Karvelas, Sky News

23 July 2017

PATRICIA KARVELAS:Our first guest tonight is the Trade Minister, Steve Ciobo. Welcome to the program.

STEVEN CIOBO:Good to be with you, Patricia.

PATRICIA KARVELAS:I want to start with some of the politics that's dominating. Minister Dutton says a non-compulsory plebiscite would not need Senate approval and be much cleaner as a process if it was essentially a postal vote. What do you think? Do you support a postal vote to resolve this issue?

STEVEN CIOBO:Look, I'm just not going to freelance on this, Patricia. The fact is the party had a policy, we continue to have a policy and I'm not going to start speculation. I mean, frankly, I know same sex marriage is an important issue for a group of people, but it's also not the biggest issue for, I believe, the majority of Australians so I'm just not going to freelance on it.

PATRICIA KARVELAS:Okay. You say you don't want to freelance, but one of the most senior members in the Government says there should be a postal vote today. Given that, it certainly puts it very much centrally back on the agenda. Would a postal vote be a better option than a free vote?

STEVEN CIOBO:Again, I'm not going to continue freelancing. I'm going to just stick to what is the party position. That's the position, and I would rather be talking about a whole range of policy issues, like the cost of living, like what's happening with energy, like what's happening on trade and tourism and investment. These are all the things that I'm passionate about, Patricia.

PATRICIA KARVELAS:Given that was the Peter Dutton freelancing?

STEVEN CIOBO:Look, I mean I'm not going to contribute to this debate. I think that people are, frankly, tired. They've heard the arguments hashed over and over and over again. I'm not going to contribute further to it.

PATRICIA KARVELAS: Okay, but the LNP in Queensland has a position that it should be dealt with via postal vote, so that's your party. That's your neck of the woods, so to speak. You're in the Gold Coast there. Do you feel like you need to push that policy, given it's the LNP's policy?

STEVEN CIOBO:I'm a member of the Cabinet. I support the Government's position.

PATRICIA KARVELAS:Well Bill Shorten says that the Federal political system is out of whack, and has called for bi-partisan cooperation on four year fixed terms. The Prime Minister has called him today about that, providing some level of support. There is now, I've got to be clear, it's been contested what level of support, but he certainly seemed interested in talking to him about it. Do you support having a referendum for four-year terms?

STEVEN CIOBO:Look, personally, I think that there is an opportunity to align the Federal Parliament with all the other state Parliaments across Australia. Four-year terms certainly have some advantages, I believe. I actually think that the Australian public would probably be broadly supportive of it. That's not to say that there aren't aspects of it that need to be closely looked at, including the implications for the Senate. Fundamentally though, Patricia, again, this is a slight distraction from Labor. I don't think it goes to the, for lack of a better term, the meat and potatoes of what Australians are concerned about. I do think that as part of a housekeeping agenda, this could be something that could help to align the federal and state governments.

PATRICIA KARVELAS:Obviously timing would be crucial here. Do you think it should happen, I know that Jeff Kennett has said this afternoon, a previous Premier obviously of Victoria, that it could happen by June next year. Get it over and done with, a referendum; do you think that kind of timeframe is workable?

STEVEN CIOBO:Look, I think that now the issue's out there. It's been raised from time to time. I think what's most important is for the public to consider this among the multitude of different issues that they think about and for us to get readings from people in due course.

PATRICIA KARVELAS:How would it help to have four-year fixed terms? I mean is there any evidence that it would make policy any better?

STEVEN CIOBO:Separate to the politics in terms of Labor, Liberal, whatever. I believe, and this is just my personal view, I believe that a longer period would enable more effective governance of our nation. At the end of the day, Patricia, I'm in Parliament because I want to see good Government. I believe that good Government comes from the Coalition obviously. But I also believe that you've got to make sure the mechanics are right, and there is some scope and some benefit that could flow from an alignment between state terms and the federal term. Now, the Federal Government's the one that's out by having three year terms which, as we know, the average parliamentary term at a federal level is less than three years. It is quite quick compared to other jurisdictions around the world.

PATRICIA KARVELAS:Do you think that it would be voted in favour of? Referendums aren't easy to get up. We all know that. Many of them have gone down in Australia. Do you think this would have popular support?

STEVEN CIOBO:I don't know, Patricia. I'm actually just really not that stressed about it. You asked me what I think would be a good idea. I'm telling you, I think four-year terms are a good idea. Let me tell you, I'm certainly not invested in the outcome. Let's just let the community have a think about it, have a chat about it if they'd like to. If there's an opportunity across to look at it, well so be it.

PATRICIA KARVELAS:Liberal members have endorsed a motion to allow plebiscites to select candidates for state and federal seats in New South Wales. Now, you're a Queenslander, but this has been very much the dominant political story over the weekend. That means Tony Abbott has really had a very significant victory here and his supporters, people who wanted democracy. Does this change the optics inside of the Federal-Liberal party? Tony Abbott has been very critical of the Government and the way it's operating.

