Transcript - ABC Illawarra - Liberal Candidate for Cunningham, 13 May, 2016



FRIDAY 13 MAY, 2016 

SUBJECT/S: Liberal Candidate for Cunningham 

JOURNALIST: Michelle Blicavs has recently been announced as the Liberal Party candidate for Cunningham in the Federal election. In Whitlam its Dr Caroline Currie and Michelle Blicavs is going to go up against Labor’s Sharon Bird in Cunningham. We will talk to Sharon Bird in just a minute. 

In the meantime here is Michelle Blicavs talking to Melinda James. 

BLICAVS:      I’ve been very passionate about the political setting in Wollongong and obviously very, very passionate about jobs and growth, which is something I have progressed over the last five or six years in Wollongong as a Liberal. This is something that I want to continue and I think that the federal Coalition plan for the strong economy is great and I think that we need to have a Liberal elected in the seat of Cunningham to continue to promote that growth. 

JOURNALIST: It is going to be a hard ask though, isn’t it? I mean it is a safe Labor seat, Cunningham, and it’s only been made safer by the re-distribution. It’s going to be an uphill slog? 

BLICAVS:      Well forty per cent of voters at every election vote Liberal, so there is a good representation within our community that believe in Liberal values and Liberal principles and I think that everybody across the Cunningham region want more jobs and growth. 

We have one of the highest youth unemployment statistics in the country and this is a huge need for us. The PATH program and some of the new initiatives of small business I think are fantastic and really what the Illawarra needs and certainly the seat of Cunningham.

JOURNALIST: Did you have to be coaxed into running? Did you have to be talked into it? 

BLICAVS:      No not at all, not at all. I’m very, very happy to be a Liberal and have been serving as Liberal councillor for the last five years and so Liberals have been working for Wollongong for these last five years together with our team on Council so certainly not. 

As you can appreciate to enter this sort of election campaign there are other things that you need to get sorted and one of those being my day job. I have stepped down from my day job in order to give my full attention to the campaign. 

JOURNALIST: What was the pre-selection process like? Was it uncontested? Were you the only contender? Were you appointed by the Federal Electoral Council? How did it work? 

BLICAVS:      I certainly have the full support of my branches and the other Liberals across the area of Cunningham so certainly I have their full support through the process. 

JOURNALIST: OK, so you were uncontested? You were appointed uncontested? Is that what happened? 

BLICAVS:      Yes, yes that is correct. 

JOURNALIST: OK. Look you mentioned having to give up your day job, people do know you as a Wollongong City Councillor as you said for the past five years. Tell people though who don’t know you a bit about yourself what has been your day job up until now and a bit about your connections to the area. 

BLICAVS:      I’ve been in Wollongong now for 11 years and have managed various businesses, small business and in the not-for-profit sector and for the last four years have been running a professional association that promotes community and stakeholder engagement around Australia and New Zealand.

 I’ve had the privilege to travel and to see much of our country and one of the things I know is that Wollongong is a fantastic place to live and the opportunities that we have here are something that is just not available in other places. I think it is a fantastic place and I think that the opportunities that we have here for growth, the innovation that we have coming out of our University and the students that we are churning out there. 

I think they present a fantastic future for our area and certainly that is something that I want for my children.  My own daughter who is now 15 attended a careers expo yesterday at her school in Year 10 and came home and said to me “Mum when I finish will I be able to work in Wollongong”? Now I want to make sure that she has a job and the Turnbull Coalition government is committed to creating more jobs and I want to make sure that those jobs are created here in Cunningham. 

JOURNALIST: Well what do you make of the fact that some commentators have cast a bit of doubt on the Coalition’s plan in terms of the magnitude of the kind of economic reform that it delivers that maybe some of these company tax cuts will not result in the kind of job creation that we are being led to believe it will and it could cost the budget a fair bit. 

BLICAVS:      I’ve worked with small business and managed businesses myself for over 20 years now and tax is one of the considerable problems that you face as a business owner. Sometimes the amount of tax that you pay can be a part-time salary or can give somebody else the opportunity to work in your business which ultimately helps you to become more productive as a business and therefore you are adding to the overall growth. 

