $5000 from her former boyfriend. Do you think she needs to explain where she got – how she got the money?

BRENDAN O’CONNOR: Oh look I think that some news outlets have to put up or shut up. I think we’re sick of the smear, we’re sick of Tony Abbott using Julie Bishop as a proxy to smear the Prime Minister without substantive evidence. We’re really tired of that. I think most Australians want to see people talk about policies, who want to know what Tony Abbott’s plans are for the future of this country, but instead he’s crawling along the gutter with his deputy.

And really it’s about time he calls off his deputy and maybe has her focus on foreign affairs matters given that she’s supposed to be the Shadow spokesperson for Foreign Affairs.

QUESTION: As the key analysts have called the GST to be raised and broadened, does the GST need to be raised and the tax base broadened with, you know, the tax base…

BRENDAN O’CONNOR: The States are receiving the money from the GST. We’ve certainly ruled out any proposed increase in GST. We do believe of course there is room for reform of the tax system. We established business advisory groups to contemplate what we should do, and indeed we proposed a reduction in company tax which was opposed by the Opposition, which as the Small Business Minister I was very disappointed. I found it quite extraordinary to see a Liberal Party leader, parliamentary leader, I think the first time in living memory, oppose a proposed business tax cut, but that’s what the leader of the Opposition did just after the Budget. And I think that was very disappointing.

But in relation to the GST we’ve ruled out that increase.

QUESTION: You were meant to meet with the now former Queensland Housing Minister today. Who will you be meeting next?

BRENDAN O’CONNOR: That’s a good question. Look firstly in relation to Mr Flegg I don’t know the details of what’s arisen. I’ve only seen the papers and have only paid scant regard to the detail. But I can just say in relation to Mr Flegg I had no problems in dealing with him, I found him cordial and courteous. We didn’t agree on everything but we had a good relationship and I hope whatever challenges he’s dealing with now, I hope he recovers from some of those, it’s not good to see people in that position.

I don’t know – I understand Tim Mander, is it, that’s been appointed Minister for Housing, is that correct? I’ve not met Mr Mander, I’ve seen State of Origin, so I think that’s the last time I saw him, but I understand that he’s a relatively new Member of Parliament, and I understand he’s a very capable person, and I know he’ll have to get his head around the new portfolio.

I do have a concern that given that the Ministerial Council tomorrow is in Brisbane, it would be concerning that the Premier did not send a minister to represent his government at a Ministerial Council of Housing and Homelessness, and I am concerned about a number of decisions that have been made by Premier Newman in relation to housing.

Cutting all of the funding of the Tenancy Advocacy and Advice Service was a terrible economic and social decision. That’s why the Federal Government stepped in to give emergency funding to the Queensland Tenancy Services, so that they wouldn’t close their doors last October, that is, last month, and I’m hoping that that’s not signs of things to come from the Queensland Government, because we have a big job on our hands to reduce homelessness in this country, and in this state, and we hope that the Queensland Government works with us on that.

So for me, going into the Ministerial Council tomorrow, I guess I’m somewhat concerned that there may not be somebody at the table like a Minister, to represent the Queensland Government, I hope that’s not the case, I hope they’ll send somebody.

And as I say, I didn’t have problems with Mr Flegg, but there are matters now he has to deal with, and as I understand it he’s resigned, and I wish him well personally.

QUESTION: Just with Queensland, can you just tell me what type of advice Queenslanders will be getting at the Start-Up Centre?

BRENDAN O’CONNOR: Sure, exactly that, how you would create a business, where would you go to register an ABN number, how would you put together a business model, how would you determine whether there’s a demand for the goods and services you might want to sell, what do you need to put in place before you embark on a business?

So as much as anything, it’s getting people into the position of thinking through all of the steps. Often, as I said, one of the inspiring things about business people is they take great leaps of faith, and that can be good for some, I mean they are risk-takers, they sometimes put – small business people in particular – they put their own home up as collateral to run their business, and that’s pretty inspiring and gutsy stuff.

We don’t want to remove the entrepreneurial spirit of business people, we’d like to think that we can give them support through Start-Up Queensland, and so if there are sacked public sector workers who want to take a different path in life, be a franchisee, or run a small business, we want to give them some basic understandings of how you do that.

You know, there are some great tradies out there, and great professionals, but sometimes they’re not always great business people, they’re good at their core job, but they’re not – when they start a business, they don’t always do well, and so you want to make sure you’ve got the business skills, as well as those other skills that you might have acquired in your working life, and Start-Up Queensland will provide an opportunity for those retrenched workers in this state.

QUESTION: Is it – sorry, is it just available for retrenched workers?

BRENDAN O’CONNOR: Well look, it’s dedicated to them, but let me say, if there are other retrenched workers that may have been retrenched as a result of other decisions that were taken outside of those that were taken by the Queensland Government in this state, I think that they should access those services too. It’s really for retrenched workers, primarily the public sector workers that were sacked, because there were so many sacked, but it also includes I think anyone else that in recent times has been retrenched in Queensland.

QUESTION: Will it just be one call centre, or how will it work?

BRENDAN O’CONNOR: Well, Business Enterprise Centre Australia, or BECA, will receive the money, they will then provide the resources at the Business Enterprise Centres. The good thing about Enterprise Centres is they’re in different parts of Queensland, they’re in Brisbane, they’re in regional areas, and through that network, you’ll be able to have shopfronts in many places, so people across Queensland, will be able to walk into the door of an Enterprise Centre, and actually access that particular service. And that’s the reason why we gave the money to the central body, BECA, so it can actually then provide that resource out to Enterprise Centres around Queensland.

Okay, all good? Thanks very much.