Sky AM Agenda

Subjects: Melinda Taylor, Economic Forum, carbon pricing.

Transcript, E&OE

12 June 2012

KIERAN GILBERT: Good morning and welcome to the program. The Foreign Minister Bob Carr says the Government's concerned the Australian lawyer Melinda Taylor detained in Libya has been moved from house arrest to prison. In a statement this morning, Senator Carr says in light of this it's now essential for Libyan authorities to grant immediate consular access to Ms Taylor and her colleagues. The Government's working for Ms Taylor's immediate release. There is a need for caution, he says, in all public statements on the matter. But the Government is very concerned that Ms Taylor's reportedly been moved and so far not been permitted contact with either a representative of the Australian Government, the International Criminal Court or her family. Joining me this morning to discuss this and the other matters of the day, from Brisbane the Deputy Opposition Leader in the Senate, Senator Brandis, and here in the Canberra studio the Acting Minister for Foreign Affairs and the Trade Minister Craig Emerson. Thanks very much for your time.

CRAIG EMERSON: Pleasure, Kieran.

GILBERT: I've read a little bit of Bob Carr's statement this morning: Melinda Taylor moved to a prison from house arrest; obviously very concerning for the Government.

EMERSON: It is very concerning, and Senator Carr as Foreign Minister is doing everything we possibly can to make contact with Melinda Taylor. It's unacceptable that we aren't in a position to be able to gain access to her. We are seeking Melinda Taylor's release immediately, because these are not very good circumstances and obviously Senator Carr has been in touch with his … well, the Deputy Foreign Minister of Libya, who's Muhamed Aziz, on two occasions already. But we'll leave no stone unturned. David Ritchie, our Ambassador, is in Tripoli now.

GILBERT: Apparently she's being kept in preventative detention for 45 days. Is that as the Government understands it?

EMERSON: Well, that's the information we have, but we need to confirm all of this and the flow of information is not good at this stage. And that's why we have Mr Ritchie on the ground in Tripoli. It's why Minister Carr is in contact with the Deputy Foreign Minister on a regular basis. And we will persist because we do seek the immediate release of Melinda Taylor.

GILBERT: Senator Brandis, it appears the International Criminal Court lawyers have been caught up in a dispute between central authorities in Tripoli and a brigade of rebels in this town of Zintan where she's being held. The rebels don't want her … don't want Saif al-Islam, the son of their former dictator, tried in The Hague. They want him tried locally. Obviously, as a lawyer yourself it's very concerning to see International Criminal Court representative, an Australian, detained like this.

GEORGE BRANDIS: Well that's right, Kieran. Let me make three points. First of all, Melinda Taylor should never have been detained in the first place. As an officer of the International Criminal Court she enjoys a species of diplomatic immunity, so that the detention of this lawyer in these circumstances is unlawful from the start. Secondly, she hasn't been placed under arrest it seems; she's been placed under some form of administrative detention for 45 days. That is, even allowing for the fact that she shouldn't have been detained in the first place, that is an oppressive use of the power to detain. So the detention is unlawful in the first place, and the manner in which has been conducted is doubly unlawful. And thirdly, there is absolutely no excuse for Australian consular officials not to be afforded immediate diplomatic or consular access to Melinda Taylor which, as I understand it, has not yet been afforded – and beyond that, of course, for her to be released at once.

GILBERT: Can you recall similar circumstances where the local authorities in a situation like this – where the International Criminal Court has engaged – they resist the person being prosecuted taken to The Hague for trial?

BRANDIS: Well, look, I can't recall any specific instances. Remember, Kieran, that the International Criminal Court is a relatively new agency. It's been going for about a decade or so. Look, I'm not going to say there haven't been other instances elsewhere, but if there have been I'm not aware of them. It does reflect, of course to be practical about it, it does reflect the very unsettled situation on the ground in Libya. And it's not perfectly clear to me exactly who it is who is effecting this detention: whether it's the central government, whether it's the provincial government, whether it's an irredentist group in control of one part of the country, I'm just not sure. But regardless of who it is who has taken Melinda Taylor into detention, the detention of someone who enjoys diplomatic immunity as an officer of the International Criminal Court, is unlawful, it is unacceptable, and it should be brought to an end instantly.

GILBERT: Let's hope that happens. We all agree on that one.

EMERSON: If I could just provide this assurance…

GILBERT: Indeed, yep.

EMERSON: … that we will do everything, everything possible to achieve the release of Melinda Taylor. We're putting every possible resource into it.