I think that by reducing the tax for particularly small businesses across Cunningham means that we will have more opportunities to employ people and I know from the small businesses that I talk to, around the city, that that is something that they want to do. There are many great people out there who are available and willing to work and we need to provide the opportunity for them to get that employment. 

JOURNALIST: Well as you mentioned you are quitting your day job, it’s a big personal risk to you embarking on this campaign particularity when, as I said, Cunningham is safely held by Labor at a margin of about 11.3 per cent following the re-distribution last year. 

Also coming at a time when we hear that Wollongong and Shellharbour Councils are likely to merge meaning that your position as Councillor is doubtful as is the position of every other Councillor. What are you expecting to do if you are not successful in this election? 

BLICAVS:      I’m not thinking about that at this stage, I’m committed to the seat of Cunningham, I’m committed to meeting as many people across the seat of Cunningham as I can and making sure that I can deliver for them should I be elected. I’m encouraging them to vote for myself as the Liberal candidate so that we can have a Turnbull government re-elected and that we can deliver these tax opportunities, that we can deliver the growth and jobs for the community. That is what I am concentrating on and working toward that in the election. 

JOURNALIST: Just finally can I get your response to the news today that Wollongong and Shellharbour Councils will be merged yet Kiama and Shoalhaven Councils will be allowed to stand alone as independent entities. There is a lot being said about this being politically motivated it being in some ways associated with the federal election campaign. Of course Kiama and Shoalhaven Council possibly influencing the result in the seat of Gilmore which is held by a slim margin by Liberal Ann Sudmalis. Is this politically motivated? Does this smack to you of politics? 

BLICAVS:      I don’t think so. I think that this process has been on-going for almost the whole time that I have been in Council so I think that the Liberal government and State government have been talking about what they can do to make sure that Local Government is delivering the efficiency that it needs to deliver for rate payers. 

JOURNALIST: And you think a merger will do that? 

BLICAVS:      Well I am on the record, around that issue, and have been in support of it and my position has not changed. 

JOURNALIST: And just to remind people of the basis, the foundation of your support for a merger between Wollongong and Shellharbour Councils? 

BLICAVS:      Well I think that when you look at the facts of the case the two cities are quite similar and I think that it will deliver for the rate payers the outcomes that are better for everybody and I think that it will be a good thing overall. 

JOURNALIST: Alright, well I am sure we will talk to you again, several times over the coming weeks, thanks for your time. 

BLICAVS:      Thanks Melinda. 

JOURNALIST: That was Michelle Blicavs talking to Melinda James yesterday, as you heard some of the local issues being mixed up with federal but you understand that is fair enough, she is a local Councillor as well. 

Sharon Bird, the current Member for Cunningham, has been listening in, good morning. 

BIRD:           Good morning Nick 

JOURNALIST: You’ve finally got a decent challenge on your hands? 

BIRD:           Yes. No, it’s great. It’s good to have the opportunity to actually debate how the national campaign’s policies and issues will affect the local area. It’s hard having a debate with only yourself so it is good to have a candidate in the field to be able to engage on those things. 

JOURNALIST: Where do you think this is going to be won or lost? 

BIRD:           I think quite seriously for regions, and ours in the Illawarra is probably absolutely exemplifies the challenges that regions are facing, Michelle mentioned jobs and growth, well the reality for that rhetoric at the federal level by the Liberal party, is that you cannot have jobs and growth if you are not investing in education and infrastructure. They are the two drivers that allow the economies to diversify, grow and jobs to flow out of that, not giving cuts to billion dollar companies. 

I think it’s a really important debate for our region because the priorities are quite starkly different between the two major parties seeking to form government.

JOURNALIST: They certainly do seem very stark. The Liberal party will often say you can’t tax your way to prosperity and therefore the behaviour is to lessen the tax burden, Michelle certainly agreed with that. Tax is a huge issue for business and if you lower tax then you can have a part-time salary. On the other hand you have the Labor government saying we need to spend money early on education, where is the evidence for both of these positions? 

