9 October 2017
Transcript - #2017058, 2017

Interview with Sheridan Stewart, 90.3 ABC Sunshine Coast

 

SHERIDAN STEWART:

I am talking the federal Minister for Small Business, Michael McCormack, who's been on the coast today and is in the studio with us this afternoon. We're live-streaming on Facebook. Thanks for joining us, Minister.

MICHAEL MCCORMACK:

Thank you, Sheridan.

SHERIDAN STEWART:

How have you spent your day?

MICHAEL MCCORMACK:

Well, look, I started much earlier today at the Gold Coast, actually, talking to the Franchise Council of Australia. And that's a wonderful organisation which of course involves so many small businesses and businesses which are very much the backbone, the heart and soul of the economy. But from there I've come up to have a meet and greet of many small business shop owners with Ted O'Brien, the member for Fairfax. And look we've went to Wendy and Matt's Express Print & Mail, a wonderful printing firm with state of the art German equipment producing wonderful booklets and brochures and all sorts of things; Martin Pennay from a local butcher shop who's really got a number of employees as well and he's looking to expand and to get into fresh markets and all that sort of thing; and then Roz and Michael White at the SUPA IGA in Bli Bli, which- she's gone from being a one person team to more than 100 employees. But interestingly, tackling her energy costs using a local refrigeration electrician – I guess you'd call them, the Maslin(*) family – they've saved through this water cooling system on their heating and cooling and on their refrigeration $75,000. So they've reduced their energy costs by 25 per cent. One of the things that we really heard about was energy costs really biting hard.

SHERIDAN STEWART:

So what have the concerns been? And of course in the world of small business, it's a big umbrella that takes in. The businesses you just mentioned there are so incredibly diverse and their energy needs would all be very, very different, but certainly in the case of a butcher or a supermarket owner, I imagine energy costs would be a huge concern.

MICHAEL MCCORMACK:

Well they're running heaters, they're running coolers, they're running cookers, they're running machines. Even at the printing firm – a big five coloured press which is- it's state of the art, but it also sucks a lot of energy out of the system. And so, for them, they want affordable and reliable power, and for them it's important that the Federal Government looks to do something, and we are doing something, not just in the short term but in the longer term.

Now I know we've made moves to reserve gas so that we have domestic supply. I know that the Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Energy and the Environment, Josh Frydenberg, have talked tough with the energy retailers – not once, but twice – and know the National Energy Summit is on today. And I know that that's something that also can put downward pressure, hopefully, on energy prices. But as well, we're re-energising Snowy Hydro 2.0, which will provide enough power for 500,000 homes and businesses on the eastern grid; but we also need the states to come on board. We also need the states to stop having unrealistic renewable energy targets and an ideology and put a bit of practically and engineering and economics into the mix.

Look, everybody loves renewables and I know they are and they have to be part of the long term future, they've got to be the here and now as well. But we also have to have the storage back-up power and we also have to be able to use coal.

SHERIDAN STEWART:

We had the Prime Minister visit here in Caloundra a couple of weeks ago. Now he told the forum at the time that solar and wind aren't necessarily the way to combat our energy crisis. What are your thoughts on that?

MICHAEL MCCORMACK:

Well he also said it's not solar versus wind, gas versus coal. It's not renewables versus fossil fuels, it's got to be a mix of everything and I agree with him.

SHERIDAN STEWART:

What about batteries?

MICHAEL MCCORMACK:

Batteries has got to be part of the mix too. But we've got to make sure that if we're going to use it, there's got to be the storage. If we're going to use it it's got to be practical, it can't just rely on subsidies, it's got to stack up and it's got to back up.

SHERIDAN STEWART:

You mentioned some what would – you seem to allude to – be fairly unrealistic expectations of local and state government. Can you shed a little more light on the government backing away from clean energy targets?

MICHAEL MCCORMACK:

Well I don't think we're necessarily backing away from clean energy targets. We're having the conversation – and mature governments do that – and governments which also understand that jobs have to come first, also does that. And when you go and talk to small business owners and operators – whether they're in Queensland, regional Queensland, Brisbane, indeed anywhere in Australia – and they tell you that their energy prices are doubling, and that they're going to have to lay off people, or they're going to have to stop taking forward contracts, or they're going to have to squeeze their business model and how they do things. Governments have to act. State governments have to act, federal governments have to act.

