Sky News, AM Agenda

  • Transcript, E&OE
Subjects: Racial Discrimination Act; Company Tax Cuts; G20.
21 March 2017

KIERAN GILBERT: With me this morning to discuss this issue is the Trade Minister Steve Ciobo. As I say the initial reports around this morning suggesting that it was 'insult' and 'offend' to be removed from the Racial Discrimination Act. My government source is telling me that it was - it also includes 'humiliate'. Would that make the sell tougher to communities who are already sensitive about changes to the Racial Discrimination Act?

STEVEN CIOBO: Well look I'm not going to go into detail about precisely what Cabinet decided for obvious reasons, that'll be going before Party Room. Party Room will have a conversation. But let's go back to first principles. What are we trying to do? What we want to do is make sure we end up with a law that is tougher but fairer. We want to make sure that we've got a law that actually, unlike the existing law - which frankly has been a complete mess and isn't really working and isn't really providing protection for anyone – we want to end up with a law that's actually going to work, by making sure that we put a focus on it being tougher and fairer, we're going to get a better law.

KIERAN GILBERT: That might be the case. And there is an argument to be said that you make a change so that the law is more in keeping with the judicial precedence. Based on the law, that makes sense. However, if you go then to extend the removal of the term 'humiliate', under what circumstance would it be appropriate to humiliate someone based on their religion or race.

STEVEN CIOBO: What we want to do is make sure that we actually build in that issue. Where it goes from being about hurt feelings, to actually being people that are, in this case, harassing others. So it just changes it so that it actually becomes effective, Kieran. Because you could get a hundred different academics or experts from all over the place, they'd have some three day conference about those three words but what really matters, when you boil it down, is 'is the law working now'? And the answer is clearly 'no'. So by putting this focus on it, it'll be tougher, it'll be fairer, and we think that's a better outcome.

KIERAN GILBERT: But isn't it fairer to say that the Human Rights Commission process isn't working, that the law is under the precedent of the now Chief Justice Susan Kiefel, her interpretation of the law was much tougher than what the words suggests. So the law is working to that extent.

STEVEN CIOBO: Well no the judicial process. But I think that there's scope to look at both reform in relation to the actual Section 18C, but also reform with respect to how that actual process works with respect to the Human Rights Commission as well. But –

KIERAN GILBERT: You've got a tough sell though when you're extending it beyond 'insult' and 'offend' to 'humiliate' as well. This is going to be a tough, tough sell.

STEVEN CIOBO: They're largely synonyms now. We've got a situation where 'offend', 'insult', 'humiliate' - these are basically the same word. What we want to do is make sure that, as I said, we effectively take it from being about hurt feelings to actually about harm. So it is a tougher law, it's a better law, and it's a fairer law.

KIERAN GILBERT: Well, Gillian Triggs herself has conceded that those two words insult and offend don't necessarily match the intent of this particular section of the act. However, again I put it to you that by adding that additional word, don't you make it more difficult, this argument, against the likes of the Jewish lobby, the Chinese groups that are so strongly against it and others-

STEVEN CIOBO: So two things, you're operating on assumption now about what's going to be in there and what I'm saying to you is that I'm not confirming or denying-

KIERAN GILBERT: Well I've got a pretty good source telling me that that's going to be in there.

STEVEN CIOBO: OK. And ultimately it'll come down to what the Party Room decides and ultimately what the Parliament decides, obviously. What I'm talking about is the principle that Cabinet's looking at to try to make this law work better, that's the first thing. The second thing, Kieran, I would love to have spent this about of time talking about something that actually really resonates with Australian people in terms of unemployment, in terms of economic growth, in terms of job prospects, in terms of trade, that's actually what exercises my mind and exercises the focus of Cabinet.

KIERAN GILBERT: So the sooner you deal with this the better? So the sooner you deal with this the better in that sense. Get through it?

STEVEN CIOBO: Look, that is definitely the case, but ultimately that's determined by the Parliament itself. What I'm trying to say to you though, and it's well and good and of course we talked about these issues, but these are not the issues that I focus on. They're not the issues that I believe Australians focus on. It tends to be a small niche of people that are really preoccupied by this. But you know what Aussies care about? They want to know about their job security, they want to know about their wages, they want to know about their ability to make sure their kids get a good education-

KIERAN GILBERT: That's interesting, that's a very similar message to what I heard from Tanya Plibersek this morning and yet your Government's the one talking about it and focused on it.

STEVEN CIOBO: No I'm saying the exact opposite. This is something that we're going to deal with because we are not afraid to take hard decisions, to make decisions that need to be made, to deal with issues. But let me be very, very clear about this, this is not something that is preoccupying us or preoccupying the Government. We want to deal with it so we can continue to focus on the most important things. And right now, our focus is on the upcoming Budget.

