Transcript by The Hon Brendan O’Connor MP

Breakfast with Justine Frazier, ABC North Coast – Grafton Jail closure, Building Better Regional Cities Program, help for small business

Program: Breakfast with Justine Frazier, ABC North Coast, Ballina, NSW

HOST: Joining us now is the federal Minister for Small Business, Brendan O’Connor. He’s just finished a breakfast function in Ballina. Thank-you very much for joining us.

BRENDAN O’CONNOR: Happy to be here.

HOST: How are you thinking, what’s your thinking about what you’ve heard occurring in Grafton, in the Clarence Valley community, some 400 jobs in the last couple of years that have been lost?

BRENDAN O’CONNOR: Well of course, any time there are job losses it’s terrible. It doesn’t matter if it’s one job or hundreds of jobs, it affects people’s lives, it affects their families, and that’s why we have to do what we can to ensure that we continue to invest in communities in this region and continue to support businesses. And that’s why of course I was at the function that Janelle Saffin had arranged with the Northern Rivers Chamber of Commerce to talk to businesses about what we can do.

In relation to the prison, it’s obviously a very unfortunate and sad decision, particularly in light of the New South Wales Government giving a commitment to keep the prison open before the election.

HOST: What about the flow-on effects? You’re the federal Minister for Small Business. These are State Government positions that we’re talking about, but there is a massive flow-on effect for small business in the Clarence and further afield. Is there something that the Federal Government can do to assist the Clarence Valley in particular at the moment?

BRENDAN O’CONNOR: Well look, we are doing things. We are investing in housing in a very significant way. As Minister for Small Business, I’m also the Minister for Housing and I’ll be announcing at Ballina Shire Council this morning the new Building Better Regional Cities project, investing in new sporting facilities at Wollongbar which will bring forward very important housing infrastructure, which will of course lead to more opportunities for employment.

With small businesses today, I spoke to them about some of the things we’re doing. We’ve introduced the instant asset tax write-off, which is a great benefit for small businesses in Ballina and Lismore and Grafton and other places in the region. It’s something that’s come from the Minerals Resource Rent Tax to make sure that we spread the benefits of the mining boom to sectors of our economy that are not doing as well as others. And we’ve also introduced other initiatives. This is about providing tax relief and opportunities for small businesses. It was well-received.

Today, though, they raised things with me about how do we encourage older Australians to get back into work. They talked to me about some of the difficulties in relation to industrial relations, which I’ve committed to looking at and talking to appropriate ministers. I mean, these are really good forums for me because I get a really direct connection with businesses and their day-to-day challenges.

HOST: You mentioned infrastructure like sporting facilities and what-have-you – I guess for somewhere like the Clarence though, if people have to move out because there’s no work, that infrastructure isn’t their priority in terms of being utilised. If there’s no jobs there’s no people.

BRENDAN O’CONNOR: No but if there’s infrastructure there’s more jobs. My point was that we’re investing in social housing and we have been doing that as a Government and it’s really unprecedented at the federal level. We’ve been investing in affordable housing in the region. This has led to many small businesses getting that work.

My point is that you need to invest in communities. There’s been of course the opening of the Alstonville bypass recently, $90 million, Janelle Saffin and Minister Albanese opened that just recently. I mean, this provides work. As a Government, you have to invest. What you don’t do is close down things that you say you are going to keep open. What you do is invest in communities. As I say, infrastructure investment provides jobs and it provides opportunities for business. And I think that’s important.

And that’s why I’m getting around, Justine, talking to business about what else we can do. I got some really good ideas today and I want to thank the business community of Ballina for really giving me some good ideas about what we can do next.

HOST: Talking about the business community of Ballina, have you driven through the CBD and seen the amount of small businesses that have For Sale signs or Lease signs on them?

BRENDAN O’CONNOR: Well, what I did was I was here last night because I came in yesterday and was happy to be here and look, I think it’s a vibrant community. I don’t think people should talk their community down. There’ll be times when businesses close, there’s nothing new about businesses sometime closing, people know that. But you know what, you get less news about businesses starting up, and I’m encouraged by how many businesses start up.

The economy is always in constant change and you’ll see those changes. What we need to do as a Government is create the environment in which businesses not only survive, they thrive. We can’t of course stop all businesses falling over but we need to provide benefits to them, create the environment so that they can do well, and I think some of the initiatives that we recently announced out of the Budget do exactly that. Increasing the tax-free threshold from $6,000 to $18,200 is great, not just for individuals but for all the unincorporated small businesses in this region. The instant asset tax write-off, the loss carry-back initiative which they asked for – we’ve delivered them and we’ve delivered them because we’re trying to spread the benefits of the mining boom to every sector of our economy, and we will look to do more.

And the reason I’m here today, I just wanted to say if I can, is I want to get ideas directly from small business. I don’t want to sit in Canberra and be briefed by departments. I just want to get out there and talk to people who are dealing with these issues each and every day in their own community.

HOST: Thanks, we’ll leave it there.


HOST: Brendan O’Connor, the federal Minister for Small Business on ABC North Coast.