Jul 19, 2013

Transcript of joint doorstop interview with Innes Willox, CEO Australian Industry Group – Sydney

Subjects:  NBN manufacturing digital business kits; NBN Co; Future of Australian manufacturing; Asylum seekers; Fringe benefit tax; Coalition’s fraudband policy

ANTHONY ALBANESE: This is about making sure that Australian manufacturing has a great future, and a great future is dependent upon manufacturing taking advantage of the opportunities that new technology and the digital world brings.

This morning we have seen how manufacturing has been transformed here. Tasks that would have been done by a metal worker are still done by a metal worker but with the assistance of new computer-generated activity that makes it more efficient, increases productivity and increases the opportunities for business not just here, but around the globe.

Increasingly what we know is that businesses, particularly small to medium enterprises, who are engaged in the online world, make more money, they grow their business faster, and they are more likely to be hiring new staff.

The National Broadband Network will give the manufacturing sector access to new markets, more efficient business processes, and new manufacturing technologies.

Whether it be here or at Keech, a company where I had discussions with just a couple of weeks ago in Bendigo, right around Australia we know that this kit will help prepare businesses such as this for the arrival of the NBN.

The business here is in the footprint for the beginning of construction of the NBN in the next 12 months. What we know from talking to Kevin is that yesterday he had to download a file and two and a half hours later it happened. We need to get better than that. We need to compete by being smart. Being smart means accessing broadband technology at the highest speeds that we can in most efficient way to deliver it. That is fibre technology through the NBN.

This will be delivered to every small business in Australia. And I think if there are three big areas where you can immediately identify the benefits of the NBN, it is manufacturing, it is in the delivery of health services and the delivery of education services.

The Prime Minister has said that he wants to be leader of a country that continues to make things. We know that can happen. We know that it can happen but in order for it to happen we need to compete on the basis of high skilled, high value add, best products possible, and part of that is embracing new technology.

So thank you Kevin, I look forward to seeing AIG. This is one of ten kits that we are rolling across in different sectors for how different sectors can benefit.

We know in terms of the farming sector that it can make an enormous difference in terms of agriculture. So new technology can tell you when is the right time to farm the salmon or pick the grape, when is the maximum benefit given, and new technology will have a big impact on increasing the yields and increasing the benefits available to the farming sector for example.

There is no doubt that manufacturing, which is so important for employment and for economic activity and is such an important sector to the national economy that this will make a big difference and we are doing it.

So it is not Government delivering it; the people best placed to deliver the digital business kit are of course the sector itself. This is a part of a Government that is prepared to engage and interact and partner with the business community in order to deliver these economic benefits.

INNES WILLOX:  Thank you Deputy Prime Minister and thank you Kevin for hosting us here today at OGIS Engineering. It is a great pleasure to be here, it’s a great pleasure because this is an area that manufacturing is very focused on.

Manufacturing is under significant competitive pressures at the moment. We have seen the pressures of the high dollar, high energy costs, increased import competition and the like over recent years, and a measure like this is very important to help manufacturers compete.

We heard Kevin talk about how he takes hours to download files from his customers and that impacts on his productivity, and access to broadband, high speed broadband, is an area that will be crucial to improving competitiveness in businesses like this and manufacturing more generally.

This is really important for manufacturers to help them grow their businesses in the global environment. It is about running their businesses more efficiently and more effectively. It is about reducing business costs, getting better real time results and getting more expertise into their business; be it accounting expertise, outside expertise to make them able to compete better.

It is about online marketing and communication and collaboration through high speed broadband. All of that is important to business in Australia in the 21st century. It is about improving their design capabilities through 3D printing and the like. All of that can be impacted by high speed broadband.

It is about improving our capabilities to develop real advanced manufacturing strengths within Australia, something we have to do if we are to compete globally.

So this is a really important initiative that has been taken by Government in collaboration with business to develop the competitive strengths of the business community and particularly manufacturing in Australia.

It’s something that we welcome, it’s something that we are very pleased to be part of, and we see enormous benefits now and into the future for the manufacturing sector if we get this right.

We’re very proud to be playing our part. So Kevin, thank you for hosting us today and you will be one of the first ones, I hope, to benefit.

QUESTION:  Deputy Prime Minister, are you concerned that the NBN Co board may be using public money to lobby the Opposition?

ANTHONY ALBANESE:  The NBN Co board makes its own decisions, it’s an independent board. What I am concerned about is Malcolm Turnbull’s ongoing attacks, which are pretty unprecedented, on board members of NBN Co.

