Sky News AM Agenda
KEIRAN GILBERT: With me this morning the Trade Minister, Steve Ciobo. The Government relying in part on the Greens to be good to their word.
STEVEN CIOBO: Well, we expect that they'll honour an agreement. We've got a desire to make sure that we affect Senate reform. We think that the Senate should be reflective of the will of the Australian people. As much as possible, we want to work with them. It's a crazy situation where we get, unfortunately, all too frequently, crossbench Senators who are elected on half of one per cent of the primary vote, basically holding the national interest to ransom. We think that it's appropriate that the Senate should reflect the desires of the Australian people and that's what our Senate reform is about.
KEIRAN GILBERT: A very unusual situation though to see that the Coalition and the Greens joining forces on this, as well as Nick Xenophon, an independent himself, but this is an odd situation.
STEVEN CIOBO: Well, it's because, frankly, the Greens are being more responsible than the Labor Party. I mean, let's look at what Labor's doing around this issue. Labor's sat as part of the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters, Labor supported these reforms at a committee level in the Parliament and said these reforms were necessary to reflect the wishes of the Australian people. Of course, Gary Gray, the Labor frontbencher, said that these are good reforms, even those his party position was to suddenly do a 180 degree back-flip and say, "No, no, no. We actually don't support these reforms". We'll work with whoever's putting the national interest first, in this case it's the Greens and not the Labor party. Bill Shorten and the Labor Party are continuing to be nothing but political opportunists on this issue, so I think the Australian people see it for what it is.
KEIRAN GILBERT: When it comes to the Building and Construction Commission, it's inevitable now the Government with have to bring the Parliament back after the budget to seek a vote on that particular bill, because if you've got the opportunity today, via the crossbench, to do it in the Senate and you don't, how is it then a viable double dissolution trigger? If you've had the chance to vote on it, you haven't agreed to it, surely you going to have to have the Parliament return in May.
STEVEN CIOBO: No. Look, what's going on here is there's every man and his dog has a theory about how this will play out. What we're dealing with this week is what we said would be the priority and what the Greens would agree would be the priority, which is Senate reform. That is our priority this week, because it should appropriately reflect the will of the Australian people. That's what we're trying to do. As I've said, up until several months ago, that was Labor's position too, it's just under Bill Shorten they think there's a bit of political opportunism for them suddenly have changed their position. That's fine. That's what Labor's done.
But look in terms of the ABCC, we clearly took to the last election a policy to reinstate the ABCC. We want to see that come back into place, because we see the kinds of corruption and union thuggery that happens all too frequently. Justice Heydon, as part of the Royal Commission into Trade Unions, uncovered such a deep, unfortunately, very deep network of corruption and thuggery and all sorts of back payments. The thing is -
KEIRAN GILBERT: Ricky Muir says that he wants a vote. He wants a vote on it this week. Why not agree to that?
STEVEN CIOBO: Ricky Muir doesn't... We don't all dance to the beat that Ricky Muir plays. The fact is that the Government, together with the Greens, have said, "we're going to focus on Senate reform". We said that 10 days ago. We said this week was going to be about Senate reform. Just because Ricky Muir suddenly wants to change it, doesn't mean that... Again to me, what this highlights, unfortunately, is the problem. We have a number of crossbench Senators who think they get to dictate the national interest and that's actually the role of the Australian people to have their say around that. The Government was elected, we worked out a program, we're sticking to the program.
KEIRAN GILBERT: They can still avoid a double dissolution election if they support the ABCC. That's the bottom line, isn't it?
STEVEN CIOBO: Correct.
KEIRAN GILBERT: When you do introduce it in May after the budget that they can still avoid having their terms cut short by backing that particular piece of legislation.
STEVEN CIOBO: The whole purpose of a double dissolution election is to overcome obstructionism in the Senate. That's why it exists. Our founding fathers, when they designed our Constitution, put it in place so that we would have a tool available to overcome Senate obstructionism. I mean, it was foreseeable that you might get a situation like this arise. Now, from the Government's perspective, a double dissolution election is an opportunity to overcome a blockage in the Senate. Now, if the Senate continues to refuse to deal with certain matters, and we've seen it, for example, with the Registered Organisations Bill, then we look at what our options are.
KEIRAN GILBERT: Let's move on to some other issues. Bill Shorten's speech to the Press Club today, an ambitious goal of full employment that's a very worthy goal to have, isn't it?
STEVEN CIOBO: Oh, well. Look. The goal of full employment is, of course, a worthy goal, it's just unfortunate the Labor Party has no track record when it comes to delivering upon that. I think Australians need to understand about the Australian Labor Party that we just can't afford the risk of having Labor come back into Government. Bill Shorten is trying to position himself in a situation where he's going to say, "I'm all about full employment", but when Bill Shorten was actually a minister in the previous Rudd-Gillard-Rudd Labor governments, their job creation track record was appalling.
KEIRAN GILBERT: At least we know what they've got, what they're going to put forward. The Government's a vacuum.
STEVEN CIOBO: This sounds like an echo ... That is completely false.
KEIRAN GILBERT: At the moment.
STEVEN CIOBO: No, no, no.
