ABC, RN Drive

  • Transcript, E&OE
Subjects: Indonesia-Australia Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement; Penalty Rates; Newspoll; One Nation; Labor’s Fair Work Commission hypocrisy.
27 February 2017

PATRICIA KARVELAS: For more, I'm joined by theMinister for Trade and Investment, Steve Ciobo. Welcome back to RN Drive.

STEVEN CIOBO: Good to be with you, Patricia.

PATRICIA KARVELAS: Your Government now trails Labor by10 points on a two-party-preferred basis, but you're only down one point on thelast Newspoll. How can you possibly blame Tony Abbott for this result?

STEVEN CIOBO: I think you've verballed me a littlebit with that question, but let's go to-

PATRICIA KARVELAS: No, I haven't the time. You heardthe Prime Minister. He blamed Tony Abbott for the result.

STEVEN CIOBO: Let's go to the issue here aboutpolling, and that is that it's been seven or eight months since the Election.We have more than two years to go, and I know it's a bit of a political cliché,but polls go up and polls go down, and I can tell you, Patricia, this is notsomething that we spend a lot of time focusing on or thinking about. As interestingas it is for elements of the media, the fact is that we take decisions that weknow to be in Australia's national interest. They're not always populardecisions, they're not the kinds of decisions that a government would take tobe ahead in the polls and try to win an election. They're decisions that wetake because we believe them to be necessary to deal with the tough budget andtough fiscal environment we still face.

PATRICIA KARVELAS: But the question I asked was, whydoes Malcolm Turnbull think it's okay to blame Tony Abbott?

STEVEN CIOBO: Well you probably need to directthat question to the Prime Minister.

PATRICIA KARVELAS: Do you think it was appropriate? Idirect it to you.

STEVEN CIOBO: Well, I think that, and I've madethe point repeatedly, that I'm not going to get caught up in discussing whosaid what about whom. That is not what I'm elected to do.

PATRICIA KARVELAS: So you don't endorse the PrimeMinister's analysis of what happened in Newspoll?

STEVEN CIOBO: I'll give you my clear answer,which is this, Patricia. I am not going to be distracted by this sort ofdiscussion. I understand that there's interest from the media, but it's justcompletely uninteresting to me. This is not what I was elected to do. I'm nothere to provide a commentary on the Labor Party's internal ructions or theLiberal Party's internal ructions. I'm here to do a job.

PATRICIA KARVELAS: So why did the Prime Minister saywhat he said, then? Why didn't he say what you're saying?

STEVEN CIOBO: Well, again, you probably shouldput that question to the Prime Minister.

PATRICIA KARVELAS: Okay, so do think he took the wrongline?

STEVEN CIOBO: I've heard him make remarks todaysaying he won't be distracted, and I don't think he intends to be.

PATRICIA KARVELAS: But he did blame the last Newspollon Tony Abbott. Was that appropriate?

STEVEN CIOBO: You know, Patricia, we've just hadthe Indonesian President here. We just announced some big trade reforms and nowwe're spending the first five minutes talking about the Liberal Party and whosaid what about whom. I mean frankly, what I think Australians care about, whatI'm focused on as Trade Minister, I would much rather be talking to you aboutthe outcome on Sunday. What we've achieved-

PATRICIA KARVELAS: Sure, I will go to those questions,I will go to those questions but I don't think that's really my responsibility,maybe it Tony Abbott's or maybe it's Malcolm Turnbull's perhaps, it's theLiberal Party's responsibility. I ask questions based on what's going on inpolitics, don't' I?

STEVEN CIOBO: And look, fair enough.

PATRICIA KARVELAS: I've got good material to work withdon't I? I do.

STEVEN CIOBO: I'm just going to make the pointrepeatedly that I am not going to get distracted by these sorts of who saidwhat about whom.

PATRICIA KARVELAS: So does that mean it was notappropriate for Malcolm Turnbull to blame Tony Abbott? Was that unhelpful inyour view?

STEVEN CIOBO: Again Patricia at the risk of beingrepetitive, I'm not going to be distracted or drawn into a long windedconversation about whether what Tony Abbott said was right or whether what thePrime Minister said was right. I'm just not going to buy into it. It's not whatI'm here - it's not why I'm in politics, it's not what I'm here to do.

PATRICIA KARVELAS: If you're just joining us on RNDrive, I'm joined tonight by the Minister for Trade and Investment Steve Cioboand our number is 0418-226-576. A ReachTEL poll showed George Christensenvirtually tied with One Nation in the set of Dawson. He says building a lowemissions cold fire power station in his electorate and three new dams inQueensland would fix the problem. You're a Queenslander, you're a Cabinet Minister,is that something you'd consider?

