ABC Radio, 612 ABC

  • Transcript, E&OE
Subjects: Tony Abbott, Australian Building Construction Commission, Queensland MPs, Federal Budget, American presidential race, trading with Indonesia, separate state fpr northern Queensland.
29 March 2016

STEVE AUSTIN: My guest is Federal Queensland Liberal MP Steve Ciobo. He's the Minister for Trade and Investment. Steve Ciobo thanks for coming in.

STEVEN CIOBO: Good Morning Steve.

STEVE AUSTIN: Why do you think that Queensland is shaping up as a problem state for the Coalition?

STEVEN CIOBO: I don't think I agree to the premise of your question, Steve, to be honest. I think the Coalition's performing well in Queensland. We, I believe, will have the support of Queenslanders at the forthcoming federal election for good reason because we are providing a clear plan for jobs and growth. We've got a clear focus on, for example, some of our major industries like the construction industry and the tourism industry. These are two very big areas of employment in Queensland and frankly our policies in respect of the construction and tourism industries leave Labor's for dead. We're continuing to put a focus on downward cost of living pressures, unlike the Labor Party who of course want to reintroduce the Carbon Tax on a whole host of different fronts, Steve. I believe that the Coalition is performing well and frankly, our re-election would be in the best interest of Queenslanders.

STEVE AUSTIN: If that's the case, why is former Prime Minister Tony Abbott talking about doing a tour of marginal seats here in Queensland if things are so good?

STEVEN CIOBO: I don't get worried about that. Tony is a part of the Coalition. He's a member of the Coalition team, the same as I am, the same as any member of the Coalitioners and frankly he's a former prime minister so I don't have a problem at all with the fact that Tony or indeed any member of the Coalition moves around into different seats. I think one, Australians expect to have access to senior members of the Coalition. I am in my own capacity as Minister for Trade an Investment, I have requests all the time from different groups, from colleagues asking to go and meet with different people in their electorates. I am not surprised in the slightest that a former prime minister would be in the same situation.

STEVE AUSTIN: There are a lot of conservative-minded members of the Coalition supporters though in Queensland. Is asking Tony Abbott or having Tony Abbott tour those marginal seats a way of trying to say, "Look guys, it's been a rough ride since the leadership changed but we really need your support"?

STEVEN CIOBO: What it's about is responding to demand from, in this case, Queenslanders. The Queenslanders want to say to us, "Look, we'd love to just hear from Tony Abbott, we'd love to hear from Malcolm Turnbull, we'd love to hear from Scott Morrison." We're try to facilitate that. I actually think that's a sign of strength. I actually think that reinforces that people have a direct connection to the very upper levels of government when it comes to decision-making so I embrace it, Steve. I think it's a positive.

STEVE AUSTIN: I'm talking with Steve Ciobo, Federal Liberal member from Queensland. He's a Minister for Trade and Investment. Steve, the federal Labor MP Terri Butler also from Queensland here says that Tony Abbott is simply trying to undermine Malcolm. That there's a destabilisation process underway and this is a hallmark of how divide and dysfunctional the Government is.

STEVEN CIOBO: But it's an invention, Steve. This is the fundamental problem. Look, Terri's got a job to do. She's a member of the Labor Party. She's a member of the opposition. She's never going to be in the business of trying to make the Government look good. Terri's got to try and invent problems because that suits the opposition's purposes and it suits the Labor Party's purposes. When I come onto a show, I would love to talk about the issues that I think matter to the Queenslanders and I actually don't think Tony Abbott moving around particularly matters to Queenslanders. I actually think that they couldn't actually care less. And what I think they are more focused on is what are we doing in terms of boosting exports? What are we doing in terms of putting downward pressure on their cost of living? What are we doing in terms of an interest rate environment? What are we doing about debt and deficit? Those are the things that I think matter to Queenslanders. If Terri Butler wants to say, "Well this is all about Tony Abbott and you know, divide and dysfunctional," and all this sort of stuff, good luck to her. She can do that, but I'm just not going to buy into it, because I actually don't think one, it's relevant and two, I also think it's incorrect.

