2CC Breakfast

Subjects: Australia's ties with India; Abbott in Indonesia; Craig Thomson; Peter Slipper.

Transcript, E&OE

17 October 2012

MARK PARTON: Let's go to Federal Trade Minister Dr Craig Emerson. G'day Emmo.

CRAIG EMERSON: Hello, Parto.

PARTON: India: pretty important to us.

EMERSON: It is.

PARTON: Why is it so important to us?

EMERSON: It's the third-biggest economy on earth. And it's been growing during the first decade of this century at 7 per cent per annum; developing a large middle class who will want high-quality feed from Australia, and food from Australia, in particular dairy products – so that's really good potentially for our farmers. They need investment in infrastructure to get products to markets and for their cities and a lot of transport industry support. So here are some real opportunities for Australian businesses to move beyond the traditional, which is us selling them resources and energy products.

PARTON: Your Party's had itself in a headlock for quite some time over the sale of uranium to India. And eventually things have changed and now we're going to sell them the stuff. There have been some concerns raised recently about the state of the nuclear power industry in India. It's a tough one to get wrong, Craig, isn't it? Because if indeed they do make a mess of it, someone's going to pay some gigantic consequences.

EMERSON: Well, we are negotiating a protocol on that following the change in the Party's position at the National Conference. That negotiation will obviously be done with care on both sides, and will take some considerable time. But certainly the change in the policy has removed one issue, where the Indians did want us to make a change. So that has improved our closeness, if you like, and that's a good thing in its own right. But the detail will need to be worked out through negotiations; it will take some time.

PARTON: Lot of discussion on talk radio around the country this morning about the honour of the state upon Sachin Tendulkar by the Prime Minister. Many of you are feeling that, you know, really this should just go to Australians. And I think you can understand that there's going to be some controversy there.

EMERSON: I don't think so, mate. If people are expressing a view, of course they're entitled to. He's a great ambassador for his country, for both countries really, in terms of the way Sachin has conducted himself in Australia. I know when he goes out to bat there's always very warm applause …

PARTON: But he's not an Australian.

EMERSON: He's a real gentleman …

PARTON: He's not an Australian. Rob Oakeshott made a very good call – one of very few that's come from his office – that maybe we should consider coming up with a special award that's bestowed upon close friends of Australia. And, obviously, it's got to be something spectacular. But I don't know … I just think that he might be on the money there.

EMERSON: Well, I haven't given it a lot of thought, but we always welcome debate in these things – including from Rob. And you, and your listeners.

PARTON: Let's move on. There has been a bit of debate about what Tony Abbott said to the Indonesian President, when he said and how he said it. The story that the Coalition are going with now is that he did talk about turning back the boats.

EMERSON: Yeah, it's a changed story. I don't know. What did Tony do: maybe walked in and said it under his breath, or raised it with himself, or he kind of raised it or maybe hinted at it or alluded to it? I mean, it's just absurd. This is the tough guy Tony Abbott who is going to tow the boats back, and he'll go and tell the Indonesians a thing or two. And he's told them nothing about it because he lacked the courage to raise it.

PARTON: If only SBY was on Twitter, and we could just ask him directly.

EMERSON: [Laughs] Well, I suppose so, but I think it's pretty clear from his Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa that it was not raised. And, indeed, Scott Morrison has said it was not raised. Now they're trying to spin it – that is, the Coalition: that it sorta, kinda was in a roundabout way where they did talk about asylum-seekers, but maybe quite didn't quite get to tow-back policy. I mean it's just so absurd. I think as Chris Bowen said, 'he's a tough guy; he's a lion in Australia and a mouse in Indonesia'. And bear in mind that Tony Abbott had the opportunity to raise this in Darwin with the President. He didn't then; didn't now; and so you wonder whether how much of this is just for a domestic audience – to say we'll tow back the boats – from a guy who said that he wants to work in absolutely close harmony with Indonesia if he becomes Prime Minister, and have no surprises. Well the surprise is Mr Abbott failed to raise the core element of his asylum-seeker policy with the President. That's a surprise.

PARTON: Pretty interesting that the Indonesians are choosing to deal so closely with the Opposition Leader. They've obviously made their call on who's going to win the election next year.

EMERSON: Oh, you reckon, Parto? The other explanation is that it's very common. And we think completely appropriate that governments overseas meet opposition leaders just as we meet opposition spokespeople and leaders. I think the Prime Minister of Australia is meeting with the Opposition Leader in India. Does that mean that the Prime Minister of Australia is making a prediction about the outcome of an election in India? Of course not. It's just the right thing to do.

PARTON: Chatting to Malcolm Farr earlier about the two movies that are begging to be made from federal politics in Australia this year: the movie about Peter Slipper and the movie about Craig Thomson. Which do you think would be the bigger box office hit?

EMERSON: I haven't given it a lot of thought but I promise I won't sing at either of them.

PARTON: [Laughs] I was going to offer you the gig to do the theme song, mate. And I dread to think. I'm not looking for any suggestions from anyone as to what the theme songs would be. I don't want to go there.

EMERSON: I'll tell you one thing, mate. Senator George Brandis, as Shadow Attorney-General, should not yesterday have been saying that it's only a matter of time before criminal charges are laid against Craig Thomson. That is an interference in a police investigation. And last night, apparently, he said in Senate Estimates that in relation to Mr Slipper and Mr Ashby that the Federal Court judge must find in favour of Mr Ashby against Mr Slipper. This is outrageous behaviour from a guy who's presenting himself as the alternative holder of the position of highest law officer in the land. The guy is out of control and, frankly, should be sacked for those comments.

PARTON: Well, I would agree with you that they were somewhat inappropriate. Craig, thanks for your time this morning.

EMERSON: Righto, mate. Thank you.

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