Interview on ABC 891, Breakfast with Ali Clarke and David Bevan

  • Transcript, E&OE
Topics: ABC; Donald Trump and Trade.
26 September 2018

David Bevan: Big Super Wednesday. Welcome to SimonBirmingham, Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment. Good morning to you.

Simon Birmingham: Good morning, David.

David Bevan: Rebekha Sharkie, Centre Alliance, MP forMayo, good morning to you.

Rebekah Sharkie: Good morning.

Ali Clarke: And Penny Wong, Labor Senator for SouthAustralia and Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs, good morning to you.

Rebekah Sharkie: Good morning.

David Bevan: Let's start with Michelle Guthrie - andplease, first one to the buzzer gets to answer this. Does anybody know whyMichelle Guthrie got the sack?

Penny Wong: Well that's a question for the board andfor the Government isn't it? But look there's the reports today, David, I'veseen are more concerning than simply the sacking of Michelle Guthrie. There isan allegation on the front page of the Fairfax papers that the Governmentpressured the ABC to sack Emma Alberici because of her reporting, and I wouldjust like to say this as a matter of principle. If this is true, if theGovernment is pressuring the ABC to sack a journalist because of theirreporting, really that is the stuff of tin-pot democracies. It's not reflectiveof the Australian democracy. This is a public broadcaster, it serves thepublic. It's not serving the government of the day as an organ of thegovernment.

David Bevan: This is anextraordinary story. It's in The Age. The headline is; they hate her.Emails show ABC chairman told Michelle Guthrie to fire Emma Alberici. Okay, sofor people who are new to the program Michelle Guthrie, the managing directorof the ABC just got the sack. Emma Alberici is the ABC's chief correspondent -economics correspondent. And according to this story the chairman of the ABC,that's Justin Milne, he's the guy who just announced that Guthrie's got thesack, he back earlier this year was saying to Guthrie, the Government, that isthey, the Government, hate her, that's Alberici. We are tarred with her brush.I think it's simple, get rid of her, we need to save the ABC, not Emma. Thereis no guarantee they, that is the Coalition, will lose the next election. SimonBirmingham, this is extraordinary stuff.

Simon Birmingham: Well David, I thinkit's important to make sure that listeners understand that the ABC board hiresand fires ABC managing directors. It's not the decision of government as towhether or not managing directors come or go. ABC management hires and firesemployees, journalists and others working at the ABC, their hiring and firingrule. So not decisions of government. The legislation that govern the ABC isvery clear in terms of the autonomy of the ABC board and of ABC managementaround all of those decisions.

Penny Wong: Well I think there is a question forSimon. Does he - we know there are public complaints from both Minister Fifieldand former Prime Minister Turnbull about Emma Alberici. Does he have anyknowledge of the Coalition pressuring Mr Milne, who obviously has very closepersonal ties to the former prime minister, does he have any knowledge of anypressure being applied as to the sacking of the journalist?

Simon Birmingham: Well it is well knownthat the Government absolutely complained publicly and officially about thefact that Emma Alberici got it horribly, terribly wrong when she did a story inrelation to the amount of tax that Australian businesses pay. It was an embarrassingfailure on her part, on the ABC's part and…

Penny Wong: There's a dispute over those facts butthat's not the question. I mean I think Australians have a right to knowwhether or not this government is treating the public broadcaster as a statebroadcaster.

Simon Birmingham: Certainly not Penny,and the Government absolutely respects and honours the legislative principlesthat I outlined at the start. The managing director's hired and fired by theboard. The management of the ABC hires and fires its staff and its journalists.But we make no apologies for complaining when an ABC journalist…

Penny Wong: Certainly complain a lot. I mean havingthe prime minister who shows the extent- the sensitivity, the extent to whichsenior ministers and the Prime Minister, the Liberal Prime Minister of the day,felt it was necessary for them to make multiple complaints to the ABC aboutjournalism.

Simon Birmingham: Penny, I remember thestory. It was a big story. It was a story that absolutely put businessesworking in Australia in terms of reputational damage and it was dead wrong. Andyou've got a senior journalist at the ABC who went out on- went out with thisgreat big splash that was covered across all the different platforms of theABC; on television, on radio, online and it was completely made up andfabricated.

Penny Wong: Well, I don't know if that's- I don'tthink that's the case. But I think - I reckon if politicians complain everytime there was a story that had factually incorrect details, I'll tell youwhat, we'd be doing nothing but complaining and certainly wouldn't be focusingon how we improve Australia's schools, Australia's hospitals or make oureconomy stronger.