STEVE AUSTIN: What do you think as a Federal Queensland MP in the Liberal Party think does matter to Queenslanders because I have not had 1 single listener spontaneously say, "Steve, I'm really worried about the Australian Building and Construction Commission," which is what Prime Minister Malcolm has said is his possible trigger for going to a double dissolution. Not one single listener ever raised that, prior to Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull raising it.

STEVEN CIOBO: What they will say, Steve, is that Queenslanders are concerned about infrastructure. They are concerned about for example infrastructure spending. What they will say to you is that they are concerned about the level of industrial disputation. And the fact is that, although there may not be a direct link back to, for example, the Australian Building and Construction Commission, in their mind's eye, the fact is that when it comes to the provision of infrastructure, when it comes to the building of major pieces of infrastructure be it hospitals, be it roads, be it airports, all these types of things, without the Australian Building and Construction Commission, we see a big increase in the costs associated with those projects. The reason we see an increase in those costs is because of the one, the industrial disputation around it, but two, –

STEVE AUSTIN: Industrial disputes are in an all-time low in Australia.

STEVEN CIOBO: No. They are up about 30 per cent over where they were.

STEVE AUSTIN: Still very low in historical terms.

STEVEN CIOBO: They are up over 30 per cent over where they were when the Australian Building Construction Commission was in place. We know, for example, that there was approximately 20 per cent gain in productivity when the Australian Building and Construction was in place. And Steve, I think anybody who drives around – I'm in my car, I'll drive around, you drive past a major site, and what do you see most prominently on a major building site in this state? Inevitably, it's a CFMEU flag. Now I put it to you that the reason why they are so proud and beat their chests in terms of the CFMEU is because it's a culture of intimidation. We know from the Royal Commission that there are direct links between organised motorcycle gangs and criminal gangs with the trade union movement. Don't get me wrong. I'm not saying this is –

STEVE AUSTIN: Direct links – you're not overstating it at all? Simply that there are guys who ride motorcycles and also happen to be members of construction unions.

STEVEN CIOBO: Far beyond that Steve. Far, far beyond that. We see direct links.

STEVE AUSTIN: Can you give me one to one piece of evidence?STEVEN CIOBO: For example, I can't remember the guy's name off the top of my head but from the ACT, who was arrested shortly after he finished giving evidence to the Royal Commission. We see multiple examples of systemic corruption within the trade union movement, and that was what was uncovered by the Royal Commission so I do believe that there are very important public policy reasons to have this tough cop back on the beat.

STEVE AUSTIN: Isn't the real issue there have been no significant wage growth for Australians for a long time now? In other words, wages growth is stagnant and this is the indication of an unhealthy economy that there's a problem? It's not industrial disputation. That may happen, but the major problem is that Australians aren't getting ahead. Those aspirational Australians don't feel, rightly or wrongly, that they are actually getting somewhere. The evidence of this is no wage growth.

STEVEN CIOBO: I do believe that is a sentiment, and it's not confined to Australia. That is a sentiment we see in the United States. Indeed, it's a sentiment that we see through most developed economies around the world and it's a sentiment that needs to be addressed. What I would say in defence of the Coalition though is if you look at, for example, economic growth, Australia's economic growth trajectory had us at 3 per cent economic growth, which was the highest out of all the G7 economies around the world. All the major economies, Australia had the fastest level of economic growth. If you look at the creation of employment, under the Coalition we've been creating jobs at 3 times the rate than when Labor was in power. Now the reason those things are important is because in a low inflation environment, you're not going to get big increases in wages. In a low inflation environment, you do not get big increases in wages, but I'll tell you the worst thing you can do Steve in a low inflation environment. If people aren't getting wages growth, the worst thing that you can do is actually push up their costs of living, because effectively you've got flat line wages growth and if you push up their costs of living, that's when people really get squeezed. That's precisely the reason why we abolished Labor's Carbon Tax and that's precisely the reason why Labor's proposal to reintroduce the Carbon Tax is actually going to mean that there's more pressure placed back on households than otherwise would be the case.