GILBERT: Okay. Well that's good to hear. Let's move on now. And the Economic Forum the Prime Minister's convening: it starts tonight. Reports today, and you can confirm this for us this morning, the industry assistance more likely for companies that integrate into Asia. Is that something that the Government is looking at proposing as part of the Asian Century White Paper process?

EMERSON: That story did come from me, and the reason I said so as Trade Minister is because I have responsibility over Austrade and the Export Market Development Grants Scheme. And the truth is that because of falling transport and communication costs, what's happening in the region and around the world is that products no longer are completely assembled in one location and sold in that same location. It's been broken up into these supply chains all around the world, particularly around our region. And we need to get into that. And we do have the capacity to support industry through Austrade advice, through the Export Market Development Grants Scheme to ensure that our Aussie industries are plugging into those supply chains. There is some analysis which suggests that Australia is pretty much at the bottom of the pack in terms of participating in these regional supply chains. Maybe that's because we export a lot of bulk commodities, but I think our consciousness needs to look to those opportunities in this dynamic region.

GILBERT: This White Paper, the Asian Century White Paper, being conducted by Ken Henry; some other eminent people like Peter Drysdale as well. The first progress report tonight. – is that right?

EMERSON: Yes, and what we're doing is making sure that Australia actually, and literally, is in the right place at the right time, in the Asian region in the Asian Century. And I think the best way of thinking of this is that this is the second great economic transformation in the post-war era. The first was the creation of Australia's open, competitive economy by the Hawke and Keating Governments. Now what we're looking to do is make sure that we're fully integrated with the growth opportunities of Asia as the whole global centre of economic activity shifts to Asia.

GILBERT: And just finally on this quickly, with those market development grants that you're talking about: will they be shifted to focus more on companies that show a willingness to get in there and integrate in Asia?

EMERSON: That's actually the purpose of them. And they're undersubscribed at the moment. So that's probably a consequence of the high dollar, but the Export Market Development Grant Scheme is slightly unsubscribed.

GILBERT: Senator Brandis, it makes sense to integrate more in Asia. The Opposition reflected such a priority: the Opposition Leader as well with his focus on Asian languages recently in his policy announcement.

BRANDIS: Well that's certainly true and it goes back a long way. The Coalition has always, going back to the middle years of the 20th Century after the Second World War, strongly supported and driven greater engagement with Asia. And, indeed, the very first ever major commercial agreement between Australia and an Asian country, the Australia-Japan Trade Agreement in 1958, was the product of a Coalition Government of those days – resisted tooth and nail, I might say, by the Labor Party of those days. But the Labor Party has moved on. We have people like Craig Emerson who is a genuine free trader, and I give him credit for that. But unfortunately Craig is constantly having to fight this war within the Labor Party with one arm tied behind his back against people like Senator Doug Cameron and other leading trade unionists who have a pre-modern view of the Australian economy. We saw that recently in the reaction of Paul Howes and Doug Cameron to the Roy Hill Agreement. Because integration, of course, is a two-way street. So, I'll wait to see with interest what Dr Emerson has to say in his speech, which I understand is to be given later today. I am broadly on his side when it comes to this policy. It's a policy that was advanced very materially by the Howard Government, as well as by the Hawke and Keating Governments. But it's a policy that, I'm sorry to say, is under threat – not from Craig who's, as I say, on the right side of the argument, but on the dinosaurs he has to stare down daily in the Labor Party.

EMERSON: My opponents on this are actually the Deputy Leader of the Nationals: that is, the Leader of the Nationals in the Senate, Senator Barnaby Joyce, who every day is running around with anti-China rants. And I think that's very damaging to our reputation in Asia. Now Doug Cameron is a backbencher. Senator Joyce is the aspirant Deputy Prime Minister…

BRANDIS: Doug Cameron is one of the most powerful people in your Caucus.

EMERSON: I was just about to say that Senator Joyce is the aspiring Deputy Prime Minister of Australia. And if the Coalition were to win the next election he would be the Deputy Prime Minister of Australia. And I think that's a very serious matter. And of course I'll take on Senator Joyce every day of the week.

GILBERT: You've both had a talk on the merits of the policy; a bit of a dig as well.

EMERSON: And I will pay tribute to the Coalition back in 1957. That Commerce Agreement was a brave decision.

BRANDIS: And what about the Howard Government, Craig, to make it a little bit more recent? Because this is a uniform policy over half a century, of which we've been entirely consistent.

EMERSON: To be perfectly objective about it, I actually think that the Howard Government dropped the ball on engagement in Asia. I didn't want to make that political point, but you asked me, George. I think they dropped the ball. And, you know, this stuff about deputy sheriff and all that. I think that there was a shift of emphasis away from Asia under the Coalition led by John Howard. That's my objective assessment.