STEVEN CIOBO: Absolutely. The Prime Minister'smade it clear, that is part of what the Government will look at in terms ofpolicy. The fact is that Australia does need more baseload power. We of course,we are for lack of a better term, agnostic about our power mix. We have astrong focus on renewables. We've got a strong focus on traditional forms ofpower generation that includes gas and increasingly clean coal and the reasonwe need to do this Patricia is because we can see what happens with theintermittency of renewable power. So if the sun's not shining, if the wind'snot blowing, we don't have enough baseload and that's a problem that's going toget worse as we see more of the older style of power generators getdecommissioned over time.

PATRICIA KARVELAS: How about the issue of three damsin Queensland?

STEVEN CIOBO: Well look, I'm not the WaterMinister. I don't claim to be an expert on where dams should be or where theyshouldn't be built. I mean I know that there are a number of proposals throughNorthern Australia for additional dams. Clearly Australia has a growingpopulation. Clearly a growing population means that we need to have additionalwater resources as well as, of course, increasing expanses which are being usedfor agriculture as we continue to export about two thirds of the food that we'dproduce to the world and the world of course has a growing population which isdemanding high quality Australian agriproducts so, it would seem to make a lotof sense to me.

PATRICIA KARVELAS: If you're just joining us on RNDrive, Steve Ciobo is the guest tonight. He is the Minister for Trade. Let'sget to Thursday's Fair Work Commission decision on penalty rates. It's going tohave very real impacts for some low-paid workers, some could lose up to $6000 ayear. Given that, do you support the decision?

STEVEN CIOBO: Well I think there's good and badin the decision. I've made the point that for those who are seeing a reductionin their pay, understandably they'd be concerned about it and you know it'sgoing to make it a little bit tougher for them. By the same token, we also knowand pretty much every peak tourism body has made this point as well as theCouncil of Small Businesses of Australia and others, that as a direct result ofthis decision there will be the creation of thousands of new opportunities forpeople to secure jobs which means that many people who are currently frozen outof the hospitality and retail sector will finally have a chance to get a job.So the simple reality is, like with most things, there is good and bad aboutthe decision, but ultimately it comes down-

PATRICIA KARVELAS: You obviously think there's moregood.

STEVEN CIOBO: Well it comes down to onefundamental point, which was this was an independent decision of the Fair WorkCommission. Now this was a body that was put in place and specifically directedto look at penalty rates by Bill Shorten and the Labor Party. So Patricia, heis effectively the daddy of this decision, and when I hear Bill Shorten nowturn around 12 months later, after he was repeatedly asked for example, onradio, 'will you support the independent umpires decision?' and he said, 'Yes Iwill', over and over again –

PATRICIA KARVELAS: I think it's clear that he didthat, but you support the decision. You think it's a good economic decision?

STEVEN CIOBO: No, I've said there's good and badto it.

PATRICIA KARVELAS: Do it think it's more good or morebad?

STEVEN CIOBO: Look, frankly, it depends on yourperspective.

PATRICIA KARVELAS: I suppose I'm asking for yourperspective because I've known you for you a long time and I know you've beenarguing for a long time about weekend penalty rates being too high. So I -

STEVEN CIOBO: It comes down to this Patricia, ifyou're someone who's going to see reduced pay, then of course, andunderstandably, you're upset about the decision. I completely understand that.If you're someone who's been frozen out of being able to secure a job in thehospitality or retail sector, if you're someone who needs flexibility, sayyou've got young children or something like that and you can't work weekends,but you can work during the week, or student who can't work during the week,but you can work weekends, then this is going to mean increased employmentopportunities for them. I can really only say to you again, there's good andbad in every decision. Ultimately, if you look at the decision from the FairWork Commission, they have taken the view that there is more good than bad.That's precisely why they've taken this decision, because it is going to createthousands of jobs.

PATRICIA KARVELAS: And do you agree with them?

STEVEN CIOBO: Well, Patricia, I mean ...

PATRICIA KARVELAS: I'm just wondering why theGovernment isn't actually stating a position on this when it's quite clear tome that-

STEVEN CIOBO: I am stating a position. I'm sayingthere's good and bad to the decision, and this is ultimately going to be goodfor those who have been locked out, and of course it's not going to be good forthose who feel like they're going to be seeing reduced pay. But ultimately,these are why we have these independent bodies to make these decisions. They'venow made the decision, and Labor now wants to race around and say, 'Oh, wedon't like this decision. We don't support it'. I mean, the sheer hypocrisy ofBill Shorten and the Labor Party on this issue is extraordinary. I mean, notonly is he the daddy of the decision because he actually set this body up, butthis is the guy Patricia who has form, when he was the leader of a union, whohappily traded away people's penalty rates in order to get himself a biggermembership base.

PATRICIA KARVELAS: Okay, on the one hand Steve Ciobo,the Government's talking about this cost of living pressures, you want to bringdown power bills, this is your new line, and yet you're hitting the country'slowest paid workers by effectively endorsing this decision. How can you argueboth things at the same time politically?

