Ararat Regional Business Association Breakfast



01 April 2014

Ararat RSL

Thank you, Dan (Tehan, Member for Wannon), and thank you, Paul (Cr Hooper, Mayor Ararat Rural City Council), for hosting the breakfast. The Ararat Chamber of Commerce, thanks for having me this morning. It's always great to be the fourth speaker, particularly after breakfast, so thanks for staying awake thus far.

Look, it is great to be here. It's a very special part of our country.

As a country Victorian boy originally, I grew up in Mildura, I was born in Kyneton, so I have some understanding or feel for this part of the world. It is a very special part of our country, the original mining boom, in fact, that we often talk about, so it is great to be here with Dan. Moving around the countryside today, it'll be great to see some of the challenges, particularly with infrastructure, which is my particular responsibility in the Federal Government.

Since September when we were elected, we've been pursuing our plan to put Australia back on track. We think probably the most important step in that plan will be on 13 May when we hand down our first Budget, when Treasurer Joe Hockey hands down our first Budget, and that will be a challenging Budget without doubt.

We inherited last September some $660 billion worth of Labor debt with settings which will see us have deficits for a decade, where, in other words, we've got payments going out from the Federal Government which outstrip the revenue that we receive from the taxpayer.

So we are spending more than we earn each year, and unless we change the settings in a reasonably dramatic way, that'll continue for a decade. We will have, in effect, 16 years of deficits, deficit budgets, unless we make change.

We've had six years of deficit Budgets since Labor was elected in 2007 and our task now is to turn that around, is to make the changes necessary to ensure that we live within our means once again and so we can take pressure of taxpayers, we can take pressure off people having to pay unnecessary tax to pay off Labor debt. So our task is a great one in May, but it's a very important one to ensure that you can run your businesses effectively and efficiently as you would like to.

We're taking steps to make it easy to run your business already.

We've moved to abolish the carbon tax and we'll continue to pursue that, even though the Senate continues to stand in our way. We'll keep pushing that. That is an absolute priority of this government because it's an unnecessary burden, particularly on your businesses. Small businesses are the worst affected of any cohort in the Australian economy by the carbon tax because in the end you have much more limited capacity to pass on the effects of that tax than other companies do. So it is particularly important for small business that we do that.

We've also moved to abolish the mining tax, which was a tax that, of course, raised no revenue, but had billions of dollars of spending attached to it. So a tax put in place which cost businesses money to put into just the administration of it. It raised no revenue from its implementation, but the Labor Party spent money from the revenue it didn't raise, thus one of the reasons we've got a massive Budget deficit. So again, we're moving to abolish that unnecessary tax.

And we're also moving to abolish regulations which are holding our country back. We had our first regulation repeal day last week, which is about taking away the unnecessary red tape burden which holds so many of you back in your everyday business. We've got much, much more to do in that respect and Dan raises workplace relations, which, of course, is a massive red tape burden often for many companies.

And another thing, I think, which is important for many small businesses, particularly in the retail area, is that the Treasurer has raised through with his state counterparts looking at addressing the issue of GST on imports of under $1000.

Obviously online shopping is growing enormously, much of this still done within Australia, but there is a growing portion of shopping done offshore online and at the moment there is an exemption for purchases under $1000 from GST and we think that's an unfair burden on small business and we're looking to work with the states to address that so all purchases are treated equal as such when it comes to the GST.

So they're some of the early moves that we're making, but can I say when it comes to the Budget, it will be difficult. There will be tough decisions that Treasurer Hockey and the government will have to make. And it will mean that many special interest groups who think that they are going to continue to get some of the assistance or special treatment that they've received over the years will be unhappy about it and will complain very loudly.

 But I say to you, it's important to achieve our plan. It is very important to live within your own means. If you continue to run deficit budgets, you put in doubt the very fabric of the safety net that you have put in place in the first place.

We can't, as a country, continue to live beyond our means.

We can't have a situation where we have 16 years of Budget deficits in a row. The AAA credit rating that the Commonwealth has is a very special and very important rating system for our country, for our financial system.

If we lose the AAA credit rating that we have as a country, our banks lose their AAA rating as well, which means the cost of their finance is higher, which means the cost of your finance is higher. So it is very important that the Commonwealth manage itself properly because it has very immediate effects if we don't. And what we've seen over the last six years is a government which didn't manage the Budget properly and we now have a major challenge which we'll start to address in the Budget.

When it comes to roads and infrastructure, that is an issue that we want to pursue very heavily.

You'll know that Tony Abbott wants to be remembered as the infrastructure Prime Minister and we are pursuing that agenda very heavily. We're actively pursuing that agenda, to get with the lexicon of the morning, Paul. At the moment we've got $36 billion allocated over the coming years to invest in infrastructure, productive infrastructure across the country.

The duplication of the Western Highway, of course, is part of our plan, but we'll have much more to say in the Budget.

We are investing, as you would know, $1.5 billion in the East-West Tunnel and the first stage of that tunnel, and we're talking very actively with the Victorian Government about investing in this second stage, which would be vitally important to the Western part of Victoria, if we could get the second stage of the East-West Tunnel moving in Melbourne, access to the port and making Melbourne move far better than what it moves at the moment.

We have, in our major cities, a major congestion problem, and a lack of infrastructure investment over many years, which we are trying to address, and in the Budget we will look very heavily at addressing those challenges to lift our productive performance, our productive capacity, so we're growing a stronger economy and we can be more prosperous.

So, in summary, we have a very active plan to grow our economy, to focus our resources where they can achieve and allow small business, particularly, to grow more quickly than what it has been, to take some of the pressures off your business, pressures of running your business from you so you can get on and do what you do best.

There are many challenges you face which we haven't faced before, undoubtedly. The world is moving more quickly than what it once did.

The internet phenomenon is not going away, and changing the way you do business is something which is going to have to be a regular part of running a modern economy. But what you don't need is a government which is unnecessarily getting in your way and making it harder to run your business. So we don't want to be that government.

We want to be a government which gets out of your way, which takes away unnecessary taxes, which takes away unnecessary regulation, allows you to compete in the best opportunity you can by having the best infrastructure available so you can do as well as you can.

Thank you very much for listening. Thank you for having me in your beautiful town. It's terrific to be here today. I'm looking forward to moving around and seeing the challenges and opportunities you have in this special part of Australia.

Thank you very much.