GILBERT: Senator Brandis, quickly your response. We've got to go to a break shortly, but give us your response to that.

BRANDIS: The most important free trade agreement that was made during the Howard Government was of course the US Free Trade Agreement. I would hope to think that Craig doesn't consider that that was an inappropriate agreement. It was a great breakthrough …

EMERSON: No, I just don't think the United States is in Asia.

BRANDIS: … as was the Australia -Thai Free Trade Agreement. And the initial steps towards an Australia-China Free Trade Agreement, which doesn't seem to have gone very far in recent years by the way, were initiated by the Howard Government.

EMERSON: Well, bearing in mind that Tony Abbott wants that on the backburner, he wants the Australia-China Free Trade Agreement put on the backburner. And Barnaby Joyce wants it scrapped.

GILBERT: We've got to take a quick break and pay some bills at our end, so we'll be back in a moment.

[ad break]

GILBERT: This is AM Agenda. With me this morning the Deputy Opposition Leader in the Senate, Senator George Brandis, and here in the Canberra studio, the Acting Foreign Minister and Minister for Trade as well Craig Emerson. Craig, on the Economic Forum specifically, we were talking about the Asian policy and integration with Asia. Are you disappointed at the turnout at the forum? Premier Newman's not showing up; Premier Barnett not showing; a number in the minerals sector not showing. Why is that?

EMERSON: To be fair to those Premiers, maybe they had other commitments. I'm not going to make a judgement. Ted Bailleau from Victoria, I understand, is coming. You do have the President of the Business Council of Australia, which itself comprises the top 100 companies. You've got CEOs such as Mike Devereux of Holden; the CEO of General Electric, one of the world's biggest companies; we've got the representatives of the service industries which, I think, are a very important part of this forum. Sure, it's about manufacturing, but very much, too, about taking opportunities in the service economy.

GILBERT: There's a report in the Financial Review today – the front page – James Massola reports that he's obtained a 14-page confidential agenda document. No doubt you've got a copy of it. Apparently it reveals a scripted event to confirm, or reaffirm, Government policy and give the Prime Minister and Ministers a platform to explain the job that you're doing.

EMERSON: Well, I haven't read it – and that's the honest truth. And I don't operate off scripts. I've got plenty of thoughts of my own and I've done a lot of work on this whole second great transformation. So, if there are documents around, fine – I might have a squiz at them but I certainly won't be marching to anyone's tune on this and I don't think anyone else will be.

GILBERT: But are you worried it's more of a scripted event; that there's a bit of spin around this?

EMERSON: I'm genuinely seeking input from the business community, trade unions, community groups. I've been around long enough, Kieran, to remember the cynicism that was associated with the economic summit that Bob Hawke conducted when he was first elected. People said 'it's just a talk fest'. Now they look back and say that was a pivotal point in this whole great endeavour of refashioning the Australian economy to create that open, competitive economy and leave Fortress Australia behind.

GILBERT: Senator Brandis, are you disappointed that your Liberal … your LNP colleague Campbell Newman didn't spare a few hours to attend this forum?

BRANDIS: No, not at all. I think Campbell Newman has got enough on his plate to try and repair the wreck… the economic wreckage of 20 years of Labor Government left in the state of Queensland. More important things to do than to sit around, swan around in some inner-city hotel for the best part of a day taking advice on economic management from Julia Gillard and Wayne Swan, the authors of the four biggest deficit Budgets in Australian political history. So …

EMERSON: Trash-talking the economy again, George?

BRANDIS: I think … you're a bit sensitive about that, I know, Craig. I think what …

EMERSON: No, I just rely on the ABS statistics.

BRANDIS: … the leaders of the states, the productive states of the economy – Queensland, Mr Barnett in Western Australia and Mr O'Farrell in New South Wales – are far too busy, have far more useful things to do than allow themselves to be extras in what is revealed in this morning's Financial Review to be essentially a Labor Party publicity stunt to be conducted by the most economically catastrophic government that anybody can remember.

EMERSON: This is Glum and Glummer speaking here. You know, you've got poor old George: he's very glum. Joe Hockey the other day: I've never seen a glummer person in all my life, when all the really strong figures were coming out. And I don't think it does anyone any credit to trash-talk the Australian economy. When you've got unemployment at 5.1 per cent, economic growth at 4.3 per cent, the RBA cash rate at 3.5 per cent and inflation at 2.3 per cent – so, actually, very strong numbers pointing to a strong economy, not to the devastation that George and his colleagues have been predicting for a long time; and investment as a share of GDP hitting 50-year highs.

GILBERT: Let's get Senator Brandis. Your response?

