Topics: BlueScope, Innovation policy, National Innovation and Science Agenda, gay marriage plebiscite
Look it's an interesting change, to just change the name of the industry portfolio but it's a really important in terms of what you're aiming at. We used to think of the industry portfolio as government sort of subsidising and helping out industries, whereas you're trying to focus on productivity, on science, and of course this buzzword of the Turnbull Government, innovation. What's the key change that you're trying to put in place here?
Look the critical thing is this, to help make Australian businesses more productive. If you think of it as the portfolio, industry is the jobs of today, innovation is the jobs of tomorrow and science is the jobs of the future.
But essentially it's about working with new but in particular with old businesses on helping them become more productive.
Now how do you do that? You ensure that there's a tax regime which is world class competitive.
You ensure that things such as the Building and Construction Commission legislation, which we took to the election, is passed to allow firms that are in the construction space to just compete without interference and then you work with newer firms on investment but there are great Australian examples.
Firms such as Dulux, they make paint and you think paint's a fairly simple product, but these are firms that have scientists that are working on how do you make a paint which is easier to clean, how do you make a paint which lasts longer, which can survive my seven-year-old, which is able to be used in hospitals with an anti-bacterial quality.
That's innovation in an existing firm, 100 year old firm, that's the sort of thing that we're working on, encouraging, supporting and there's an example of a firm that's tripled its share price over the last six years through innovation.
There's been a sense that during the election campaign, when Malcolm Turnbull was talking about this innovation agenda, that it either didn't seem relevant to people or it scared them because it meant our old industries are in strife and he's talking about hipsters in the city centres designing new apps and this sort of thing but what you're really talking about here is no matter what you're doing in Australia, surely whether you're making machinery or you're processing food, you've got to be doing it at world's best practice otherwise you're going to go broke.
Well that's absolutely it. What's the key to making our manufacturing firms competitive, they've got to be world class competitive firms. I was at BlueScope steel plant in Wollongong only a few days ago.
They've made real innovations, they've had the scientists and the workforce on the floor, innovating, changing the process but also changing the products, so BlueScope, for example, makes Colorbond, they changed the way that they were doing the coatings only a few years ago.
Less material, longer lasting, better quality product and BlueScope has turned itself around with the help of the workers and the management being together with some pretty dramatic changes, from a $300 million loss to a $300 million profit.
That is real innovation that affects the lives of workers in one of Australia's great steel towns and that's how those firms survive.
By contrast, we've seen in the automotive sector that no amount of government handouts were able to save the automotive sector, the overseas head offices thought that we were just not going to be competitive, so innovate to drive productivity and that's what drives competitiveness.
Now when you're looking to sort of help the economy move along and some of the things you mentioned earlier like making it easier for companies to employ people and reducing company tax, and I dip my lid to that, that's always going to allow people to invest and create jobs but you're also doing a bit of this government seed funding as well in the billion dollar package that was announced late last year.
There was a lot of that money is actually going to go out in grants to companies. They come to government, they put up proposals and the Government is left picking winners.
This always worries me because government invariably will get some of this stuff wrong and it's better to get out of the way of business rather than try and pick winners with our money.
Look there are two sides to the equation, the first thing is to remove the impediments.
The most common thing that's been raised with me is a lower tax regime which is precisely what we took to the election. Similarly they want to make sure that there isn't intimidation in the workplace, again precisely what we took to the election and then the investment package is actually primarily about removing impediments to investment.
Where has Australia been strong? We've had tremendous science, tremendous creativity, where have we have been weaker? In the commercialisation.
Now commercialisation is about taking these ideas, developing them up and turning them into businesses.
Yes but the last person you'd want to get any advice from on commercialisation surely is government?
Well what we're doing is primarily removing impediments which is why we've put in place an angel investors tax regime which makes it easier for people to invest, whether it's dollars from overseas or dollars from Australia, there's been an absence of investment in start-ups or in particular in the commercialisation space.
I would say tonight to Australia's super funds, now is the time to be part of the new wave of investments. Now make prudent decisions but don't be caught in an old world in an old paradigm where all you are doing is following the index.
You see in the United States and in the UK in particular that superannuation equivalent funds are looking to start-ups, they're looking to firms that are emerging and they're able to get good returns by making wise decisions.
Well we have changed the tax regime in a number of areas through the angel investors program, through what are called early stage venture capital programs to encourage investment.
So what's the real success of government? Not government money, but private money coming in and you improve the rates of return by having a better and more competitive tax system and if we don't have that, we'll be left behind other countries but if we do have that our natural creativity will allow us to continue to be the only country in the western world with 25 consecutive years of growth at the present moment.
Now you mention the idea of keeping costs down for business, I noticed in a speech you gave recently in South Australia you talked about electricity costs being such a burden for that state. This sort of crosses back into your old job as environment minister as well.