David Bevan: Penny Wong, I understand why you wouldbe questioning the Government and they're fair questions. But, what about therole of the chairman here? Is ABC chairman Justin Milne, if these emails arecorrect, is he doing his job properly by saying- by linking the sacking of anABC journalist with future relations between the Coalition government and theABC? Because this is saying we are tarred with her brush. I think it's simple.Get rid of her. We need to save the ABC not Emma, there is no guarantee. They,the Coalition, will lose the next election.

Penny Wong: Well I think Mr Milne needs to come outand make a very clear statement responding directly to these accusationsbecause if the story is correct and if that email was in fact sent by him it isinconsistent with his obligations as a chairman of the ABC. It is inconsistentwith the legislation. But it is more importantly inconsistent with what yourlisteners and the Australian public expect of the public broadcaster. Theyexpect independence. They do not expect someone who obviously had closepersonal links to Malcolm Turnbull doing what appears to be the bidding of thegovernment of the day. But he needs to respond.

Ali Clarke: Rebekha Sharkie, Centre Alliance MP,you've been listening to all of this, what's your take?

Rebekah Sharkie: Well I think it's pretty clear that forsome time since Tony Abbott came in - and let's remember when he came in, hesaid there would be no cuts to the ABC - we have seen budget cuts and we haveseen a pressure on editorial content through members of government, and therehave been many, complaining about the reporting of the ABC. I think it'sextraordinary that Justin Milne - if it's true - would pressure MichelleGuthrie with respect to her staff. I mean you know, it's such an overreach froma board position. And to know that we've lost, you know, $338 million from theABC since 2014, $84 million in the recent budget, I think it just goes to showwhat pressure Michelle Guthrie was under. When she came in a lot of people werevery concerned about her role and how she would manage that role and I thinkwhat we saw most recently from Michelle Guthrie was that she actually stood upto government and to the pressure that's happened to the ABC around theirindependence and I think that Justin Milne needs to come out and explain to theAustralian public why he is sacking Michelle Guthrie. And we need to have moreopportunity for the ABC to be frank and fearless and independent in theirreporting.

David Bevan: Simon Birmingham, does Justin Milne, thechairman of the ABC need to explain why they sacked her?

Simon Birmingham: Well Justin Milne, asI understand it, has done numerous media interviews since the announcementearlier this week. It is for the ABC board to justify.

David Bevan: Yeah, but I don't think he's explainingwhat- he was very careful not to say why they sacked her. And that's not goodenough is it?

Simon Birmingham: Well as I say, it isfor him and the ABC board to explain. They have the statutory right to hire andfire.

David Bevan: Yes, I know it's for him to explain.What I'm putting to you is: do you think it's good enough that he hasn'texplained it?

Simon Birmingham: David, I haven't readthe transcripts of his interviews. I don't know what explanations he has orhasn't given. I know that he has fronted the media - as he should - to answerquestions in relation to these matters and that's for him to continue to do.

Ali Clarke: We're in the middle of Super Wednesday,it is 8:43. That's the voice of Simon Birmingham, Minister for Trade, Tourismand Investment. Rebekha Sharkie's with us, Centre Alliance MP for Mayo andPenny Wong Labor Senator for South Australia, also shadow Minister for ForeignAffairs.

David Bevan: The US president says he rejects theideology of globalism and we embrace the doctrine of patriotism. SimonBirmingham, you're the Trade Minister: what does that mean

Simon Birmingham: Well again, I'll letDonald Trump explain what his statements mean. But …

David Bevan: Well, what do you think they mean?

Simon Birmingham: But Australiaabsolutely appreciates and recognises the fact that our engagement with theworld over many years has helped to grow the Australian economy. Around one infive Australian jobs are dependent upon export activity. We urge all nations tocontinue to respect, abide by what are now-long established international rulesin relation to the way trade occurs. We're deeply disappointed by the fact thatthe US administration has applied unilaterally tariff measures that go againstthose established rules, just as we are concerned by actions of other countriesin terms of industrial subsidies that they might apply in different ways. Thebig thing that we've achieved as a government to protect Australian farmers,businesses, exporters, is to ensure that through the various trade agreementswe've negotiated, they have better market access to millions of potentialcustomers around the world than they did years ago and that that will continueto improve and that is a big protection for Australian farmers and businessesat a time when there's clearly a lot of uncertainty around what players likethe US and China are doing.