KEIRAN GILBERT: But there is no detail in terms of the economic policy.
STEVEN CIOBO: The vacuum that you're talking about. Hang on. Hang on. The vacuum that you're talking about from the Government is after we release a $1.6 billion package, a Defence White Paper, a $1.1 billion National Innovation and Science Agenda. Is this the vacuum you're talking about? We have put in place a range of very big initiatives.
KEIRAN GILBERT: I'm talking about the vacuum in terms of tax reform, where the expectations were built up enormously and haven't been delivered.
STEVEN CIOBO: What have we said... We've been consistently saying on tax reform, that we would release our policies well ahead of the next election. Again, I make the point that we are not doing anything inconsistent with what we've said from before Christmas. We're getting on the business of Government, we're focused on driving jobs and growth, we've got in place some very big measures in relation to, as I said, the National Innovation and Science Agenda, the Defence White Paper, we've got a whole host of different trade reforms that are in place under the free trade agreements and the TPP, as well as new deals that I'm pursuing at the moment. This notion that there is a vacuum, I'm sorry, is just wrong.
KEIRAN GILBERT: Mr Shorten is clearly emboldened at the moment. He sees his approval numbers going up and that Labor's leading the policy debate. In his speech today, from the excerpts that we've seen, says that the Prime Minister is shrinking in the role, because of a lack of progress on that front.
STEVEN CIOBO: Opposition leaders are always going to say things like this. Bill Shorten ... let's never lose sight of the fact of Bill Shorten and the Labor Party's track record. He can posture as much as he wants to, but the fact is this is a Government that is getting on with the job. We've created, in the last 12 months, 300,000 jobs. Our job creation record in the last 12 months, compared to Labor, has been at three times the rate that Labor was creating jobs. So when Bill Shorten stands up and says, "my goal is full employment", you know what, their track record in Government was appalling. This has all the shades of Bob Hawke's "No Child Will Live in Poverty by 1990". Frankly, they have soaring rhetoric. Great. 10 out of 10 for soaring rhetoric. Their delivery though, is appalling. They have such a bad track record when it comes to policy implementation: Grocery Watch, FuelWatch, Pink Batts, school halls, border protection. Let's never lose sight of the fact of what Labor did when they were in Government three years ago.
KEIRAN GILBERT: NDIS, which you adopted. NBN, which you adopted. The big ones.
STEVEN CIOBO: NDIS we support, but let's not lose sight-
KEIRAN GILBERT: NBN, which you picked up and run with.
STEVEN CIOBO: Hang on. Look at NBN, they had a policy that was going to cost more than $90 billion. We've changed that to put in place a roll-out that's going to get to homes quicker, be much more cheaper-
KEIRAN GILBERT: Less effective.
STEVEN CIOBO: No, just as effective. Just as effective. We're offering speeds that are concurrent with what the Labor Party said they'd do.
KEIRAN GILBERT: I want to ask you about some matters in your portfolio area. First of all, the Iranian Foreign Minister is in Australia today for talks. Interesting that our Ambassador to Iran points out that this country was our biggest Middle East export destination 20 years ago. It's fallen away, obviously, in the face of sanctions. Do you hope to get it back to that sort of level?
STEVEN CIOBO: The ideal outcome is for Iran to stick by the agreement they've reached with the permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany. That's an agreement that puts in place economic and trade benefits in response to, of course, Iran making certain commitments in terms of nuclear weapons and whatnot. Ideally, they of course need to stick with that. We know that the Middle East is a volatile part of the world. There's a number of different forces at play there between Sunnis, Shia, and others. That's the best outcome. Now, if they pursue that outcome, that obviously puts us in a strong position to see, as a result of the removal of sanctions, an increase in trade investment. Trade with Iran, even with the sanctions, was around $350 million. We've got scope to do a lot more in that space.
KEIRAN GILBERT: Tanya Plibersek says that the Foreign Minister's turning a blind eye to the anti-American and anti-Israel rhetoric from the Iranians.
STEVEN CIOBO: Look, you hear more of that kind of rhetoric, frankly, often from within the Labor Party than you do from other parts of the world. That not withstanding, we are not turning a blind eye. We're very focused on the reality. That is why I prefaced my answer to your last question with a solid statement about what it is we're dealing with with Iran. We very cognisant of what the realities on the ground are.
KEIRAN GILBERT: One final question, Indonesia, you're seeking to... you're going to be meeting with your Indonesian counterpart this week. As a former merchant banker, this economic relationship is completely underdone between Australia and Indonesia, despite there being a free trade agreement in place between the two countries.
STEVEN CIOBO: What we want to make sure is that we build on the relationship. Indonesia, of course and Australia, both G20 countries in very close geographic proximity. Indonesia, a population 250 million people, around 50 million in middle class, huge potential, in summary. Huge potential. It's our 12th largest trading partner and it should be higher. So what I want to do is pursue together with Thomas Lembong opportunities for us to be able to drive that relationship closer, to facilitate trade investment, and that's going to be good for jobs and growth in Australia.
KEIRAN GILBERT: Trade Minister, thanks very much for your time. Trade Minister Steve Ciobo. A quick break. Back in just a moment with Labor's Brendan O'Connor.