KIERAN GILBERT: The company tax cuts look like they're only going to get through to a certain point, up to turnovers of $10 million a year. Is there potentially quite a big upside for you in that sense, that you then can pocket that $40 billion plus spend?

STEVEN CIOBO: Well there's no upside for the Government. What it's about is providing an upside to Australia's small businesses and, over time, all Australian businesses. And, Kieran, if you look at, for example, up to the $10 million turnover, you're talking about 100,000 businesses that are providing employment for about 2.2 million Australians. Now what Australians need to realise is that the Coalition is pushing forward to give a tax cut to these people. It creates incentive for more investment, it creates incentive to be able to employ more staff. The Labor Party-

KIERAN GILBERT: Do you concede though that it will stop at that threshold though, $10 million. Is that still a win?

STEVEN CIOBO: We have a vision to reduce the tax burden on Australians. I would ideally love the Australian Labor Party to get onboard with this, to reduce the overall tax burden. The only reason why it wouldn't happen is because the Labor Party wants businesses which employ millions of Australians to pay more tax.

KIERAN GILBERT: But, politically, it's easier to make the point, isn't it, that you're saying, this is going to Australian businesses up to this point. If you go over the $100 million threshold, for example, then that makes that argument a bit tougher doesn't it?

STEVEN CIOBO: Again, we don't really know where we're going to end up because it's not gone through the Parliament. What I'm outlining to you is the Government's vision. The Government's vision is to reduce the tax burden, to reduce tax on Australian businesses because they employ millions of Australians. If we reduce tax it'll drive investment, it'll drive employment. That's what we're focused on.

KIERAN GILBERT: A couple of those big employers in South Australia, I know that this argument's been made to Nick Xenophon, that if you lifted it to $100 million, let's say, you'd catch some of those iconic Australian companies like Haigh's Chocolates, for example, from South Australia.

STEVEN CIOBO: Look, absolutely. There's a lot of big Australian businesses, some of them are taking on other competitors around the world. They're doing an outstanding job, they're great exporters -

KIERAN GILBERT: Do you think he's listening to that argument?

STEVEN CIOBO: Well, I hope so. I hope that the Senate crossbench, and I hope that the Australian Labor Party realise that we do not tax our way to prosperity. This is the fundamental principle that the Coalition gets. If we reduce our tax burden, we make Australia more competitive. But you know what? What we know about Bill Shorten and Labor is this, Kieran, he argued strongly in favour of company tax cuts only several years ago. He's now done this magnificent back flip on his position, not because he knows it's good for Australia, but purely for the politics.

KIERAN GILBERT: There'd be a silver lining though, wouldn't there? In the sense that-

STEVEN CIOBO: The silver lining ...

KIERAN GILBERT: - the budget bottom line, if you don't get it right, the $50 billion spend through, there is a silver lining for your Government.

STEVEN CIOBO: I'll tell you what the silver lining is. The silver lining is less tax being paid by Australian businesses which means they can employ more Aussies.

KIERAN GILBERT: I want to ask you about the G20, and the Treasurer was there recently. Is this a worry to you, that the traditional statement from the G20 against protectionist sentiment in global trade, that that has not been supported this time around with the Trump delegate there?

STEVEN CIOBO: Well, let's be clear. Scott Morrison as Australia's Treasurer, absolutely stood up in pro-trade, pro-liberalised trade. Because Scott, like all of the Coalition Government, recognises that our country does very well through trade. Ideally, of course, you'd always like a really strong statement consistent with what's been there in the past but, look, at an international fora different countries bring different points of view. What matters is Australia's position.

KIERAN GILBERT: It's a worry for you, is it?

STEVEN CIOBO: Well, look, we've got to make sure we maintain advocacy about the fact that Australia does very well through trade. Trade underpins jobs in this country.

KIERAN GILBERT: Sure. But is it fair to say that the world is basically just giving the likes of Steve Manoukian a bit of space to try and shape the Trump Administration policy as best that they can.

STEVEN CIOBO: These international fora always have lots of different voices coming from different angles. You know, Australia's advocacy is going to remain consistent. We're opening up trade markets that's driving economic growth in this country, and it's driving employment prospects for Aussies. There are other people who want to walk away from that. Bill Shorten is a case in point. The Labor Party, unfortunately, is a mere shadow of its former self when it comes to trade. But we're not going to take a backwards step on it, we're going to continue to be strong advocates.

KIERAN GILBERT: Minister, appreciate your time. Thanks for that.

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