ABC, RN Breakfast

  • Transcript, E&OE
Subjects: Northern Territory Juvenile Detention Royal Commission; Trans-Pacific Partnership; Free Trade.
26 July 2016

ELLEN FANNING: Steve Ciobo is the Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment. Minister welcome back to breakfast.

STEVEN CIOBO: Good morning Ellen.

ELLEN FANNING: You know, we saw last night your colleague Craig Laundy said he felt 'crook in the guts' watching Four Corners last night. What did you think looking at that?

STEVEN CIOBO: Look Ellen, as a father of two boys myself, you cannot be anything other than distressed watching what was taking place. I mean clearly, there could be no clearer example of systemic failure with the respect to the way in which the state is approaching and dealing with these juveniles who are actually in need of rehabilitation and support and not the kind of punishment that was metered out to them.

ELLEN FANNING: You're talking there about systemic failure. Whenever we see incidents like this whether it's political corruption or abuse inside jails, there is often a tendency by those who may be in the firing line to say, 'It's a few bad apples. We've turned the tide. We've already fixed the problem'. Will you cop that on this?

STEVEN CIOBO: Well, look it's clear that in terms of Don Dale, you have systemic failure there. That's -

ELLEN FANNING: - And let's just say for the listeners, Don Dale is the name of the juvenile detention centre.

STEVEN CIOBO: Sure. And I mean, as I said, it's very apparent that you're talking about complete failure of the culture within that centre. Now, as the Prime Minister indicated this morning, whether that extends now across the network in the Northern Territory, we'd certainly hope not, but that's precisely why the Prime Minister has made it clear that a Royal Commission needs to be had, and needs to be had quickly, and I think that's the right approach.

ELLEN FANNING: The Northern Territory children's commissioner has been sounding the alarm about all this and in fact about a year ago released a transcript of some of the comments made by the prison guards during the use of teargas against these children, including the threat to pulverise the little F'ers. The Minister in charge John Elferink said last night to Four Corners that he hadn't actually looked at the footage at any stage including when he went out and defended the prison guards with, what it seems now as, a fabricated view of what went on. Should he still be in his job by sundown tonight?

STEVEN CIOBO: Well look, Ellen, I'm just not in a position to be judge, juror and executioner on this. What I absolutely will say without any qualification at all is that what we saw last night is completely and totally unacceptable. It does represent systemic failure at Don Dale. I do think it's appropriate we have an inquiry to determine whether or not that extends more broadly beyond the Don Dale Centre. In terms of what's happened in the past as the Prime Minister's indicated, that also should be the focus of the inquiry to look at why when alarm bells were rung, it wasn't responded to in an appropriate way. I think that's the best way forward rather than a knee-jerk reaction right here, right now.

ELLEN FANNING: If you were that Minister, would you go?

STEVEN CIOBO: Well look, if I had had that sort of information brought to my attention, then I would act upon it, so I don't know what's come to pass here, but whatever it is, it's unacceptable and so it of course needs to be looked at, looked at in the cold light of day, subject to all the scrutiny of a Royal Commission, and that way we can hopefully, hopefully bring about the kind of change required so that we never see a repeat of this type of incident.

ELLEN FANNING: Should a Royal Commissioner consider the possibility that what's been going on given the reports we heard about last night from the children's commissioner, the concerns raised by advocates, by justice centres in the NT, that what's been going in the NT amounts to a cover up? Should that be considered?

STEVEN CIOBO: The Prime Minister made it very clear that the terms of reference will be drafted over the next 24 hours and I understand the obvious media appeal to suggest that there's been a cover up. Look, I don't know what the circumstances are but that's precisely why you have a Royal Commission into these things. I do think it's very important for civic leaders, for political leaders such as myself and others to recognise that we must put in place steps that address the very obvious and apparent complete failure that's occurred here. We need to have an inquiry to determine precisely what went wrong, what led for this kind of behaviour to continue unabated it would appear for a matter of years and make sure that we do something to address that. As well as of course, if there have been people involved in unlawful activity, make sure that they feel the full force of the law as well.

ELLEN FANNING: Just one final question on this. You're talking - you've just said 'there's very obvious and complete failure'. At what point do you say that there's not confidence in the Northern Territory to administer the affairs of that Territory and that that government - I don't know, whether - can that Government continue in that role or does there need to be a period in which there's some other oversight?

STEVEN CIOBO: Well, Ellen I think it's important that we recognise this for what it is which was as I said, the systemic failure of the Don Dale Centre, a very clear cultural problem there that was actually seeing children treated in the most abhorrent way. We need to deal with that. Now, honestly, I think that taking one extra step to say, 'Well, this should bring down the Territory Government and perhaps we need to remove the Territory Government', is probably one bridge too far, but you know what? This is why we have a Royal Commission. We look at all elements of this, all aspects. We understand what drove this culture; we understand the shortcomings; well we learn to, as a result of this inquiry, understand what drove these shortcomings. Make sure that we place in place measures so that this can't happen again and we deal with those who've acted unlawfully and we deal with anybody who might have, for example, fabricated evidence to make sure just as I said, this doesn't occur again.