We're doing our part. This is largely brought about by some state government with unrealistic targets and a state issue has become a national problem. You could look at it the other way around too and say that it was a state problem that's become a national issue, but either way or either way, we're going to have to do something as governments if we want to see Australia go forward. We're blessed with renewables. We're blessed with fossil fuels. We need to have reliable and affordable energy for our businesses, for our homes, so that it's cool in summer, that it's warm in winter and that people aren't forced to turn off air conditioners and turn off heaters simply because they can't afford to power their homes.

SHERIDAN STEWART:

So, what did you hear from those small businesses on the coast today? What are they wanting from our federal government?

MICHAEL MCCORMACK:

Well, they're quite pleased with the fact that we've talked tough to the energy companies. They're quite pleased at the fact that we're doing something about the gas exports and they're quite pleased that longer term the Snowy Hydro engineering scheme – which is using hydroelectric hydro power, renewable water to make sure that we reenergise that wonderful masterpiece of engineering – they're quite pleased at what we're doing. But they're also saying, well what are the state governments doing? What is the Palaszczuk Government doing?

SHERIDAN STEWART:

Do you hear much about the ineffective internet that we experience sometimes? We've certainly heard that local businesses are finding internet access a challenge. One was without internet for several days because of problems associated with the NBN. What can people do if they're facing these problems? Because that would be a massive impact on a small business. Everything is online these days.

MICHAEL MCCORMACK:

Look absolutely. And I know Ted O'Brien's office deals-- as does my office – with people who are having problems. And we can go to the Communications Ombudsman, we can go directly to NBN. We can talk to Telstra. And sometimes it's a matter of waiting. It's all well and good to say wait, but sometimes small businesses can't be patient. It is connectivity that is also- I appreciate that there are challenges as the technology rolls out, but there are also marvellous opportunities and there are so many diversified businesses around here – and Ted took me to a few of them today – making a lot of money, and making good headways, because of the fact that they are now connected to the big wide world via NBN and via mobile phone connectivity, and we've spent more than $200 million on mobile blackspot towers. Not a cent spent by the previous government, but we're getting on with the job of making sure that people are also connected with mobile services.

SHERIDAN STEWART:

So if people are struggling with that, you're happy to help put the pressure on?

MICHAEL MCCORMACK:

Always, and that's what parliamentarians are there for, to help people. If they're having problems and they're getting frustrated with the providers- I mean, I know my electorate office – and I'm the member for a very large electorate, Riverina in South West New South Wales – like Ted O'Brien, you know, I'm the man of the people, person of the people, you like to get out and talk to many small business owners because, you know, when small business is doing it tough, your economy, your community, is doing it tough. So we have lowered the tax rate, the lowest it's been since 1940. We have extended the instant asset write-off by another 12 months. You know, we're getting on with the job of simplifying business activity statements and doing all those sorts of things.

SHERIDAN STEWART:

With the instant asset write off for small businesses, that package, can you bring me up to date on that? How much is available now?

MICHAEL MCCORMACK:

It's up to $20,000.

SHERIDAN STEWART:

Still 20 grand?

MICHAEL MCCORMACK:

Backdated to 1 July last year, and for businesses up to $10 million turnover. So we've redefined what actually is a small business, from a two million turnover to a 10 million turnover. We've extended the instant asset write-off for another 12 months to 1 July 2018.

SHERIDAN STEWART:

[Talks over] 1 July 2018?

MICHAEL MCCORMACK:

And up to $20,000, and as many times- of course, you've got to have the cash flow to do it and cash flow is key in any small business, but a number of people who've come to me with their- in coffee shops, you know, they show me their espresso, they show me their industrial dishwashers and they're proud to say that helped productivity, that helped staff morale, but more importantly, it got more customers through the door.

SHERIDAN STEWART:

A couple of questions here from listeners, I'm just rebooting my Facebook page here as we popped this one up a little earlier today.

MICHAEL MCCORMACK:

Powered by the NBN.

SHERIDAN STEWART:

Yeah, that's it. And now it's vanished.