And I say to Malcolm that it is time to stop playing politics with this and to stop the personal attacks against, whether it be the chair, or the NBN Co board members. This is unprecedented in terms of attacks on a government business enterprise board.

I am the shareholder minister of a number of organisations, including the Australian Rail Track Corporation, and others. I have never seen before any shadow minister from any side of politics play such a political role targeting particular board members.

QUESTION: Have you spoken to the NBN Co chair about this issue?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: I keep my discussions with the NBN Co chair on a professional level. I will continue to do that. That is appropriate.

QUESTION: Do you expect a backlash in electorates like yours if the Government is seen to be taking [inaudible]?

ANTHONY ALBANESE:  The Government will do what is right on the asylum seeker issue.

When the people smugglers’ business model changes, it is also appropriate that Government policy adjust.

QUESTION:  Can you confirm plans – Prime Minister Kevin Rudd is planning to resettle asylum seekers in neighbouring nations such as Papua New Guinea and Manus Island; that is on the front page of the Daily Telegraph?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: I certainly can confirm that the Prime Minister has had discussions, including with President Yudhoyono in Jakarta, about the need for regional solutions to the issue of asylum seekers.

We believe very strongly that that is appropriate. Those discussions are taking place, have taken place. There will be a regional summit.

It is appropriate that the Prime Minister of course raise these issues with regional leaders, and I certainly very much welcome Indonesia’s announcement overnight that they will change the visa requirements for visitors from Iran in particular, but other countries, to make sure that appropriate measures are put in place. I welcome that by Indonesia.

That is an example of how you get an outcome through a cooperative relationship with our neighbours, rather than what we have seen from the Opposition, which is lecturing our neighbours.

QUESTION:  A new poll shows Malcolm Turnbull [inaudible] Kevin Rudd in an election if he was to replace Tony Abbott. Is the Government concerned about the prospect of Turnbull returning?

ANTHONY ALBANESE:  I think Malcolm Turnbull is out there raising these issues. He said the other day that he was more popular than Tony Abbott. There’s no doubt that the internal tensions within the Coalition are there. I expect they will grow in coming days and weeks, but that is a matter for the Coalition.

I do think that there is a significant problem that the Opposition have, which is their relentless negativity and saying no to everything. Including today on the Today show, what seems like many hours ago now, but was sometime just after 6am. Christopher Pyne was critical of the FBT changes.

What the FBT changes do is simply say that people who aren’t entitled to a tax concession won’t get it. It doesn’t take away anything from anyone in terms of entitlements.

It just says, if you don’t use your car for work, you’re not entitled to claim it. That is all, a very simple measure.

They are out there beating this up, which will once again talk down confidence in terms of the economy.

But Christopher Pyne, just like the Shadow Minister Sophie Mirabella yesterday, couldn’t actually say that they would change it or not support this measure, and it is typical that the Coalition under Tony Abbott I think are overly negative.

The Australian people know that and as we get closer to an election you have to do more than just say no. You have to actually say what your alternative policies and your alternative vision for the nation is.

QUESTION: Mr Willox, does the AIG have any concerns about the change to FBT on cars?

INNES WILLOX:  I have to be careful because I am standing next to the Deputy Prime Minister. But I’ll just say what we’ve said publicly and that is, we need to look through the details of this.

There have been concerns expressed by car manufacturers about the impact by leasing companies, you’ve seen that. We need to work through the details before we can really get to the bottom of it. And that will be part of a consultation process that I know is going on as of today.

QUESTION:  Are you aware of people who are using the system for private use and might be caught out by the change?

INNES WILLOX:   Me personally? No.

QUESTION:  Are you happy with the way change was made?

INNES WILLOX:  It was part of a decision made by the Government around changes to the carbon tax, which we welcomed the move to an emissions trading scheme that still has to be legislated.

One area that we have expressed some concern about is: is this a permanent change to the taxation system or is it a temporary change over a shorter time frame. But we will need to work through the detail of that, and that is part of a much broader decision.

QUESTION:  Deputy Prime Minister, do you believe a government business enterprise like NBN Co should be able to contract a lobbying firm?

ANTHONY ALBANESE:  You have asked me the question, you have already got an answer. If you want to keep asking it, you will get the same answer. I refer you to my previous answer.