STEVEN CIOBO: I mean, no, I'm sorry, but yourassertion is wrong. We're not hitting anybody. This is a decision of anindependent body set up by Bill Shorten -

PATRICIA KARVELAS: You could intervene like you didwith the truckies, and change this couldn't you?

STEVEN CIOBO: We have made it clear that we arenot going to be getting involved with independent decisions.

PATRICIA KARVELAS: But you've done it before.

STEVEN CIOBO: No, no, let me make this veryclear. The suggestion that this, in any way, shape or form, is similar to theso called Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal, is a complete laughable joke.There is no parallel with a body that was set up in that particular case by theAustralian Labor Party to do nothing except reinforce the standing of theTransport Union. No parallel whatsoever.

PATRICIA KARVELAS: Just moving on to your directportfolio, were you frustrated that Tony Abbott's intervention and the responseto it overshadowed the Indonesian Presidents visit, which was pretty good newsfor the Government given the deal that was struck?

STEVEN CIOBO: Not at all. I believe that people,on Sunday, knew full well that the Coalition had secured another major gainwhen it comes to our trade relationship with Indonesia. We've secured marketaccess for sugar cane farmers at a lower tariff rate back into Indonesia, whichputs us on a competitive footing against Thailand, a major competitor forAustralia. That's going to pay a real dividend for, especially, cane growersthroughout Queensland. Likewise, we have done with beef exports to Indonesia.That's also going to help with Indonesia's cattle breeding programme. So areally good outcome, and I think people understand that.

PATRICIA KARVELAS: Australia and Indonesia are workingtowards a free-trade agreement. Where are those talks up to? And talk methrough the expansion you'd like to see for our universities in Indonesia.

STEVEN CIOBO: So we commenced in March of lastyear the recommencement, I should say we recommenced negotiations around aComprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement with Indonesia. The formerIndonesian Trade Minister, Tom Lembong, and I made that announcement lastMarch. There was a reshuffle in Indonesia around the middle of last year, andformer Minster Lembong was replaced by Minister Lukita. Minister Lukita and I,since July last year, have spoken 14 times about this. We have negotiatingteams that are continuing to work through this issue, and we're both very committedto putting in place this Comprehensive Economic Partnership between Australiaand Indonesia by the end of this year. Ultimately - and the example you raiseabout education is a very good one. The reason these sorts of deals work isbecause they provide win-win outcomes. Now, Australia has an excellentreputation when it comes to tertiary education and vocational education.Indonesia has a desire to boost the capacity of their population, so it makessense that we can export our knowledge in relation to vocational education, andthey can build capacity by having more students enrolled and learning a trade,for example.

PATRICIA KARVELAS: Last week, the Indonesian foreignminister released a statement expressing concern about the views expressed byOne Nation leader, Pauline Hanson. Does the Government have to be careful aboutappearing too close to Pauline Hanson? The line that the Government has takenis vastly different to the one we saw in the 1990s.

STEVEN CIOBO: Well, I think people know full wellwhat the Government's position is, and myself, the Prime Minister, and othershave made it very clear on a repeated basis what our policy is in relation to,for example, Muslim immigration and those sorts of matters. So I don't reallythink anyone could confuse them. They're quite separate issues. Frankly, it'sno different to the Labor Party preferencing the Greens, for example, or thesuggestion that in some way, Greens policy speaks for Labor Party policy.

PATRICIA KARVELAS: Well, you often do say that thepolicies speak – that they're similar based on those preference deals. Youclaim that all the time.

STEVEN CIOBO: No, there's a difference betweenpolicies that are similar. I'm talking - you asked me specifically, and I madeit very clear, that I'm talking about whether or not there's an alignment ofpolicies.

PATRICIA KARVELAS: But you've got to concede that theCoalition's attack against Labor consistently is that by preferencing eachother, that they're in bed with the Greens. Couldn't people say the same thingabout exactly what you're doing with "One Nation?

STEVEN CIOBO: Well, people do say that, and Idon't pretend that they don't, but I make a point-

PATRICIA KARVELAS: So you can't say it for one side ifyou won't take the criticism, can you?

STEVEN CIOBO: No, no, but hang on, Patricia. Youasked me whether or not there was any confusion in relation to policypositions, and I've made it very clear that there is no confusion because-

PATRICIA KARVELAS: So have you made that clear to theIndonesians?

STEVEN CIOBO: Our position in relation toimmigration couldn't be stated any more clearly than I or the Prime Minister orothers have made, so there are very clear and distinct differences between thetwo.

PATRICIA KARVELAS: Thank you so much for coming in.

STEVEN CIOBO: It's a pleasure. Good to speak withyou.

Media enquiries