ABC 24, Capital Hill
GREG JENNETT: Steve Ciobo you had in the former Trade Minister Thomas Lembong a willing and ambitious partner for this comprehensive economic partnership. Do you sense any inevitable loss of momentum with his departure now?
STEVEN CIOBO: No, not at all, I've had a really good, warm and cordial discussion with the new incoming Trade Minister, Minister Lukita, here in Indonesia. We've reconfirmed that we will be both working toward an ambitious timetable of concluding a comprehensive economic partnership agreement between Australia and Indonesia by the middle to end of next year, so the same timetable as we had originally, so I'm finding that there's a lot of goodwill on Indonesia's part, as there is on Australia's part towards being able to secure, we hope, this comprehensive agreement in the very near future.
GREG JENNETT: You say working towards, but that's not actually a guarantee, is it, on either party's side?
STEVEN CIOBO: Well, as I said, we are both committed to working to a successful negotiation, concluding in the middle to the end of next year. I mean that's an ambitious timetable. We are both committed to it being as comprehensive as possible. We both recognise that for Australia and Indonesia, it's in our national interests to be able to strike an agreement that is comprehensive; that embraces e-Commerce, the services economy, goods, manufacture and other items as much as we possibly can.
GREG JENNETT: So was progress made on any particular area in your talks today? I know that in the past there had been indications that you might park traditionally difficult issues like cattle, for instance. Have any sectors been tackled today?
STEVEN CIOBO: Well look I'm just not going to get into the weeds, the rats and mice, so to speak, in terms of our discussions. What matters is that I'm in a position to pursue Australia's national interest as Australia's Trade, Investment and Tourism Minister to make sure that as much as we can, we can achieve a comprehensive agreement, one that boosts opportunities for Australian investment into Indonesia; that provides opportunities for Australian exporters into Indonesia; that helps secure, you know, services agreements, mutual recognition, these kinds of aspects – this is the broad array of areas that I'm focused on and obviously Indonesia has their areas that they want to focus on as well. But what's important is there is goodwill on both sides and we're both very committed to securing an agreement that we know, ultimately, is going to be good for Australia, good for Indonesia and good for jobs in both countries.
GREG JENNETT: Higher education - I know that there had been some ambitions for Australian universities to base there - progress on that front?
STEVEN CIOBO: Well, again, Greg, I can understand why you're asking for me to give you a breakdown, sector by sector, but I'm just not going to do that. The conversations we have a been having have been warm and cordial. We believe there is a high degree of complementarity that exists between Australia and Indonesia. Now you specify, for example education. Education is an area where we could do well, Australia has a very strong platform of being good educators; we've got a strong vocation and training background; can provide a good platform for education in that area as well. That's an area that is consistent with the Indonesian Government's focus on providing more educational outcomes for Indonesians as well. So that's a great example of where we can achieve a win-win outcome.
GREG JENNETT: Just in the hierarchy of trade deals that you've worked on, there have been some reports that this Indonesian partnership has been "elevated to the top of the government's agenda". Is that just hyperbole or is it factually correct, that this does stand as your top priority at the moment?
STEVEN CIOBO: This is a key priority for me. I've certainly made this the first trade related travel that I've done in the new Government. That underscores the importance that I and the Coalition are placing on being able to secure this comprehensive trade deal with Indonesia. Of course we have a number of pokers in the fire though. I'm continuing the scoping study discussions with the European Union. I've initiated conversations with the UK. We continue to watch the progress around the Trans-Pacific Partnership and we, of course, are caring on and continuing discussions with both India as well as the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership. There's a wide number of fronts that are open in relation to these trade discussions and negotiations, but a very strong focus and emphasis on Indonesia.
GREG JENNETT: Was the name Pauline Hanson raised with you in any of your conversations in Jakarta?
STEVEN CIOBO: No.
GREG JENNETT: Do you think she does represent ...
STEVEN CIOBO: No, not at all.
GREG JENNETT:... an obstacle in any way? A double billed obstacle if you like, both with her anti-Islam and anti-free trade views.
STEVEN CIOBO: No look, I don't. And what I intend to do is make sure that I one, respect the constituency that Pauline Hanson and Nick Xenophon have. They speak on behalf of those Australians who elected them who clearly feel alienated by globalisation, but what I want to make sure I consistently do is provide the clear, strong, compelling arguments about why free and liberalised trade is good for Australia. About how free and liberalised trade has helped deliver us 25 years of continuous economic growth. Why Australia remains one of the richest countries per capita in the world. Why we as a nation continue to enjoy a standard of living that is the envy around the world and fundamentally why it also underscores fundamental revenue for government, which is able to fund the kinds of services that Australians expect around, for example, education and health care.
GREG JENNETT: Is that harder to explain or to sell that message when you see figures out today, a monthly trade blowout in the month of June for Australia? It's evidence, I suppose, that Australia is not reaping the benefits that are sometimes stated.
STEVEN CIOBO: That's not the case at all. I mean, what those figures in terms of today's trade figures show, is that the Australian economy is growing strongly. What that underscores is that there's tremendous opportunity for Australia to continue to enjoy strong economic growth. In many respects what we're seeing is a consequence of the ongoing price correction in both the commodities sector and with respect to resources and energy. Now we're seeing increased outflows, that is extra exports in terms of our agricultural products and that is entirely consistent with what the Coalition made clear when we said that these preferential market access arrangements that we've been able to lock into place with China, with Korea and Japan will drive additional agricultural exports and that's what we're seeing, Greg. I think it's important to understand accurately the picture that this number is showing us with respect to trade data.
GREG JENNETT: All right, just finally on a domestic matter, Steve Ciobo - fallout does continue from the decision to reject Kevin Rudd's nomination for the UN Secretary General's job, do you believe his releasing of letters claiming Malcolm Turnbull had privately pledged support is evidence of the character flaws that actually led to the decision not to nominate him for this job?
STEVEN CIOBO: You know look, I think that this issue has come and gone, Greg, and what I mean is that the Cabinet expressed the view, the Prime Minister encapsulated that and the Prime Minister outlined the reasons why Australia would not support Kevin Rudd's bid and frankly, I'm just not going to get caught up in sort of the who did what to whom and when because frankly, I don't think Australians particularly care about it. I don't believe this is a top order issue for the Government. We are very focused on what it was that Australians just reelected us to do. Obsessing about Kevin Rudd is just not something that I'm prepared to be a party to.
GREG JENNETT: All right, fair enough. We're going to leave it there. Steve Ciobo, I'm sure you have more talks to get on with in Jakarta. Thanks so much.