Sky News, AM Agenda

  • Transcript, E&OE
Subjects: New Ministry; Trans-Pacific Partnership; 2016 Election.
19 July 2016

KIERAN GILBERT: With me now, the Trade Minister Steve Ciobo. Minister, thanks for your time today. You've seen, well we've seen the cabinet appointed. Twenty-three, it's a record number within the cabinet. I think since 1975 we haven't seen a number that big. Is this about trying to placate as many people as possible for a Prime Minister with a narrow margin?

STEVEN CIOBO: No, this is about making sure that we've got strong voices at the cabinet table, for each of those areas that, obviously, ministers have responsibility for. We've got a situation now – we've got a strong blend in terms of the National Party and the Liberal Party. It's a strong Coalition, very focused on making decisions we need to make. Also, the Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull made it very clear that under his stewardship, he wanted to ensure that the cabinet process was strong. This is just a reflection of the emphasis and the importance that the Prime Minister places on the cabinet.

KIERAN GILBERT: There was a sense that the Prime Minister would extend the olive branch to conservatives within the party that he hasn't really done that. Just one promoted.

STEVEN CIOBO: Well, that seems to be something that the media sort of are very excited about.


STEVEN CIOBO: Look, we're blind to factions and all these kinds of things. What we're actually there to do isn't to worry about internal political games. We're actually there to make decisions on behalf of the Australian people, to lead our nation, to make sure that we've got governance that reflects the priorities of the Australian people. That's what I and other members, and especially the Prime Minister are focused on. We leave it for other media commentators to get excited about these types of things. It's just not something that I'm worried about.

KIERAN GILBERT: Small business taken out of cabinet. That's a bit of a surprise, isn't it? Given it was such a big focus of the tax cut agenda and so on. Support for small business, and now it's in cabinet and then removed from it.

STEVEN CIOBO: It continues to be a priority for every minister. I can tell you as Minister of Trade, Tourism, and Investment, I have as a core part of my focus what we're doing for Australia's small businesses. Every single one of us as ministers in the government are focused on making sure that our policies are supportive of Australia's small business sector. No one could question – no one – could question the strength and commitment of this Government to Australia's small business sector.

KIERAN GILBERT: But symbolically, was it the wrong move?

STEVEN CIOBO: No, I don't think so. Look on the one breath Kieran, you're saying, "Well hang on. The cabinet's too big." On the next breath you're saying, "Oh there should be another minister in there as well." I mean –

KIERAN GILBERT: At least leave one of the cabinet ministers with the responsibility for it.

STEVEN CIOBO: There is a cabinet minister with a responsibility for, because obviously it's a subset portfolio. Look, at the end of the day, what matters is the way in which the government deals with each of these sectors. As a government, we have been incredibly strong in making sure we're providing policy support and opportunities for Australia's small business sectors. Because we view the small business sector as driving employment and driving economic growth in this country.

KIERAN GILBERT: Now, in terms of the government mandate, the Prime Minister says they've won. You've won. You've got the mandate to deliver your policies. Is this about trying to govern as if you've got a thumping majority, when really you've got a wafer-thin one?

STEVEN CIOBO: Look, I'll take a majority however it's served. We are now the Government. We've been re-elected at the election. I'm very grateful to the Australian people for their support. We have a clear mandate. We have to make decisions in relation to our national interests. We have to live within our means. We've got support as result of the election to implement the policies that we took to the election. We'll be doing that. We clearly want to do a lot of work around the ABCC, the Australian Building and Construction Commission. We continue to see a level of lawlessness across building sites that's reflective of, unfortunately, a really ingrained culture and the very large unions in Australia which are pushing up prices –

KIERAN GILBERT: Do you think the narrow majority might be good for discipline? I mean, yesterday we saw a lot of talk about, in the lead up to the first party room, talk about superannuation, and all sorts of policy issues, but barely raised.

STEVEN CIOBO: Well, some might say that's a reflection on whether or not the media gets sort of a bit excited about some of these things rather than the actual truth.

KIERAN GILBERT: Or your colleagues.

STEVEN CIOBO: Well, I mean look, colleagues had the chance to raise issues yesterday. I think what it really demonstrates though Kieran, is that as a government, we are committed and focused and united, frankly, on the tasks that lay ahead of us. There will always be people that don't like certain decisions that are made. There's always that. It doesn't matter whether it's Labor or Liberal, or whoever's in government. There's always a certain group of people who don't like some of the decisions that are taken. But unfortunately, we have to make decisions in the context of what our nation can afford. We cannot continue to have a mountain of debt. We cannot continue to have large deficit after large deficit. The Coalition is focused upon fiscal consolidation. In other words, reigning in the amount of spending that we've got, making sure we're not leaving a mountain of debt for the next generation.

KIERAN GILBERT: And those around Tony Abbott, do they just have to grin and bear it?

STEVEN CIOBO: Well, as I said, we're all pulling in the same direction. That's what our focus is on, making sure –

KIERAN GILBERT: Eric Abetz, Kevin Andrews.

STEVEN CIOBO: Look, these are people who have been long-serving members of the Parliament. They are people that have made a significant contribution, and we'll continue, I'm sure, to put forward their two cents worth. You know, so they should. It's their right to do that. My point is this though. Just because someone pops their head up and says this or says that, as a government, we're focused on the task that we're elected to - the policies we're elected to implement. That's what we going to do.

KIERAN GILBERT: That margin, as I say, I'm going to ask you again, it might help with the discipline, the narrow margin.

STEVEN CIOBO: That's for others to comment. I think what helps with discipline is having a strong team, united and focused and all pulling in the same direction. We are a government that –

KIERAN GILBERT: Alright. You were in the US last week. We spoke to you after your talks with very senior members on Capitol Hill. This week, Joe Hockey, your former colleague, is in Cleveland, trying to build ties with the Trump team. In your heart of hearts, do you really hope that Clinton actually wins this?

STEVEN CIOBO: Well, I'm not going to get into who I'd vote for if I was an American. There's a lot of hypotheticals there. Look, the decision of the American people as to who is going to be their President is obviously entirely their preserve. That's their decision to make. Australia is a strong ally of the United States. We'll continue to work closely with the United States. We've got a trade agreement that we're hoping to get through together with the United States through the Trans-Pacific Partnership. I think it's important. Joe's doing an outstanding job as Australian Ambassador in the US. It's a massive job. He's building really strong linkages with both the Democrats and the Republicans and I think that's a good thing.

KIERAN GILBERT: And you met with some of those individuals last week. Do you think that that Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal will actually get through at some stage before the next President takes office?

STEVEN CIOBO: Yeah. As I said, I remain cautiously optimistic about the prospects for the TPP. The Americans get that trade is good for delivering prosperity, for delivering jobs. It's actually free trade, something that we've seen now all around the world over the past three or more decades, has helped to deliver real material benefits, real material gains for national economies. I'm really hopeful that the TPP gets up. Time will tell, but I remain cautiously optimistic.

KIERAN GILBERT: Minister, congratulations on your reappointment to cabinet. Thank you.

STEVEN CIOBO: Thank you.

KIERAN GILBERT: Thanks for your time.

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