ABC, 7.30

  • Transcript, E&OE
Subjects: Australia Week in China (AWIC), Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s visit to China, South China Sea, Arrium.
13 April 2016

SABRA LANE: Australia's Trade and Investment Minister, Steve Ciobo, is already in China. I spoke with him earlier. He was in Shanghai. Steve Ciobo, thanks for talking to 7.30. The Prime Minister is in China for less than two days. What will be the measure of success for this visit?

STEVEN CIOBO: Well, look, we've led Australia's biggest delegation to China, for Australia Week in China: more than 1,000 delegates. I think the real measure of success coming off the back of Australia Week in China will be the extent to which we are helping to promote Australian trade in goods and services, as well as investment opportunities in and out of Australia. We saw in 2014, when we last had Australia Week in China, more than $1 billion of extra goods trade attributed to Australia Week and more than $3 billion of investment attributed to Australia Week. So I'm pretty confident that we will see those sorts of numbers again.

SABRA LANE: It is being reported the Australian Prime Minister will tell the Chinese leadership to be less aggressive in its expansion of territorial claims in the South China Sea. Is that accurate?

STEVEN CIOBO: Ah, well, look. What the Prime Minister chooses to raise is, of course, a decision for the Prime Minister. But Australia's position with respect to the South China Sea has been consistent for quite some time now. And that is that we don't take sides in territorial disputes and that we expect all parties to abide by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. We of course expect there to be a continuation of over-flight rights and freedom of navigation rights.

SABRA LANE: If the language is strong - and there is an indication it will be - China hasn't really paid much attention to warnings in the past. What can Australia do to stop this expansion, because if China does nothing it makes Mr Turnbull and Australia look weak?

STEVEN CIOBO: Well, look, Sabra: I mean, there's a lot of assumptions that are built into your question there. I'm obviously here as Australia's Trade and Investment Minister to focus on building good relations between Australia and China, so that we can help to provide a more conducive framework for extra goods trade and extra services trade. What happens in discussions around the South China Sea: I mean, these types of issues arise from time to time in any mature relationship. I know in the past, I've had conversations with the former Chinese ambassador to Australia and those conversations to me made it very clear that China respects the kinds of issues that Australia speaks about. But let's be clear: this is an area of the world where there are competing territorial claims. We're mindful of that. Australia has consistently held a position in response to that, so we'll see what comes to pass.

SABRA LANE: Sure, but it's also about protecting trade routes. And for remote countries like Australia, that route is absolutely crucial?

STEVEN CIOBO: Look, absolutely. And I agree with you wholeheartedly on that point. But you know, I've got to say, when I last raised this matter with the ambassador Ma, the former ambassador from China to Australia, he acknowledged the exact same point. China is invested in having those trade routes being open, as well. So I mean, these are complex matters. There are competing claims about the South China Sea. What Australia has consistently said is that we want to see the application of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. We want those trade routes to remain open. We want those over-fly rights to stay. That is what lays, ultimately, at the core of a stable and peaceful region. And we see a stable and peaceful region as being absolutely tantamount to ongoing prosperity throughout the region.

SABRA LANE: How can Australia send a message to the Chinese that they can't mistake; that they have to pay attention to?

STEVEN CIOBO: Look, I mean, we have a dialogue. I think what's most important is to continue discussion around these and other matters. I mean, I've been meeting with a number of senior government officials whilst I have been here in China. The Prime Minister obviously will meet with the Premier and the President. We maintain open dialogue with China. That's what lay at the core of successful resolution of these sorts of friction points.

SABRA LANE: What will the Government say to the Chinese leadership about the dumping of cheap Chinese steel on the Australian market?

STEVEN CIOBO: You know it's a very interesting question, Sabra, and the reason being because Australia obviously is a very significant iron ore exporter. If you look at the value of Australian iron ore exports to China, it's around $38 billion. We've got about 43,000 people that are employed in the iron ore sector, that are producing this iron ore which in large part is being sold to China for the manufacturing of steel. So it's 43,000 Australians who are working in iron ore exports which are really materially benefitting from China's production of steel. Now, that is in no way, shape or form to erode the very real challenge that faces a company like Arrium. But the most important thing that the Australian Government can do for a steel manufacturer like Arrium is make sure that they are competitive as possible. One of the ways we did that was through the abolition of Labor's carbon tax, which was just another impost on the production of steel in Australia. And I'd note, Sabra, that if Labor and Bill Shorten win the next election they will reimpose a great big carbon tax on companies like Arrium Steel, which will make them even less competitive and put those jobs and the future resurgence of the company - which I hope can take place - under greater strain than otherwise would be the case.

SABRA LANE: Your explanation there about mining jobs and how many mining jobs are crucial for the iron export industry seems to be placing a higher value on those jobs...

STEVEN CIOBO: Not at all.

SABRA LANE: ...than on the local steel-making jobs?

STEVEN CIOBO: No. No, this isn't a case of picking winners. This isn't a case of saying one job is more important than another. The fact is the Coalition has been very focused on job creation. And in large part, Sabra, we've tried to drive job creation through opening up of export markets. The work by the Coalition to open up Japan, China and Korea to additional exports has seen job creation in Australia growing at three times the rate under the Coalition than it was under the Labour Party. I'm simply making the point to you, though, that we've got 43,000 people that are employed in the iron ore sector. And those people are benefitting from being able to export iron ore to countries like China to produce steel. Not for one second am I saying one job is more important than the other. I'm simply stating facts around what is a very dynamic, complex marketplace which sees Australian iron ore exports being a key driver of employment and of income for Australia.

SABRA LANE: The Prime Minister will be hosted at separate banquets by both the Chinese President and the Chinese Premier. Will talks about business investment and strategic issues eclipse voicing any concerns about the rule of law in China?

STEVEN CIOBO: Ah, no, we always take the opportunity to re-state Australia's position with respect to human rights, the rule of law, with respect to the death penalty. These are matters where Australia has stood tall for quite some time. We'll continue to do that. But, Sabra, you know, we're not in the business of lecturing people. The nature of the relationship between Australia and China is that it's a mature relationship. We engage in a constructive way. We have dialogue around both, let's call them 'hard issues' and 'easier issues'; we've got a mutual interest in boosting goods trade and services trade between Australia and China. We've been delivering on that through the China-Australia Free Trade Agreement. But of course, scope exists for us to also discuss, as we do from time to time, the kinds of issues that you have raised.

SABRA LANE: Minister, thank you for taking time out to talk to 7.30.

STEVEN CIOBO: That's a pleasure, Sabra. Thank you.

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