Here we go. So, we have a question from Alison and she said she'd like to ask how the Government could assist small business in tackling the unscrupulous dealings of corporate landlords and commercial leasing, in particular, where they leave shops empty in town CBDs. So I think she's talking about Nambour where you can walk along the street, and she's illustrated the point saying that wouldn't it be great if we could somehow negotiate a realistic rental market that, by placing the rents higher and leaving places empty, they're not only making it difficult for people to start a business, they're locking out start-ups. But they're also making some townships sort of devoid of vibrancy. That was a slightly summarised version of what she asked.

MICHAEL MCCORMACK:

[Talks over] Yeah, it's not just in Nambour. And Alison, I understand the question, I understand the issue. Look, I think what Alison could do is contact the Australian Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman. Kate Carnell was appointed 11 March last year, she actually works for small business, the sector – not necessarily and indeed not for the Small Business Minister – appointed by the Governor General, not the Government. She's there to advocate and assist for and on behalf of small business. So those are the sorts of issues that Kate and her deputy Craig Latham and their wonderfully hard-working, dedicated team, could possibly tackle and shed some light on what she might be able to do.

SHERIDAN STEWART:

She goes on to say, let's tax landlords for leaving shops empty to give them a bigger incentive to contribute positively to communities and actually rent their properties out.

MICHAEL MCCORMACK:

Yeah, that's an interesting point. Of course, it's not the- I suppose the Federal Government's, I suppose, business to regulate prices on everything. But look, it's an interesting argument she makes, and I think Kate would do well to have a chat with her and see where she could go.

SHERIDAN STEWART:

Pat's jumped online as well and said, what about tax cuts for small business instead of big business?

MICHAEL MCCORMACK:

Well, look, that's what we're doing. The tax cuts are there for small businesses. They're there, they're down to 27.5 per cent, that's their lowest rate since 1940. So lowest corporate tax rate for small business for 77 years, and that bit of extra money that small business gets I know that they reinvest in their own business. Whether it's in the Sunshine Coast, whether it's in Brisbane, remote regional rural Queensland, or whether it's indeed anywhere in Australia, they reinvest. They should probably take a holiday and put their feet up on the Gold Coast or one of these beautiful coastlines in Queensland. But no, they reinvest it in their own business, they use the instant asset write-off, and they try and make their business grow because a lot of these small businesses, you know, they're family owned and run and they know that their employees are also people who've got families and they want to reinvest their money so that they can help those people.

SHERIDAN STEWART:

Minister McCormack, thanks for making time to be with us this afternoon.

MICHAEL MCCORMACK:

Wonderful, Sheridan. I hope your ankle gets better.

SHERIDAN STEWART:

Thank you, it's getting better very slowly, unfortunately. I have to walk on it, and that kind of is slowing the healing down. Are you going to experience some Sunshine Coast hospitality, or you're off on a flight?

MICHAEL MCCORMACK:

No, I'm here tonight. I'm looking forward to talking to more small business owners with Ted O'Brien tonight, and we've got about 40 coming to a Chamber of Commerce function. So it should be good, and I'll hear their issues and concerns as well, but also their opportunities.

SHERIDAN STEWART:

And one final question, when the Prime Minister was here, he stated his position in support of same-sex marriage. Are we able to ask where you stand?

MICHAEL MCCORMACK:

Well look, I'm in charge of the Australian Bureau of Statistics, so it's probably not good if I actually put my issue forward. Because I think- what I think it's not about how I'm voting, it's how the nation is going to vote, and giving the nation that opportunity and everyone, as we said prior to the election, to have their say. And look, if the nation wants a change, then it's up to the Parliament to then uphold that position because that's why we've taken the vote to the people. That's why we've given the people their say, and I will urge and encourage before 27 October, that's the deadline for people to get their postal survey in and have your say on this matter. And it's important to do so. We've given the nation their opportunity, we said we'd do it, we are doing it via this process, and urge and encourage anybody who goes and fills out their postal survey yet to do so.

SHERIDAN STEWART:

Hop to it. Minister McCormack, thanks for your time on ABC Sunshine Coast this afternoon.

MICHAEL MCCORMACK:

[Talks over] Thank you very much.