BRANDIS: I'm very glad you raised those figures, Craig, because if you drill down, what those figures tell you is this: that in the resource-based states, in particular West Australia and Queensland, as well as the Northern Territory, the economy is going very strongly; not as strong as it should be in Queensland because of the wreckage the Labor Party left, but it's picking up fast now. But in the other states, particularly in the south – in Victoria, South Australia and Tasmania – the rate of economic growth is extremely sick; that Tasmania is in recession. The aggregate rate of growth in those economies, the manufacturing base is 0.8. Not the heroic figures you've been quoting.

EMERSON: Did you see the latest productivity figures, George?

BRANDIS: And so, Craig, where are the drivers of this economy? The very states, particularly our state Queensland, and Western Australia, that you want to attack through the mining tax. And where is the weakness: both states based on manufacturing, which will be very, very badly affected by your carbon tax.

EMERSON: For the first time in a long period, labour productivity is actually up. It languished under the Coalition. They inherited a high labour productivity growth rate. They allowed it to go almost to zero. Multifactor productivity growth actually went negative in 2006 and remained there after. And what we're seeing now is a lift in productivity. Why is that important? Because today's productivity growth is tomorrow's prosperity. And, at last, we're actually getting response in the form of increased labour productivity as a result of the investments that this Government is making.

GILBERT: Was there hubris, though, because of the … in response to those numbers, when you look at the anaemic growth figures that Senator Brandis referred to there in some of the eastern states.

EMERSON: Well this is why we are seeking to, and I don't accept all the figures by the way, but this is why we're seeking to spread the benefits of the mining boom to those states through small business tax relief, to be repealed by the Coalition; through increases in superannuation, which they oppose; through extra spending through the Schoolkids Bonus and increased family payments, which they would repeal, when they repeal, if they were to get into government, both the mining tax and the carbon price.

GILBERT: Okay. Let's look at … the Prime Minister last night made … yes Senator Brandis, just quickly if you can.

BRANDIS: I'm just going to make the point that we hear all the gloomy news from Europe. And what's the message from Europe? That these economies got themselves into mortal trouble because of too much debt. And we hear a senior economic Minister in the Australian Government who tells us that the way forward for Australia is to spend, spend, spend, spend, spend. After the four biggest deficit Budgets in history, your Government is yet to produce a surplus Budget. It's still got no better idea than to spend, spend, spend, spend, spend.

EMERSON: Invest, invest, invest, invest, invest.

GILBERT: We're not going to resolve those differences of opinion this morning. Let's move on. The Prime Minister last night was on the Q&A program on the ABC. I want to play you a little bit of what she had to say about the carbon tax, but specifically comparing it to the Mabo reforms and the difficulty in delivering big reform. This is what she had to say:

JULIA GILLARD CLIP: Eddie Mabo: remember the temper of that conversation? And people were holding up maps of Australia coloured in black. When people were being told that their backyard, that they had free hold title for, was somehow going to be subject to a native title claim. Huge, huge fear-mongering in the community. And here we are 20 years later and we're all patting each other on the back about what a great thing our nation did in responding to the Mabo decision.

GILBERT: We only have 60 seconds left on the program, but Senator Brandis, quickly: is the chance the Government might be on the right side of history with this one, like the Coalition was with the GST?

BRANDIS: The carbon tax has got absolutely nothing to do with the Mabo decision. What the Prime Minister was saying is just because a decision is controversial, it must be good. The reason the carbon tax decision is so controversial is because it is a very bad decision. It will drive up household prices by driving up electricity prices and all the follow-ons through the rest of the economy. It will hit the weak states worst, it will hit manufacturing worst, and it is the highest carbon price in the world. $23 a tonne when Europe is charging $5 a tonne. Go figure what affect that will have on our exporters.

GILBERT: We've only got 30 or 40 seconds left. Those points are true, aren't they: that Europe is on a precipice, essentially, and we've got this high starting price?

EMERSON: Europe being where it is is not due to carbon pricing. Now what the Coalition is doing is continuing to press ahead with this hysterical scare campaign. Mr Abbott, however, is starting to reposition, saying 'it won't be a cobra strike; it'll be a python'. I don't know if it's going to be a Monty Python that he has in mind, but the truth is that the cost of living impacts are modest and the compensation average exceeds the cost-of-living impacts.

GILBERT: Craig Emerson and Senator Brandis, thank you both for that this morning. Appreciate it.

EMERSON: Thanks a lot.

BRANDIS: Thank you, Kieran.

GILBERT: That's all for AM Agenda. Thank you for your company.

Media enquiries

  • Minister's Office: (02) 6277 4330
  • DFAT Media Liaison: (02) 6261 1555