ABC Newsradio

  • Transcript, E&OE
Subjects: Arrium Steel, FTAs, China.
08 April 2016

MARIUS BENSON: Steve Ciobo, good morning.

STEVEN CIOBO: Good morning Marius.

MARIUS BENSON: Thanks for joining us. Can I get you to resolve an issue which is in dispute at the moment, which is this question - can the Australian government give preference to Australian steelmakers for government contracts or would that be in breach of our free trade undertakings.

STEVEN CIOBO: That would be in breach of our free trade undertakings. The fact is that when it comes to government procurement, we look for competitive, value for money system. And that is written in to a number of our trade agreements. The reason that's important, Marius, the reason it should be respected is because there's a number of Australian industries that actually export to foreign governments. They provide services, they provide goods and products and that employs local Australians to provide those services and those goods to foreign governments and foreign public services. So we need to understand that those rules must be respected because if we think that we can just have it all one way and only look after Australian procurement, then what that means is that foreign governments will do exactly the same thing, which directly jeopardises the employment of those Australians who work in those industries.

MARIUS BENSON: You seem to be at odds though with the Industry Minister, Christopher Pyne, who was saying this morning that States and Territories can play a part in helping the company Arrium out by using only Australian steel in construction projects, that's not the case?

STEVEN CIOBO: There's a big difference between the position that Christopher's put forward and the position of Bill Shorten. Christopher Pyne, I support his position, says that ideally we should be using Australian steel. That of course is an aspiration that all Australians would share.

MARIUS BENSON: No can I interrupt because he's not saying anything about ideally. He's saying that the government can play a part by using only Australian steel. You've just said that's not the case.

STEVEN CIOBO: He said that the Australian government can play a role, and this is the difference. Can play a role is different, because it's not mandated. The Labor Party's position is to mandate it, and that would put us in breach of our international trade obligations. That would jeopardise the jobs of those Australians who work in industries that supply foreign governments. That's the key difference.

MARIUS BENSON: Can I ask you about some of the other suggestions in play this morning? Is China dumping cheap steel on Australia?

STEVEN CIOBO: Well I'm not in the position to assess that, but we have in place an Anti-Dumping Commission that is their job to assess and I understand that the Anti-Dumping Commission is currently undertaking an assessment of what's happening with respect to steel manufacture and supply throughout the region. Let's be clear, there is a global oversupply of steel. That's what lay at the core of this. A global oversupply of steel. Whether there's steel dumping taking place, that's a decision that the Anti-Dumping Commission will assess, analyse, will reach a conclusion on.

MARIUS BENSON: Don't you as Trade Minister know whether this principle exported to Australia, one of our principle trade partners, with the principal product steel, is being dumped. You do not know the answer to that?

STEVEN CIOBO: Well that's the entire reason why we have an Anti-Dumping Commission. The Anti-Dumping Commission will provide advice and due course to the Industry Minister about whether or not that's taking place. My understanding is that the Anti-Dumping Commission is currently undertaking one assessment about what's happening in the steel market and obviously they'll reach a conclusion and provide that advice.

MARIUS BENSON: Has substandard steel been imported into Australia?

STEVEN CIOBO: That's a very concerning aspect to Labor's announcements yesterday. Senator Kim Carr has been running around the place saying that there's a great risk, that we will see a collapse or something like that as a consequence of imported steel. That is an intellectually dishonest position to have. Frankly, the Australian Labor Party should know better. We have in place building standards. There are requirements that all construction sites and those that work in the construction industry must comply with. The kind of rank scaremongering that we're seeing from the Australian Labor Party has no place in the proper full debate, and unfortunately reverts to very base politics. The kind of politics that, as I've said, the Australian Labor Party would have us breach our trade obligations and would threaten the job of many Australians who work industries supplying foreign governments and supplying services.

MARIUS BENSON: Australia now has two steel plants, Whyalla and Wollongong. Whyalla obviously at risk right now. Does steel have a future, steelmaking have a future in Australia, in a free trading world?

STEVEN CIOBO: Absolutely. The fact is that there is a high demand for steel in Australia. We know that we produce excellent quality steel. That's a real market advantage. If there is one thing that the free trade agreements have made clear, it is that Australia offers a great deal of potential with respect to export, as well as domestic use of high quality goods such as steel.

MARIUS BENSON: Can I ask you this? With the free trade deals, obviously free trade, it's a bipartisan position. Labor supports free trade deals as well. But would you concede there's a downside to free trade. If you're a winemaker in South Australia, free trade's great. China's drinking my wine. If you're a steelmaker in South Australia, free trade's not so good. China's producing cheaper steel than I can do it.

STEVEN CIOBO: Well the whole purpose of course of free trade is that countries play to their respective strengths. We've seen a big increase in Australian exports, which is powering the Australian economy and driving jobs growth. Under the Coalition, in large part due to the agreements that have been put in place, we've seen the creation of jobs growing at three times the rate it was under the Australian Labor Party.

Marius, can I just raise the point you said it's a bipartisan position. It might be, but I notice that the Shadow Trade Minister Penny Wong has been silent in the last 24 hours. That's because the position that's been put forward by the Australian Labor Party, by the man who wants to be Australia's alternative Prime Minister, is in direct breach of our trade obligations, and threatens the jobs of Australians who work in export industry. I think it's time that Labor cleared up their position on this issue.

MARIUS BENSON: Steve Ciobo, thanks very much for speaking to us from Hong Kong this morning.

STEVEN CIOBO: A pleasure, thank you.


Media enquiries