Sky News AM Agenda
KIERAN GILBERT: Joining me now we've got the Trade Minister Steve Ciobo. Mr Ciobo, thanks very much for your time. One win last night on the CFA, the plebiscite though, is not going to succeed. This could see no movement on this particular issue for a number of years.
STEVEN CIOBO: I think it's really unfortunate. I mean, the fact is that the Labor Party has the opportunity today to say that in literally four months' time on February 11th, the Australian people could have their say, a policy we took to the election. It's us keeping faith with the promises that we made to the Australian people. And the Labor Party frankly, if they choose to go down the path of saying "no, we are not going to give the Australian people a say on a plebiscite", if they choose to ignore the verdict of the Australian people who gave us a mandate to enact this policy, then what they're really saying is that they would rather play short-term politics over actually achieving an outcome on gay marriage, on same sex marriage that would see Australians have their say on February 11th, four months to the day.
KIERAN GILBERT: But you've got various groups, it's hard to determine how many as a percentage, but it seems a clear majority of marriage equality advocates who don't want the plebiscite to go ahead. Does that, are you bemused by that?
STEVEN CIOBO: No, I'm not bemused by it. I understand where they're coming from but let's be clear about the timelines involved here. Bill Shorten himself said that he supported a plebiscite. I mean, that was Bill's view. He said it in Australian Christian lobby forum in his electorate that he supported and was relaxed about a plebiscite. And now, because he thinks there's some short-term political gain to be made, he's going to turn his back on having same sex marriage in Australia, a plebiscite on February 11th, all because he thinks that he can score some cheap political points.
KIERAN GILBERT: So you think it's not about the - you think it's about the politics motivating the leadership instead of what they say is a strongly held belief that they don't want to harm vulnerable individuals in that particular community?
STEVEN CIOBO: I absolutely think that it's about politics for Bill Shorten, but I also think it's an incredibly arrogant position, to have the Labor Party effectively looking down their noses at the Australian people and say "you know what, you're all too immature, you're all too irrational to be able to have a civil debate around same sex marriage". Because that's really what is at the core. If they say it's not about politics, then at the core of that argument is to turn around and say, you know what? Australians just aren't up to the task of having a civil debate about same sex marriage.
KIERAN GILBERT: And you're saying that Bill Shorten, your claim is that Bill Shorten doesn't believe what he's saying and what he's arguing?
STEVEN CIOBO: Frankly you wouldn't know what Bill Shorten believes because it wasn't that long ago that he was actually saying that he supported and was relaxed about a plebiscite. Now today, all of a sudden, Bill Shorten says no, no, that's no longer my view, I now am opposed to a plebiscite. You know, what is so –
KIERAN GILBERT: But a lot of people have evolved in terms of their views in this issue.
STEVEN CIOBO: But Kieran, this isn't about evolving the views on the issue, this is about changing a political position on the way in which you achieve the outcome. In other words, this isn't about Bill Shorten shifting his position on same sex marriage, it's about Bill Shorten saying, yes, I think that Australians should have a say through a plebiscite and then today, when we could have that say in four months to the day, he'd say no, no, I'd rather it was just left and we don't deal with it. I mean, the Labor Party, if we don't have same sex marriage in Australia, it's for one reason and one reason alone and that's because Bill Shorten and the Australian Labor Party turned their backs on it.
KIERAN GILBERT: But the Government has got to accept some responsibility as well, doesn't it? In the sense that, there was that meeting between the Attorney General and his counterpart in Brisbane. Neither proposed anything. It was a debacle. When really, if the Government wanted a compromise, they could have said, "Okay, here's an option. What about if we remove funding from both sides of the campaign?" Would that get you support?
STEVEN CIOBO: I think it's important that we actually, not only maintaining fairness, but, being seen to maintain fairness. The fact is that there's a history of precedent of providing equal funding for both sides of the debate. And you know what, Kieran, if people in the Labor Party are genuinely concerned about the nature of the debate - and that's what they claim that they are – then what better way to overcome that concern then for there to be public funding on the table for both sides of the debate, so that the proper campaign can be funded without resorting to some kind of deplorable rhetoric, or something like that –
KIERAN GILBERT: But are you worried now that there's going to be no movement on what many people see as a rights issue, an equality issue, and supportive of it, as you are, in terms of the change? But now, it could be many years before there is any movement on this. Because once, if Labor does win, in 3, 4, 5 years, they will then be advocating a locked-in vote for all of them. No conscience vote for Labor at the time. Then, it makes the argument for a free vote very difficult.