STEVE AUSTIN: My guest is the Minister for Trade and Investment, Steve Ciobo. He's the Federal Liberal Queensland MP and member for Moncrieff. This is 6:12 ABC, Brisbane. Are you at all concerned about Peter Dutton's seat on the north side of Brisbane or Wyatt Roy seat for that matter? Very fine margin. No margin for safety and the indications are on the basis of all of the polls consistently showing that those guys have gone in the next federal election.

STEVEN CIOBO: I'm not going to say anyone's gone or I'm not going to say we're going to win any seats. I don't know, Steve. What I do know is that when it comes to elections, people respond to who has a clear plan to drive jobs and growth. With respect to Peter Dutton and Wyatt Roy, both of them are very hardworking local members. Wyatt Roy was on the ABC's Q&A program last night. I think anybody who watched that, all the feedback I've had was very positive. Peter Dutton, long term federal member. I think does an outstanding job as Minister for Immigration and Border Protection. Very firm and resolute in terms of our position on our border sovereignty. So –

STEVE AUSTIN: It's a little unusual to have Wyatt Roy as Australia's Innovation Minister when the guy has never actually started up his own business himself?

STEVEN CIOBO: He's an Assistant Minister, so he's part of the portfolio. I think that good policy and the development of good policy means working within the cogs of government, working within the machinery of government. Again, the feedback that I've had from Australia's Invention Capital and Innovation Centre has been really positive about one, Wyatt's willingness to engage. Frankly Steve, if that was the measure, if that really was the measure, then heaven help the Australian Labor Party because mate, the fundamental fact of the Australian Labor Party is that basically 95 per cent of them have never done anything except being a union administrator, so I don't think that that is the be all and end all when it comes to making good government policy.

STEVE AUSTIN: What are the Government's plans to lower company tax rates? I'm keen to hear more about that now that you have abandoned personal tax cuts. What are they?

STEVEN CIOBO: That's speculation, Steve. You are asking me to comment on –

STEVE AUSTIN: It's not been stopped. There's heavy hints that there will be some sort of relief for companies and their tax rates –

STEVEN CIOBO: No. To be fair, I think what we've consistently said is that we will outline, in the Budget document, our tax reform process. That continues to be the case. The Budget is the major economic policy statement for the nation. It's appropriate that the Budget that should be used to convey any reforms or changes that we're going to implement or propose. I'd say to you, in good time when the Budget's handed down, we'll have the chance the Coalition's blue print, our plan, for the future.

STEVE AUSTIN: It's going to be a little bit hard for you guys, isn't it? Because Labor did some very good policy work over the Christmas break and rolled out I think so far that go to about 70 odd policies out there now. Probably the biggest one so far is the negative gearing policy. That seems to mirror why they have improved in the polls. In other words, they did the hard policy work over the Christmas break and rolled it out there for public discussion way ahead of your side of politics. Doesn't that indicate that they are actually in the front foot and the Government, surprisingly, is on the back foot?

STEVEN CIOBO: What it indicates is that there's caution to be had before rushing out with a policy, Steve. The premise of your question is they got it out there first so therefore they're doing more of the heavy lifting. I'd say to you that that's not the case. If you look at Labor's negative gearing policy, one it's not just about housing but two, any respected economic commentator makes it very clear that their proposal in relation to negative gearing is going to be a complete basket case with its impact on, for example, the housing sector. We know the housing prices will fall as a consequence of that policy. We know that rents will go up as a consequence of 50 percent increase in the Capital Gains Tax that Labor's proposing. So yes, did they get policy out there first? Yes they did. Is that a good thing? No it's not because it's a clearly poorly thought through policy.

STEVE AUSTIN: Stay with me for a minute. Just want to check the roads again.