BIRD:           We’ve obviously spent a lot of time looking at some of the very significant reports particularly out of places like the OECD that are making it really clear that modern economies have to have populations that are educated, not only to a higher level, but in ways that address what the modern world is about. For example that is part of the reason that we talk about science, technology, engineering and maths as a foundational sort of literacy now. 

The problem for Malcolm Turnbull and the Liberal party is that they are using a fairly discredited model of trickle-down economics that if you give the top end heaps of benefits somehow that will flow on right down the chain and people will benefit at the bottom. That is been basically discredited. We support the tax cuts to small businesses because we feel that they are really active in our communities and are good at employing local people we just don’t agree with redefining a small business as somebody who has a turnover of a billion dollars. That sort of real investment at the local level…. 

JOURNALIST: That is not the definition of a small business is it? A billion dollars? 

BIRD:             That is exactly what the Budget says… 

JOURNALIST: A billion dollars? 

BIRD:           Yes, so they are increasing it year by year, so over the 10 year plan it will end at a billion dollar turnover and that is what we don’t agree with. 

JOURNALIST: Where would you set the rate? 

BIRD:           The definition has always been two million turn over and that is what we have supported… 

JOURNALIST: Well it initially went up to 10 million, is that reasonable? 

BIRD:           We are not proposing to change the definition of a small business. We do think the two million is what the standard definition is and we should remember too that not all small businesses are incorporated. Many businesses that aren’t, that don’t get that tax benefit, I think will be expecting governments to do other things like invest in their local infrastructure and make sure that the education system is working, not just for their employees, but for their own families. 

JOURNALIST: OK, and where do jobs come from? If that is your rationale, you’re supporting it but not quite that huge definition of small business, where are we going to have the jobs? 

BIRD:           We have been right at the forefront of this transition issues for over 20 years now in this region, part of it is about having policies in place that support your existing industry and that is why we have been pretty hard lined that we need a steel industry plan in this country for BlueScope to succeed into the future. 

You also need policies that support new businesses growing, relocating into your area and business chamber reports, industry group reports for year and years have told us locally that what they need to make that reality is better quality education, not just our schools but our vocational education and Universities and investment in infrastructure both transport infrastructure and communication infrastructure and that enables them to have the base on which setting up a new business or attracting someone to locate here is a reality. 

JOURNALIST: I’m just looking at the Financial Review’s report on the Budget going back to defining a small business, is less than a billion dollars, I just don’t think that is the case. They are trying to bring down the corporate tax rate to 25 per cent for all business and I don’t believe they are defining a small business as a billion dollars they are just trying to bring down the overall corporate tax rate. Do you support that? 

BIRD:           What they did in the 10 year plan in the Budget, Nick, was to say that there would be a small business tax cut and then that tax cut would apply to businesses increasingly over time and so it ends up at a billion dollar turnover. Our problem with that, is that you have to set priorities when you are in constrained financial times and that should not be the priority. 

JOURNALIST: So you would support a higher tax rate for businesses with more turn over, permanently? 

BIRD:           It’s not proposing a higher tax rate we are saying…. 

JOURNALIST: So you a happy with a lower tax rate for the smaller businesses 10 million and under but you want to keep that higher rate for larger businesses ad infinitum? 

BIRD:           Well not ad infinitum, what we have said previously is that we obviously would like to see taxes looked at in terms of all businesses but we prioritise investing into the things that would drive growth. When you have got constrained financial times you try and work to get a balanced budget over the forward period and you have to make hard decisions and we just think that should not be the priority if it is at the cost of money into our schools, our TAFEs, our Universities into infrastructure and that is clearly where the real difference in priority is and that is where the debate in this election is about. 

JOURNALIST: Alright Sharon Bird, good to talk to you this morning. 

BIRD:           Thanks Nick. 

JOURNALIST: Sharon Bird the Member for Cunningham here at 97.3 ABC Illawarra.