QUESTION:  But experts say that it could be a breach of [inaudible] in both the private sector and in the public sector. Do you believe that it is?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: Do I believe that a company employing a public relations company is in breach of company guidelines? Good luck with that.

Has AIG ever employed a PR company? Get serious.

QUESTION:  It is not a PR company, they are lobbyists.

ANTHONY ALBANESE:  They are a PR company. They are a PR company led by Alexander Downer and Ian Smith. And if Malcolm Turnbull has a great problem with Alexander Downer and Ian Smith, the divisions in the Coalition go back a long way.

I don’t think, seriously, in terms of the National Broadband Network, you might think this is the issue; whether a PR company has been employed for a short period of time to do some work.

Seriously, that is the sort of approach, whether it be from a journalist or from Malcolm Turnbull, that Australians are turning off. Australians want vision from their national government.

They know that the National Broadband Network, that will transform the way that manufacturing works, will transform the delivery of education and health services, will secure employment, will enable us to compete with our neighbours – that is about uploads as well as downloads in terms of files and being able to compete with our neighbours.

They know that the National Broadband Network, in delivering fibre to the home – as opposed to the absurdity of fibre to the fridge on the corner, and then copper to the home – they know what the difference is.

They know also that the NBN will deliver the same service at the same price, whether you live in regional Australia or whether you live in the CBD or inner suburbs such as here at Rosebery.

They are the issues that people are concerned about and frankly, the ongoing nit-picking, negativity of the Opposition, and some of the media focus, is precisely the sort of negative political frame that people are reacting against. The Government will continue to push a positive agenda and to put things properly in perspective.

And I will give you the big tip. I haven’t had an email or a phone call, or I was at St Peters station and Stanmore station today, people weren’t raising with me whether NBN Co has employed a PR company as a result of responding to the quite extraordinary correspondence from Malcolm Turnbull to the board of NBN Co.

You know what they’re talking about? When can I get NBN Co in my home? When can I get NBN Co and fast speed broadband in my small business? How much will it cost? What are the implications behind me having to pay $5,000 to connect fibre to my home if Malcolm Turnbull’s policy gets its way?

So let’s focus on what the actual real debate is out there. I think that is a task for politics. It is a task for politicians of all persuasions. It is a challenge to Tony Abbott and the Opposition. It is also a challenge for the media, frankly, to actually focus on this because let me tell you, just like internationally in terms of the Australian economy, people look at the Australian economy and how well it is going.

One of the problems is that indeed because of growth factors and our comparative advantage in terms of economic growth compared with other advanced nations, it has put pressure on the dollar. That has meant pressure on Australian manufacturing. How do we deal with that? How do we deal with that? They’re the sort of questions. That is why I am here today with Kevin and with AIG. They are the questions that people are concerned about.

I really think there is an opportunity I hope in coming weeks to lift up the debate, so actually talk about what the real issues confronting Australia are in terms of securing our future. Whether it be in terms of infrastructure development in general that I have responsibility for, or whether it be Australia’s largest ever infrastructure project, the NBN.

QUESTION: As Communications Minister, what is your response to the spat between the Federal Opposition’s Communications Spokesman Malcolm Turnbull and the chair of NBN Co?

ANTHONY ALBANESE:  Well I’ve responded to that. It’s a distraction from what people are concerned about. And it’s a deliberate distraction because Malcolm Turnbull has a fraudband policy and a policy that relies on copper and the technology of the 19th century.

Now we had this debate in Australia in 1910 in the parliament over whether we’d move from iron to copper. And there were a whole lot of people then in 1910, if you look it up in Hansard, saying ‘no, the iron stuff has served us fine, iron wire, for the last 30 years, we can keep it, that will do, it’s fast enough’.

Those people back then who embraced copper were embracing the technology of then, the best technology and the technology which served us well in the 20th century.

We are now in the 21st century. It is beyond belief that anyone who is serious about Australia’s economic future can say copper is good enough, don’t worry about fibre.

We need to compete in our region. We live in the fastest growing region of the world.

You know what I think? I think Australian manufacturing has a great future. Why? Because gentlemen such as Kevin here and other small businesses are employing people and they’re up with the times.

We can produce things that are high value to compete in our region, to open up export markets as well as supply for the domestic market. But we can only do that, we can only do that if we embrace the future, not if we engage in what was a debate for 1910, but is not a debate for 2013.

Malcolm Turnbull knows his policy is a dud, that’s why he’s playing the person rather than the policy.

Thanks very much.