STEVE AUSTIN: Queensland Liberal MP Steve Ciobo. Steve Ciobo, a couple of questions wider afield. What are the implications for Australia if Donald Trump is elected president? I'm thinking of something like the Trans Pacific Partnership which Barack Obama very keenly supporting. What are the implications for us if Donald Trump gets elected?

STEVEN CIOBO: I'm not going to comment on any particular individual. Obviously we will need to respond to whoever is elected as president of the United States and calibrate, of course, policy settings and responses to events as they unfold and as the United States adopts different postures in different areas with a new administration, but you know what, Steve, that's always been the case. I think if you go back to the principles, the fundamentals, the relationship between Australia and the US is strong. It has been strong through many decades now. –

STEVE AUSTIN: Will it be very strong with Donald Trump as president?

STEVEN CIOBO: I've got no doubt that it will continue to be strong. Yes. You read in the media a lot of doomsday about, if Hillary Clinton wins, if Donald Trump wins, what this might mean, what that might mean. We're in the business where, yes we look to what the future might hold, but at the end of the day, what government is elected to do is to deal with the actual facts as they present themselves and make policy settings according to the prevailing conditions of the day. We'll do that should we have the good fortune to be re-elected and make decisions based upon the actual terrain that exists.

STEVE AUSTIN: I'm talking with our Trade and Investment, Steve Ciobo. Your predecessor Andrew Robb tied off a number of important free trade agreements. How close are we to an Indonesian free trade agreement with Australia?

STEVEN CIOBO: Andrew Robb did do an outstanding job. I think it's widely regarded, I'd even go so far as to say I think it's a bipartisan position that he's one of the best Trade and Investment Ministers that we have had. We secured the three free trade agreements with North Asian powerhouse economies of Korea, Japan and China. I was particularly pleased meeting with Indonesia's Trade Minister Lembong several weeks ago to formally announce together with him, at a joint press conference, that we were recommencing discussions with Indonesia to pursue a free trade agreement. We've got a number of different areas that we're pursuing. And both of us put a timeline to hopefully concluding a deal with Indonesia in the next 12 to 18 months.

STEVE AUSTIN: What's in it for us?

STEVEN CIOBO: There's a lot. Indonesia is of course one of our closest neighbours. A population of around 250 million people. It's got a large and quickly growing middle class.

STEVE AUSTIN: The largest Muslim population on planet earth.

STEVEN CIOBO: Yeah and a functioning democracy too, Steve. And in fact if you look at Indonesia, it's a good example of a country that balances appropriately, or I shouldn't say appropriately, I should say successfully balances the relationship between having people of Muslim faith and a relatively, relatively – obviously not completely - but relatively stable population without a huge amount of terror, although obviously that is a concern as we saw with the Bali bombings. But in terms of what's in it for us from a free trade agreement, opportunity to export, Steve. We can export in terms of commodities. We can export beef. We can also put a particular focus on for example education exports. Now education exports are Australia's third largest export. Very popular, especially here in Queensland. We have the chance if we could successfully conclude this deal, to be able to export into that market services, soft commodities, a range of different things.

STEVE AUSTIN: So you think 12 to 18 months?

STEVEN CIOBO: That's what we've outlined to do. That's our goal.

STEVE AUSTIN: All right. One final question. Queensland LNP Senator Matt Canavan has thrown his, what's the word, support behind the idea of examining a separate state for North Queensland. What do you think of that idea?

STEVEN CIOBO: These are decisions that are taken by people in due course. I think you see these ideas –

STEVE AUSTIN: Come on, what do you think of the idea?

STEVEN CIOBO: My natural inclination is to be opposed to it. I don't think we need to go and revisit the federation all over again. I think it will be a lot of colour and movement for not by hell of a lot of gain. That's my personal point of view Steve, but I also don't believe that I should race ahead of the pack. Let's see where these ideas go. I think it's good to float these balloons, see what people say, see how they respond to it and make a decision from there.

STEVE AUSTIN: Thanks for coming in.

STEVEN CIOBO: Pleasure. Thank you.

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