Now there are a number of factors at play in South Australia but one of the key reasons their electricity prices are so high is their big switch to wind energy because of you have to double up the investment. Whatever you put in wind, you have to have a back-up source for when the wind isn't blowing.
Is it not the case, with our increasing push for wind energy in other states, particularly your own state of Victoria now talking about possibly going to 50 per cent wind, we're going to see electricity prices being pushed up and up at an increasing level in the other states as well?
Well the first thing is you want to help manufacturing as well as small business and well as householders is don't whack a new carbon tax or a new electricity and manufacturing tax on business and families.
We've already taken steps which have had the largest reduction in electricity prices in Australian history. Nevertheless there are other real pressures. The second thing is, states shouldn't be trying to drive up the price of electricity.
I know that in South Australia and in Victoria they have done that, and they've done it deliberately to try to drive other firms into the energy space out of operation, without a plan.
What we've done at the Commonwealth level is have a consistent, moderate plan which allows for an increasing growth of renewable energy, but against a national plan.
So what we need to do is we need to have interconnectors with South Australia and Tasmania.
We have already committed to working on the Tasmanian project, because Tasmania effectively has close to the world's best battery in the form of the Tasmanian Hydro Scheme.
Secondly we think that the South Australian Government needs to work with the national electricity market, and that's the lead that Josh Frydenberg has taken on a comprehensive plan rather than a target without any understanding of the consequences, which is now being borne out in the impacts on firms such as Arrium, on Nyrstar and on so many others.
But do you fear those mistakes in South Australia are going to be repeated by the Andrews Government in Victoria, especially the desire to increase the wind energy target and possibly shut down coal fired power stations?
GREG HUNT: Well we have a national Renewable Energy Target, which is the right balance. I would say to individual states, work within the existing national scheme, and my point all along is unless our firms are world class competitive, they're going to be in enormous trouble.
And I know that electricity prices are a huge issue, and South Australia and Victoria are deliberately taking steps which will increase the overall electricity price for their firms, and I think it's time they looked very carefully at the way they're going about it.
And I've said this publicly before, it's not new, and that is work within a simple, single, national regime rather than trying to put in place a system which isn't connected, isn't planned, and which is simply about a headline but with real world consequences for families and businesses.
Let me switch to broader politics of the day. I think Malcolm Turnbull's probably had a couple of his best weeks. He had a good week overseas last week, the week before that in Parliament, he got a few things done.
And he got some things done by being able to cooperate with the Labor Party. The Labor Party gave some ground and you got some budget savings through, so people are getting very optimistic about what a government can do.
But you're heading for a brick wall when it comes to the gay marriage plebiscite. Labor is increasingly demonstrating that they're not going to roll over or compromise there, they're just going to vote this down.
How is the Government going to handle having that plebiscite rejected? It's going to make life extremely difficult, isn't it?
Well look the first thing is I don't agree with you. What's happened here is that we took a policy to the election, we were elected by the Australian people on the basis of giving them a say.
We also know that an overwhelming majority of Australian people want that say, they
want that vote. It's a democratic action which trusts the Australian people.
My best advice is that there are splits emerging in the ALP. I think that the ALP understands we sought a democratic mandate, we took this notion of every Australian having a vote to the people, they voted for a vote.
And I've got to say that Bill Shorten has been a blinding hypocrite on this issue. He pretends he wants to advance the cause of same sex marriage and then he takes steps to stop it.
I mean, what a fraud, a charlatan, a hypocrite, an absolute failure of leadership. And I do have strong views on this because if you actually believe in this, you wouldn't stand in the way, you'd assist it.
Now I think that in the end, the ALP will be forced from within to actually help deliver the very thing they say they believe in.
No government has ever put to the parliament a way forward on this and we’re the first ones to have done it and Bill Shorten wants to stand in the way.
The only person standing in the way of same marriage in a vote in Australia is Mr Shorten.
The Coalition, in order to force Labor's hand, and as I say, it doesn't look like Labor are giving ground, but the thing that the Coalition has to demonstrate is that they are completely united, that the only way Parliament gets to vote on gay marriage this term is after a plebiscite.
Well can you guarantee that, though? I mean there's all sorts of speculation about various Liberal MPs, some of them going public who could cross the floor and allow this to go to a vote.
Well look I think our policy is crystal clear, and that is we took a plebiscite to the election.
We took a vote by every Australian on an issue of significant public importance. I think that's a grand step forward in democracy.
I think it's an extraordinarily important step. It's a sign of trust in the Australian people, and that's what we'll do. We will have a plebiscite and we will not stop until it's done, and again and again I think that Bill Shorten has got it wrong, both in terms of the political equation, but most importantly in terms of the moral equation.
He's demonstrated that at the end of the day, he's just a fraud on this issue, because if he believed in it, he'd let it go to the Australian people and it will be resolved, is my judgement.
That's all we got time for tonight, Greg Hunt, appreciate you joining us again on Viewpoint.