ELLEN FANNING: Coming to your portfolio now, trade and the Trans-Pacific Partnership or the TPP, I mean you must look over there at Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump, they both now say, after all these years of negotiation, they're strongly opposed to it. Even Mrs Clinton's running mate, Tim Kaine has had to abandon his personal support for it. What do you do at this point? Do you prioritise other deals, focus your resources elsewhere because this one looks like it won't get up?

STEVEN CIOBO: I remain focused on pursuing Australia's national interest in as many markets as possible. We've got a number of negotiations underway. We're currently in the throes of having conversations with Indonesia, with a pursuit of a comprehensive free trade agreement with Indonesia. We're also having conversations with the European Union. I've had some very preliminary conversations with the UK after the Brexit vote, as well pursuing opportunities with respect to for example the Arab States. With regard to the TPP, this is part of what we're seeing where there is, I believe, very unfortunately a bit of a return in some quarters towards a protectionist tendency. Now protectionism is a bit of a siren song. It sounds terrific, who would, on the face of it, argue against saying, 'well, I'm all for supporting (insert-country-name-here) jobs', but the fact is though that we have seen through the passage of time, over the past three or four or more decades that those countries that embrace engagement with the world, that embrace trade, that embrace the flow of capital, yes, they're subject to the hardship of competition but they emerge stronger and more profitable and frankly more prosperous as a result of doing that.

ELLEN FANNING: Cause it is a big debate now worldwide, isn't it? There is a rise in protectionism and you're trying to in some senses just hold back the tide with a broom. When it comes to Senator Xenophon on his website he says, 'look, we did a trade deal with Singapore. We did all these various trade deals', and he goes on to say that our trade deficit grows with the countries with which we did trade deals. He says that there's no benefit, you often go backwards with them. Even the Productivity Commission who you would have thought would be in your corner say that there are provisions in the TPP that are of questionable benefit.

STEVEN CIOBO: Well, there are of course a number of different points of view. I don't deny that for one moment. I am a strong believer in the many benefits that flow from engaging with the world and being engaged in trade. I mean, let's look at what drives a trade deficit. A trade deficit is a consequence of when a country is becoming more prosperous, and you know Australia has had 25 years of continuous economic growth - that's the longest period of continuous economic growth for a developed country in the world. Now that prosperity, that growth that we've seen here in Australia is being built off our trade engagement with the world. Now we simply cannot meet, we simply cannot meet all of the demand that's coming from the growth in the Australian economy. Now is it an aspiration to try to meet it? Of course it is. I share that the same as Nick Xenophon or anyone does, but in the absence of being able to meet it internally - that is within Australia - then of course we need to rely upon external forces. But I also note for example Ellen, that as a country, we are producing more food than we consume. We're exporting for example those agricultural products, beef and others and that's also growing our national prosperity as well and that's precisely what trade does.

ELLEN FANNING: We've seen what happened in Britain when politicians and diplomats made what they considered very good deals, I mean, Britain's membership of the EU, but then the public weren't convinced of the benefits. The public in the US are concerned about whether or not free trade deals cost US jobs, middle-class jobs. Senator Xenophon similarly concerned. Hillary Clinton said, 'we have to have as a threshold for the TPP that it provides well-paying jobs, better paying jobs for Americans in the middle-class'. Is that threshold issue for you?

STEVEN CIOBO: Well of course my focus is upon Australian jobs and making sure that as much as possible the Government's in a position to create the right business conditions, to grow the Aussie economy and to grow Australian jobs. That's absolutely front and centre in terms of our trade policy agenda. This isn't about signing away Australia's rights. It's not about in any way impoverishing our nation. It's about opening new opportunities for Australian exports around the world. That's what our focus is on. Part of the challenge Ellen, is though that for every business that comes under immense pressure and occasionally we see a closure, that will dominate, of course, the press headlines, it will dominate the airwaves but what we don't see in return are all of the stories across the economy of where Australian businesses are putting on more people, are growing into new export markets. They don't obtain the same focus in terms of national media that frankly that they should. A closure will always dominate more column inches in a newspaper than a new business that's opening and exporting to the world. I have the privilege in my role of seeing a lot of businesses that are exporting to the world.

ELLEN FANNING: Steve Ciobo, thank you so much for being our guest this morning and talking beyond your portfolio there for us. I appreciate it.

STEVEN CIOBO: Thank you Ellen.

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