STEVEN CIOBO:I think you're running a whole heap of different threads together here. Frankly, they don't all align. There are quite separate issues here. What state party divisions do, with respect to their processes, is up to the state party divisions. Now, I'm sure that viewers aren't keen on the internal workings of the Liberal party. If they were, they'd probably be members. What I can tell you in Queensland is that we have a plebiscite system. We have had a plebiscite system for some time. There's all sorts of discussions go around on the edges about this mechanism or that mechanism. Frankly, this is a discussion for the party division. It's an internal discussion. The people in Australia, they know our position. They know what we take forward to elections. That's what they get to vote on, and I don't think they're that excited by rule changes that are happening within the political party itself.

PATRICIA KARVELAS:Do you think it's been a bit of a distraction? I just said the political energy has all been focused, not only this weekend, but really in the lead up to this. Now, you're in Government federally and in other places, also in New South Wales where this has been had. Do you think that punters are right to think all these guys want to do is talk about themselves?

STEVEN CIOBO:I'm desperately trying not to do that on your show, Patricia, but you keep asking me about these internal matters. Let me tell you what I've done this past week. Had the opportunity to go and launch a whole range of investments by the Coalition Government into new tourism infrastructure to help drive tourism into regional Australia. I gave a speech at the APEC Study Centre in Melbourne to talk about the future of trade, where Australia should sit as part of-

PATRICIA KARVELAS:Let me take you up on that speech.

STEVEN CIOBO:These are the things that I'd be very happy to chat about, because I think they're much more relevant to ordinary Australians than internal party mechanisms.

PATRICIA KARVELAS:Okay. That's certainly something I wanted to talk to you about, because I have read your speech. You make a case that populism and this anti-trade agenda we're seeing across the world is basically just a passing moment. Stay the course, this happens and it passes. Is that your message about places even like the US, where Donald Trump has run on this agenda? That this will pass, that this is just him, it's an aberration.

STEVEN CIOBO:I think the main thrust of what I said was to talk about what history has taught us. What we know, Patricia is in countries like Argentina, but also around the world after the Great Depression, we saw when countries took steps to introduce measures when it came to trade policy, and all that they resulted in were higher levels of poverty, was lower economic growth. My point is that what we'll see around the world from those jurisdictions that might look at implementing protectionist policies, the results, history teaches us what the results will be, the results will be lower economic growth, fewer job opportunities. That is not the course, that is not the pathway for this country. We want to drive growth, drive jobs, which is why we've got to stay open to trading with the world.

PATRICIA KARVELAS:Okay. You might make that case, but across the world, and even in Australia if you want to look at the vote for minor parties and anti-free trade parties, we're seeing a rise in that sentiment. We're seeing the rejection of the case that you've just made. Doesn't that mean that there has been a failure of the free traders, of people like you and your colleagues, to make the case or to convince people that free trade is the answer to their economic issues? If you look at the case Labor's making at the moment, they're saying there's a rising inequality in this country. Doesn't that hurt your case for free trade?

STEVEN CIOBO:No. I think what's happened is that people's expectations about what Government policy will deliver for them are very high, and that's okay. The Australian public are allowed to have high expectations about what Government will deliver for them. Let's also look [inaudible] delivered here in Australia. We have delivered 26 years of continuous economic growth. We've got unemployment down to around 5.5 per cent. We have ensured that we continue to invest in new infrastructure. My point is this, if we go down that path, that protectionist path, that populist path, what's going to be the consequence of having done that? We've seen it all around the world that it's been tried. The consequence is lower standards of living. I respect that some people think that that's the pathway forward, but it just makes me more passionate to be a strong advocate about why we need free trade and the benefits that free trade delivers. Otherwise, we are going to have policies that result in our children having a lower standard of living than we enjoy today.

PATRICIA KARVELAS:You said in that speech that with the remaining Trans-Pacific Partnership parties, you're basically exploring alternative arrangements that you may be able to derive from the agreement. Now, TPP ministers will meet in November on the margins of the APEX Leaders' Summit. What are your plans for that meeting? Will that meeting resolve an alternative plan?

STEVEN CIOBO:Before that, we've actually got the next meeting, senior officials from TPP countries, happening in Australia. That builds off momentum that was generated recently at a meeting in Japan. What it all distils down to, Patricia, is this. If we can salvage the TPP deal, we need to do that. We are talking about still, even without the United States, we're still talking about a very big deal, opening up a lot of markets for Australia including countries with whom we currently do not have free trade agreements, like Mexico, like Canada. That's great for Australian exporters. I'm being dogged about still pursuing, what we call, the TPP 11, that is without the United States. Labor said they would have walked away, they said oh they're washing their hands of it. They want no further involvement. Thankfully, the other 11 countries that are still in the TPP, including Australia, they're not adopting Labor's philosophy. We're still going to try to nut out a deal, if we can do it.

PATRICIA KARVELAS:Thank you so much for your time this evening.

STEVEN CIOBO:Good to be with you.


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