STEVEN CIOBO: But this is the other point though, Kieran. I mean, this is the same Labor Party who were arguing for a conscience vote not that long ago. Who are now saying, "No, we're going to bind all of our MPs". I mean, to be blunt, this has been incredibly difficult for us to deal with the Australian Labor Party on this issue because Labor is all over the workshop. At one moment they support a plebiscite. Then, they don't. In the next breath, they say they want a conscience vote. Now they're saying they're going to bind all their MPs. I mean, it's sort of like trying to catch smoke. The Labor Party's position is not about achieving an outcome. It's just about being in opposition, and playing opposition politics.
KIERAN GILBERT: Okay. I have to ask you about a few other issues. The CFA going through ... the CFA bill, the volunteers bill going through Parliament, with the support of the crossbench. Is this encouraging to you that you've been able to get this particular piece of legislation through with that, what's been described in various terms as the rabble of the crossbench in the Senate.
STEVEN CIOBO: Well, look, it is encouraging because this was about us providing support and, again, following through on a pre-election commitment that we made that those volunteers, the people who actually risk life and limb to fight fires in Victoria, would be looked after. We know that the Victorian state government did it as a sop to the unions. That was very clear. Unfortunately, it's also crystal clear that when faced with the choice between backing volunteers or backing union masters, at a federal level, the Labor Party, like the Labor Party at a Victorian state level, sided with the unions.
KIERAN GILBERT: Do you think that it reflects a Senate that isn't as tough to deal with as many had suggested it would be?
STEVEN CIOBO: Well look, I don't get involved in the political commentary side. I'm going to deal with the Senate with respect. I'm going to deal with the Senate mindful of the different constituencies that are represented up there. I'm going to try to achieve a good outcome. I always believe that if you fundamentally appeal to good policy, then, you know, the old saying, "Good policy makes good politics".
KIERAN GILBERT: When we were ... or as we're speaking now, we alluded to it earlier that Bill Shorten is giving an address here in Canberra. He says, Trump, he's doubling down, in terms of his criticism of Trump. He says, "I know that I'm not the only one relieved that every passing day, with every disgusting, demeaning comment that Trump makes, the possibility of him being President fades by his own words and his own actions. He's confirmed the worst fears of millions in the US and beyond its borders. He's entirely unsuitable to be leader of the free world". Your reaction to that?
STEVEN CIOBO: Well, you know, Kieran, it wasn't that long ago, it was actually in February of this year that Tanya Plibersek, Labor's deputy leader the then-Labor Foreign Shadow Minister, turned around and made the remark, she says, and this is in relation to me, she says, "Mr Ciobo seems to think it's okay to risk Australia's incredibly important relationship with the United States to score a cheap political point", and she went on to say, "it's standard diplomatic practice that you don't give a running commentary of the domestic politics of another country". That was Tanya Plibersek, Deputy Leader of the Labor Party in February, and now today, we've got Bill Shorten once again doubling down on his criticism of internal US politics. It just beggars belief that the Labor Party would be so hypocritical, when they think they can score an attack point on us, they'll trot out whatever line they want to trot out and Tanya Plibersek -
KIERAN GILBERT: A lot of people would agree with Mr Shorten though -
STEVEN CIOBO: But it's not about that. It's not about that. The Labor Party, the Deputy Leader of the Labor Party was critical of us saying a word about, and they weren't even presidential nominees then, it was before they had even selected their candidates, about any internal US comments but now because it suits Bill Shorten, because he thinks, again, that there's a couple of points to be made, suits him to run out there and claim he's all anti-Trump and make all these adverse comments, completely junking diplomatic tradition. And frankly I think -
KIERAN GILBERT: But you did criticise Hilary Clinton at the time over the TPP position, which both sides are opposed to, in terms of the candidates at least, for being, I think it was beholden to the union movement.
STEVEN CIOBO: As I said, I mean, I made comments about the TPP and it wasn't about presidential nominees. I got this withering lecture from Tanya Plibersek about how wrong that was to do that and then today, we have the alternative Prime Minister, the Leader of the Opposition, attacking one of the presidential nominees and there's just crickets. The sound of crickets from Tanya Plibersek, from Penny Wong, from the Labor Party, because you see, this is the problem with Labor. They never follow through. They never apply to themselves the same standard that they want to apply to everyone else.
KIERAN GILBERT: Trade Minister, thanks for your time. I appreciate it.
STEVEN CIOBO: Pleasure.