David Bevan: Well Penny Wong, you'd like to be theForeign Affairs Minister: what do you think Donald Trump means when he says: wereject the ideology of globalism and embrace the doctrine of patriotism?

Penny Wong: Well the first thing I'd say is it isn'tunusual for a world leader; he's not the first to focus on a domestic audiencerather than an international audience when speaking at the UN. But theprinciple I think is important and that is this: Australia has a directinterest in a strong multilateral system. We've got a direct interest in sound,fair, open transparent trading arrangements. We've got an interest in the worldworking together to tackle those problems which no one country can solve -whether it's climate change or nuclear proliferation. Fundamentally we dobetter together as a world. When we work together we do better on the economicfront and we create a safer world.

David Bevan: Look, you're both being very diplomatichere.

Penny Wong: No, well so my point is that if - asSimon said and it's up to President Trump to explain what he meant - but if theassertion is that multilateralism and working together are not good things,that is not the approach Australia, where under a Coalition or a Laborgovernment, has taken in the past and nor would it be if we see a Shorten Laborgovernment.

David Bevan: Are you worried, Penny Wong, by DonaldTrump's comments?

Penny Wong: Oh look, they are not new are they? Imean this is the same kind of rhetoric we saw in the primaries. It's the samekind of rhetoric we saw in the election campaign. And I think the best way toread much of what Mr Trump says is probably to think about the way in whichhe's speaking to an American audience.

David Bevan: Yeah, but again that's not the answer tothe question. The question was are you worried. I didn't ask you have you heardthis before. Are you worried?

Penny Wong: I think we're all worried about certainactions. I think we're worried about the tension in the relationship betweenthe US and China, in particular the trade retaliation and the trade conflictwhich has been generated currently. I think Australia stands to loseeconomically in the world as well as obviously increased competition andtension isn't conducive to a more secure world.

David Bevan: Simon Birmingham, are you worried?

Simon Birmingham: David, we are worriedabout the actions and policies of the US administration in so far as they'redisruptive to the effective operation of the World Trade Organization, thatthey are disruptive in terms of some of the dispute resolution mechanisms thatAustralia relies upon quite heavily and that obviously any semblance of tradedisputation between the US and China with competing tariffs and subsidies goingbackwards and forwards has the potential to slow global economic growth and ifit slows global economic growth then that's bad for everybody; the consumersand the businesses in the US and China but also elsewhere around the world. Weconvey those concerns very directly; I do when I meet with US trade representativesand other representatives of government and as does Prime Minister Morrison andForeign Minister Payne in their engagements.

Ali Clarke: It's 8.48. Rebekha Sharkie, CentreAlliance MP for Mayo, do you love this government under Scott Morrison more orless than the government when it was under Malcolm Turnbull?

Rebekah Sharkie: Look, I don't think it's really a matterof my personal affection for government or whether it's not there at all. I'mjust there to work with government for good governance. I might just say, withrespect to Donald Trump, that he does appear to be doubling down in hisisolationist policy but on the other hand, I mean, we've just had the TPP-11 orTPP number two agreement come through the House of Representatives. And what wehaven't seen from that - and what we were calling for - was the ProductivityCommission to make a good assessment of the agreement. Because we just don'tknow what the impact will be on the labour market testing rules; which meansthat they don't need to test any more. What's that going to do to affectAustralians' employment? We don't know with respect to the ISDS provisions thatare in there, which will give the opportunity for the multinationals to sue ourgovernment if we don't like- if they don't like our particular legislation. So,I think that there's a balance to be made where we are marching ahead with theTPP, where Labor says that they'll be able to make changes if they come intogovernment and where Donald Trump sits.

David Bevan: But just to return to Ali's question,and you're going to have to make a decision after the Wentworth by-election,are you more in love with Scott Morrison than you were with Malcolm Turnbull?

Rebekah Sharkie: I think the Australian community wantsto see the Morrison government continue to the end of their term. I have nointention of being a wrecker of government but I am hopeful that we will have agreater ability to work with government, and I obviously am keen to see thecrossbench expand.

Ali Clarke: Okay. Thank you very much. RebekhaSharkie, Centre Alliance MP for Mayo and Penny Wong, Labor Senator for SouthAustralia and Simon Birmingham, Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment.

Media enquiries

  • Minister's office: (02) 6277 7420
  • DFAT Media Liaison: (02) 6261 1555