ABC News 24
GREG JENNETT: Steve Ciobo, before we get to your discussions with your Indonesian counterparts there in Jakarta, there's a major economic story developing here with the GDP growth figures going negative for the first time in several years. This can't instill confidence, can it, in where growth is heading for Australia and whether a recession is now looming?
STEVEN CIOBO: Well, it certainly reinforces the point that we can't be complacent about the ongoing challenge that we have with respect to Australia's finances. We can't be complacent about growth. We've got to make sure that government policy reflects maximum opportunity to keep growing the Australian economy. It has been a core focus for the Coalition and it continues to be our core focus because we must have growth in order to drive jobs.
GREG JENNETT: And the Treasurer's been emphasising the need for these enterprise tax cuts to try to stimulate business investment but invariably the question arises, are they affordable in a slowing economy?
STEVEN CIOBO: Well, we need to make sure we're providing the stimulation across the economy that's required, Greg, and one of the ways that we can do that is to provide, of course, enterprise tax cuts to Australia's small and medium sized businesses. They really are, it's a bit of a clichÃ©, but it's a clichÃ© for a reason, they are the engine room that powers the economy. They've got to have confidence. It's also a key part of the reason why the Coalition has put such a strong focus on driving exports from Australia. We continue to see strong export growth from Australia and that's another key driver of economic growth and in fact, when we've got a figure like this, what we're seeing is that growth in exports is a big contributor towards maintaining that sort of positive figure.
GREG JENNETT: And on the trade front, what room is left for you to try to respond and respond quickly so that trade might yet do some more heavy lifting on these accounts?
STEVEN CIOBO: Well, there's quite a bit. If you look at, for example, the numbers for the year to date including quarter three, what we're seeing is that we've got about a 6 per cent growth in exports and that's terrific news for the Australian economy. One of the reasons we have that is because the deals the Coalition locked in with China, with South Korea and with Japan. I'm here in Indonesia as part of our ongoing discussions about putting in place a comprehensive free trade agreement between Australia and Indonesia, and the reason we want that, Greg, is because this is a market of 250 million people, around 50 million middle class Indonesians and that's expected to continue growing. It's tremendous opportunity for Australia to be able to export to this market and that, of course, is going to feed straight through to stronger growth and it's also going to help to drive Aussie jobs.
GREG JENNETT: Alright, well let's just explore how those discussions are going because you are starting to draw into the final term now of a timeline that you set out late last year for the completion of these trade negotiations with Indonesia and yet, you still don't have anything in the bag. Are you making progress on this trip?
STEVEN CIOBO: Well, I just want to correct what you asked me there. We actually announced the resumption of formal negotiations between Australia and Indonesia in March of this year and I said it would take around 12 to 18 months, so we're well and truly on track to conclude, I hope, successful negotiations between Australia and Indonesia around the middle to end of next year. That's part of the reason why I'm here having discussions and look, discussions between Australia and Indonesia are going well. We're making real progress and we'll continue to have ongoing discussions to a successful conclusion.
GREG JENNETT: And the sticking points, they have been sectoral, particularly obviously around agriculture. How are commodities like sugar and also beef, how's that being addressed right now?
STEVEN CIOBO: Well, I'm not going to provide a running commentary about how our discussions are going. We obviously have areas that we have our particular interest in, likewise Indonesia's got areas that they have a particular interest in, and that's understandable. Like any negotiation, that goes to the core of what it is that we're discussing but obviously I'm Australia's Trade, Tourism and Investment Minister, I'm going to pursue the best deal I possibly can for Australia. Ultimately though, Greg, these aren't win/lose negotiations. These are about win/win outcomes and that's what I'm focused on delivering.
GREG JENNETT: And so the timeline as you speak now, you're emphasising again that you think you are on track for, what, mid to late next year?
STEVEN CIOBO: Correct. As I said, that's consistent with what I've said from the outset. When we formally announced the resumption of these negotiations in March of this year we said it'd take 12 to 18 months, so we're on track for, I hope, a successful conclusion around the middle to end of next year.
GREG JENNETT: Alright. Just back on the domestic front, obviously we've been talking about the enterprise tax cuts. Does the Government now need to hasten in the parliamentary year next year, the passage and introduction even of those bills? Because they haven't been a priority in the opening months of this Parliament. How quickly will you move on that?
STEVEN CIOBO: Well, I mean, I think if you look at the actual delivery of the Coalition Government since July, Greg, I mean we have delivered a lot through the Parliament. We've been pragmatic about dealing with the crossbench, we know the Australian people expect us to govern and to respect the fact that we have a Parliament comprised of the various representatives and it does. That's precisely what we're doing. That's why we've delivered something like $20 billion worth of budget savings, it's why we've been able to deliver personal income tax cuts for Australians on ordinary earnings. It's part of the reason why we've been able to restore the ABCC and the Registered Organisations Legislation because we know that is a crucial factor to helping to drive economic growth in this country, and in fact, today's numbers just reinforce how important the work that we have done in the respect of the ABCC, the Australian Building Construction Commission, actually is.
GREG JENNETT: Is it actually your belief that these weak figures might focus the minds, be a bit of a wakeup call to the Senate, that there's some serious work to be done for not for the Government, but for the nation now?
STEVEN CIOBO: Well, what today's figures represent, Greg, is that there's an ongoing challenge that Australia needs to be realistic about. The Government doesn't just say these things lightly. We have consistently said that we must maintain vigilance about Australia's economy, we've got to pursue growth, we've got to put in place reform that's ultimately going to be of assistance to Australia and help to power growth and more importantly, jobs for Australians in the years ahead.
GREG JENNETT: Alright. Steve Ciobo, we'll leave it there. Thanks for your time.
STEVEN CIOBO: Thanks, Greg. Cheers.