ABC Radio, AM
MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: After announcing a Royal Commission into the detention of children in the Northern Territory, the Government is switching its focus back to the economy. Securing a deal with Indonesia is one of the top priorities on its trade liberalisation agenda and Trade Minister Steve Ciobo is travelling to Jakarta today to push for the free trade agreement. He'll meet with the country's new Trade Minister Enggartiasto Lukita after Thomas Lembong lost the portfolio during a ministerial reshuffle last week. For more, I'm joined live in our Gold Coast studio by the Trade Minister Steve Ciobo. Mr Ciobo, good morning.
STEVEN CIOBO: Good morning, Michael.
MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: As mentioned, there's been a change in trade ministers in Indonesia just last week. You're now heading to Jakarta. Are you concerned that the new Minister doesn't share the enthusiasm for a free trade deal that his predecessor did?
STEVEN CIOBO: Look, at this stage I'm not. Certainly the conversations I had with the former Minister, Minister Lembong were cordial, they were very constructive. And we saw the commitment by Australia and Indonesia towards, we hope, the successful negotiation of a comprehensive free trade agreement, what we call a comprehensive economic partnership, in the next 12 to 18 months. And I remain focused on that timetable.
MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: The new Minister is a different proposition though, isn't he? That's certainly the view among some, certainly the previous Minister Tom Lembong, a Harvard graduate, a former investment banker, a pretty staunch supporter of open markets, wasn't he?
STEVEN CIOBO: Well he certainly was. And look, I'm very optimistic that Indonesia recognises the multitude of benefits that flow from free and liberalised trade. At the end of the day, both Indonesia and Australia have, in many respects, complementary economies. And through closer economic integration, it'll be a win for Australia and a win for Indonesia and I'm very confident that that will appeal to Minister Lukita as well.
MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: We are seeing a big swing of sentiment around the world, here and in the UK and the US, opposing further trade liberalisation though aren't we? Is that the reality now? Has the ground shifted?
STEVEN CIOBO: There certainly seems to be an increased level of pro-protectionist feeling, whether that's a reflection of increased levels in the community or whether it's just that it's now got a voice in Parliament. I mean, Michael, I certainly take the view, and I respect that there are a number of Australians who feel alienated by globalisation, but what's required in the face of that push back is clear, consistent narrative, arguing the merits of globalisation, the merits of free and liberalised trade and just making it very clear that it is through free and liberalised trade that Australia and indeed most of the developed world has enjoyed increases in national prosperity, as seen in improved opportunities for employment and has seen the growth of Australian business to service international markets.
MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: I guess some feel they've also been let down by that and to some extent it hasn't worked in their favour, don't they? And we've seen the result of that with a more protectionist Senate. You've got Pauline Hanson and Nick Xenophon in fairly pivotal positions in the Senate now, haven't you?
STEVEN CIOBO: Well, I do acknowledge that obviously some people do feel like that. And look, to some extent that's understandable because when people see, for example, a car factory close down because of international competitive forces, they tend to view that in isolation. But what I'm here to speak about is the fact that there are so many other businesses that are employing new staff, that are expanding their operations. Businesses like Blackmores for example or Swisse who are putting on staff at an incredible rate of knots because they cannot keep up with the amount of demand coming out of offshore markets that these Aussie businesses are servicing.
Across the agricultural sector we've seen big increases in volumes of exports of Australian wine, of Australian beef for example, fruit and vegetables. These are all industries that are really surging off the back of the free trade agreements that we've put in place.
MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: What about Pauline Hanson? Is there concern in Asia about her return? Because clearly, I'm sure they haven't forgotten the, I guess the, haven't forgotten her first period in Parliament where she was pretty critical of Asia and Asia in turn was pretty critical of her.
STEVEN CIOBO: Well as I said, I intend to engage in good faith with both Nick Xenophon and his party, and Pauline Hanson and hers. I want to make sure that they understand, and I want to communicate very clearly, that I'm willing to sit down of course and discuss all these sorts of issues with them. I don't actually think we're that far apart, especially with respect to Nick Xenophon, in terms of wanting the best deal for Australia. I want the best deal for Australia too. The Government's very focused upon driving the Australian economy. What we've got to realise though is that you can't put up tariff barriers and put up walls to businesses overseas coming to Australia unless you're prepared to accept that other countries will do the same to Australian exporters. Now, my point is this: We need to engage with the world. We see through the internet, the digital revolution for lack of better term, we're seeing more people getting used to the idea of, you know, having supplies from around the world. Well Australia's got to be part of that. We've got to have Australian businesses exporting to the world.
MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: Okay. The Asians haven't raised Pauline Hanson with you, do you expect them to?
STEVEN CIOBO: Well look I mean, no-one has raised her with me at this stage, and of course I would go forward to Indonesia and then subsequently to Laos this week. I'd be surprised if it was raised with me, but we'll see.
MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: Okay. Just quickly on a couple of other issues, you're a Cabinet member, are you totally comfortable with the decision not to support Kevin Rudd for the UN position?
STEVEN CIOBO: Look, the Prime Minister's outlined the reasons why he took that decision. Cabinet had a full and frank discussion on all of these matters at our last Cabinet meeting. I'm going to go into the detail of that, but the reasons that Prime Minister harboured reservations have been laid out by the Prime Minister and I'm comfortable with it, of course.
MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: Has it set a precedent though? Until now, we have generally supported Australians for these positions if they put their hand up, haven't we?
STEVEN CIOBO: No, I think it's not to be viewed as setting a precedent in any way, shape or form. I mean, boy, some of the harshest criticism that we saw of Kevin Rudd and his abilities came from the Labor Party. So I certainly don't think that it's established a precedent in any way, shape or form.
MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: The seat of Herbert, the Queensland seat: You're a Queensland LNP member and leader of the Party there. Will the Party challenge the result, Labor's claimed victory?
STEVEN CIOBO: I think it's important that if we're going to compel Australians to turn out to vote, that every Australian have the opportunity to do that. The Party is looking very closely at Herbert. There are of course some suggestions that quite a number of people and certainly more than the margin the seat was won by were denied the opportunity to vote. We'll have a look at that...
MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: So that sounds like you will?
STEVEN CIOBO: Well no, I'm saying we'll have a look at those issues and whether everyone who is expected to vote has had the opportunity to vote, and then take a decision.
MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: All right. Steve Ciobo, thanks very much for joining us.
STEVEN CIOBO: A pleasure. Thanks Michael.
MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: Trade Minister Steve Ciobo there.