It's great to join you tonight to represent Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull at your dinner of celebration. Thank you for having me.
In fact, I was thinking as I looked at my diary this morning that for a person who often doesn't drink, today is shaping up to be a great day of celebration of Australia's alcohol industry indeed.
Of course the Government understands the importance of industries such as yours in job creation and economic investment in our communities.
That's why representatives of Bundaberg Rum were also on the Hill this morning, to showcase the investment of that company to the region around Bundaberg and communities across Australia.
And with your celebration here tonight – complete with many similar stories across the country – it certainly is shaping up as the day for it.
And when it's talking about jobs for Australians, that's a very good thing indeed.
So thank you for having me. It's tremendous to be here.
Contribution to the Australian economy
I am Australia's Small Business Minister and I also have responsibility for consumer affairs, as well as representing an electorate about the size of Switzerland in south west and central west NSW.
So it's pretty fair to say I spend a lot of time meeting people.
And across the country – no matter whether it's in one of the smallest villages, towns or communities in my electorate or in the suburbs spurred by small business or indeed in Martin Place with business leaders – the message I so often hear from Australians is the same.
And that's the importance of jobs.
Statistics released by Senator Michaelia Cash, who is the Minister for Employment, showed there are more Australians in jobs today than there ever has been in our country.
But I hear and I see across this country that we can do more.
This is why I am so encouraged to hear about the important role your industry plays in providing jobs for Australians.
More than 400,000 in total, I am reliably informed.
This is an opportunity and a start for 400,000 Australians. It's an injection of confidence in each and every one of them and it's a mighty contribution to our economy.
This means there's more than $19.5 billion which circulates around our economy and brings wages, opportunities and jobs with it in communities across Australia.
And for that the sector is to be congratulated.
As I mentioned before, my Riverina electorate is about 50,000 square kilometres or roughly the size of Switzerland. This means there are more than a dozen local shires each of which deserves investment and opportunities too.
And there are dozens of communities in which your industry has a footprint. In every country town, regional city, in every suburb and in every city there are jobs and opportunities and from this flows support to more than 58,000 community groups across Australia.
And as the Government well knows, that's quite a bit of tax revenue! It's revenue from those businesses and workers which helps us put the parameters in place to help small business grow, to help create more jobs and to increase the competitiveness of our economy.
That is a very might effort indeed.
Supporting small business
Each of these statistics is before we even start to think about the contribution you make to small business.
Economists might call it the "multiplier effect" but in towns, suburbs and cities across Australia its impact is far more tangible than that.
It's suppliers. It's contractors. It is products to sell a customer to generate the turnover to keep a small business going.
This is seen not just in little bottle-shops or supermarkets. It's in the hospitality sector – in country pubs and restaurants –and in communities big and small where Australians come together to celebrate and to socialise.
So many Australians start their career in hospitality – whether that's a local pub or restaurant, whether it's at concerts, sporting matches and festivals where many young people get a job – and these are all places in which you have a presence.
This is all before we have started to mention the tourism dollar which spins through regions such as Hilltops in my electorate, where cellar doors and wineries complement local bus lines, tour coaches and accommodation providers in country communities with vineyards.
I know Bluestill Distillery – that "homage to the hard worker since 1949" at Young in the Hilltops region of my electorate is another small business in your industry doing its best and bringing in the tourism dollar.
We are a Government happily in the corner of small business.
We are doing our best to help the sector grow and create jobs – regardless of the industry they're in – and I know many of these are in industries well supported by the people in this room.
Theirs are stories worthy of celebration.
And so too is the investment which drives those.
Look at many sets of economic data and you will see that conditions for business are getting better, business confidence is rising and so too – as I said – are the numbers of Australians in jobs.
This is good news for small businesses, which we put at the centre of our Budget, and it's good news for the people that wonderful sector employs.
It's no mean feat, no small thing, to create a job and give another Australian a new opportunity.
It's no small thing to stand in the corner of small business and encourage that sector's growth.
And it's no small thing to have a footprint which touches the communities of almost every single Australian each and every day.
Responsibility and consumers
It's also no small thing to take the challenges of business in the 21st century in an industry such as yours and adapt.
It's clear the market is shifting. It's clear consumers are demanding more choice. And it's clear that is a challenge to which you all must rise.
In fact, the team at Bundaberg Rum was telling me how that company is doing just that this morning.
Entwined within that – too – is the challenge of responsibility, both in terms of a consumer's overall consumption and the advertising and investment standards to communicate that to your customers.
But this is something which I know your industry takes very seriously indeed.
Australians are drinking less today than they ever have at any time in the past 50 years, and there are fewer underage – that is 12-17 year olds – drinking alcohol today than three years ago.
Responsibility in an industry such as yours is paramount – and it's clear that the statistics show Australians and your industry are working together to enjoy some of Australia's most premium products and doing so in a way which boosts our economy and keeps Australians healthy.
But it's clear with changing tastes come changing opportunities.
Consumers are more empowered in an international and interconnected marketplace today than they ever have been in our history.
This is seen by the changing tastes and the changing nature of the people to whom you sell.
In fact, Roy Morgan indicated in a 2014 report that craft beer – which is certainly increasing in its production and popularity – is appealing to the – and I quote – "young, cultured, connected, clued-in and cashed-up" market, bringing with it a swathe of opportunities.
Up until the last redistribution, I represented two towns with which the name is now synonymous with the changing nature of your industry and your opportunities.
Batlow in the Snowy Mountains has for generations been the town so inextricably linked with apples.
Apples bring back-packers, jobs, investment and ideas to the vibrant country town each and every season and the demand has been long-sustained.
But a shift within the marketplace for product such as cider means the town's apples are now also used in a very popular product which is sold in restaurants and pubs across the country. Each May the town now celebrates the Batlow Cider Fest – drawing the tourism dollar in from across the region and other parts of the nation in recognition of cider, of innovation and of ideas.
The story is much the same out west where Yenda has stood a proud irrigation community for generations, but is now a popular brand name for pale ale.
This too is bringing a town's identity and ideas to the bottle shops, the restaurant menus and the pubs across Australia, sending back new jobs and opportunities in a country town which feels the ups and downs of the seasons like any other.
I can also say with some confidence that it is certainly a matter of some pride – or you could even say parochialism – when a local spots the local down at the local, for want of a better phrase!
But the economic contribution of doing so is very clear and very persuasive.
Yours is a story responsible and regional.
It's changing and it's focused on consumers.
And across Australia – from our smallest centres to our biggest cities – yours is a story of jobs.
It is a story worthy of celebration and I thank you for having me join you tonight.