ABC TV News Breakfast

  • Transcript, E&OE
Subjects: Iran Trade Mission, Iranian asylum seekers; Same-Sex Marriage Plebiscite
26 September 2016

MICHAEL ROWLAND: Now, a business delegation will head to Tehran this week to discuss rebuilding trade ties between Australia and Iran after a very long hiatus. Trade Minister, Steve Ciobo, is leading the delegation. Trade Minister, Steve Ciobo, is leading the delegation. He joins us now from the Gold Coast, Minister, good morning.

STEVEN CIOBO: Good morning Michael.

MICHAEL ROWLAND: So what are the trade opportunities in Iran?

STEVEN CIOBO: There are significant trade opportunities as Iran reengages with the world following the easing of sanctions. There's opportunity in a myriad of areas, from agribusiness and food through to education, training as well as water management and not to mention the fact that we, of course, have a really strong and powerful track record in relation to resources and energy, something that is in abundance in Iran as well.

MICHAEL ROWLAND: Are you confident Iran is now acting as a responsible international citizen after all of those years of dispute over its nuclear program?

STEVEN CIOBO: Well, we've continued to see Iran moving in the right direction. The US-led initiative in many respects on the joint comprehensive plan of action in relation to curtailing Iran's nuclear ambitions is one that seems to be bearing fruit. In that respect we've seen the easing of sanctions and it's really through the easing of those sanctions now that Australia and other countries are looking toward Iran, a country of some 80 million people, as a good potential source of future economic growth.

MICHAEL ROWLAND: Who are you taking with you on this mission?

STEVEN CIOBO: Look, it's a mix of businesses, Michael, we've got about 20 various businesses that are coming. WorleyParsons, Qantas and others. It really represents a good cross-section of the Australian economy. It is typically focused on those segments that I outlined to you just earlier about water management, around travel, around, as I said, agribusiness and other areas where we have some good, strong intellectual property, some deep market knowledge and a real commercial opportunity to be able to sell services and even manufactured goods into Iran.

MICHAEL ROWLAND: Will you will be discussing the issue of asylum seekers, of course, there are hundreds of Iranian asylum seekers either in community detention, all those detention centres, with a view to Iran perhaps taking some, if not all, of those back?

STEVEN CIOBO: Well, look, certainly this is an issue I expect that will come up. Australia's position in relation to resettling Iranian asylum seekers back to Iran has been clear and consistent. It is our preferred option that those Iranians who are found not to be refugees should be resettled back into Iran, given that they're Iranian citizens.

MICHAEL ROWLAND: Okay and you're perfectly placed as a Minister of the Crown to put that view forward and put that view forward quite robustly while you're over there?

STEVEN CIOBO: Well, look, this will be part of the mix of issues that I raise, Michael. Obviously we are focused on, and I as Trade, Tourism and Investment Minister am very focused on commercial opportunities in relation to Iran. We are seeing the US, the UK, other countries moving into Iran and we've had a strong historical tie with Iran on a trade front. We've maintained a diplomatic presence there since 1968. We are also reopening the Austrade office in Iran. So there are good, potential economic opportunities there and we, of course, want to forward those, by the same token we're not going to in any way, shape or form turn our back on issues in relation to human rights or in relation to those asylum seekers who we'd look to have resettled back into Iran.

MICHAEL ROWLAND: Just before we go to a domestic issue, we have that new survey out by the University of Melbourne today on same-sex marriage. It comes ahead of that meeting between your colleague George Brandis and Labor's Mark Dreyfus on where to go with this plebiscite. The survey shows the country has a majority of voters opposed to same-sex marriage. All but one federal electorate has voters supportive of same-sex marriage, so just why not have that vote in Parliament?

STEVEN CIOBO: I read that survey the opposite to you Michael, which is that all but one were in favour of same-sex marriage. But look, the fundamental issue is this. The Coalition took to the election our plan for a plebiscite. We said Australians deserve the right to have their say. We were very clear about it. We campaigned on it. The Australian people reindorsed the Coalition back into Government. We've now moved to exercise our plan that we took to the Australian people for them to have their say. There's only one person who stands in the way of Australians having their right to have their say on a plebiscite and that's Bill Shorten and the Labor Party. We're hopeful that they will respect the mandate given to us by the Australian people as well as respect Australian's ability to have a mature, rational conversation around this issue, as we do around many issues without it degenerating into some kind of debate that would cause harm. I mean we can do that very effectively. Australians are mature. They don't need the Labor Party and Bill Shorten looking down their nose at them telling them their not capable of having a mature, rational conversation.

MICHAEL ROWLAND: Will there ever be a plan B if the plebiscite falls over after the Coalition of putting forward a parliamentary vote on this issue in this term of Parliament?

STEVEN CIOBO: I think it's too soon to have a plan B. We're still focused on plan A and plan A is us delivering on our election commitment. Plan A is us delivering on giving the Australian people the right to have their say through a plebiscite. I mean we couldn't have been more clear before the election, Michael. We were up-front, very clear about what we intended to do. We're now moving to make this happen as quickly as possible. We've proposed February 11 next year as the date. We should move forward with this. I mean the only reason the Labor Party are saying no to it is because the Labor Party, as I said, looks down their nose and says to Australians "You know what, we don't think you're capable of having a mature conversation around this topic and therefore we're going to deny you the right to have your say". I find that a very arrogant approach frankly from the Labor Party and it in many respects betrays the trust that Australians have in terms of democracy and politics and the fact that they have every right, on a fundamental institution like this, to have their own say.

MICHAEL ROWLAND: We'll leave it there. Trade Minister Steve Ciobo on the Gold Coast. Thank you for joining Breakfast this morning.

STEVEN CIOBO: Thanks Michael.

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