Sky News AM Agenda interview
TOM CONNELL: Well, ourfirst interview of the day today is Trade Minister Steve Ciobo. Thanks for yourtime today.
STEVENCIOBO: Good to be with you.
TOM CONNELL: I do wantto get into trade, but just to cover this off, I found it interestingyesterday, the Ministerial Code inquiry into this has been dropped. BarnabyJoyce is no longer a minister, but Matthew Canavan is, why not go ahead withthis?
STEVENCIOBO: Well look, ultimately, the PrimeMinister's determination that clearly there's no case with respect to Barnaby.I think it's appropriate the Prime Minister looks at whether or not people arecomplying with the Ministerial Code. I mean, I think that's to be expected, andthere should be no surprises this, in summary.
TOM CONNELL: But thecode, this inquiry within PM&C is being dropped. There's still a separateone into his expenses. Doesn't there need to still be an investigation, even ifhe's not a minister you still need to know if it's being breached or even ifit's being breached to do with Matthew Canavan who's still a minister.
STEVENCIOBO: Of course. I mean Matthew Canavan has madeit perfectly clear the situation that took place. The suggestion that there'sany problem there is completely false.
TOM CONNELL: Yet, aninquiry before was needed. Now it's not, just because Barnaby's gone, butMatthew –
STEVENCIOBO: No, no, you're running two completelyseparate things.
TOMCONNELL: But the inquiry was launched?
STEVENCIOBO: You're running two entirely separatelythings together. One was in relation to Barnaby's position and that hasresolved itself now with his decision to not stay as leader of the NationalParty. The second is in relation to the circumstances that Matt Canavan hadaround employment of a staff member, and that's been dealt withcomprehensively.
TOM CONNELL: Okay. Onthe Barnaby matter, it's been dealt with in terms of him not being a Ministeranymore. The voters still need to know if the code's been breached.
STEVENCIOBO: Look, you know, I don't think the votersare concerned about some trolling through the entrails after the fact thatBarnaby Joyce has resigned and stood down as leader. I mean, that is inpolitics, the ultimate price that you pay. So you know, what actually voterscare about is what's happening on jobs. What's happening on economic growth?What's happening on taxes? What's the plan for the future? How are we going todeal with cost of living? That's actually what voters care about. This kind ofstuff that, you know, people obsess about is fra- I mean I was amazed, Tom,yesterday we saw in question time, the Labor Party stand up and ask questionafter question after question about this type of what is, frankly, garbage andcompletely ignore what matters to ordinary Australians. It just highlights aLabor Party that is so obsessed with trying to play politics and not in the leastbit focused on what actually matters to everyday Australians who are basicallytrying to make sure that they can keep up with the cost of living. That theycan make sure that their kids have a good education and job. That's what theGovernment's focused on. I think the Labor Party should focus on it too.
TOM CONNELL: I knowyour focus is on the Trans-Pacific Partnership amongst other things.
TOM CONNELL: Signingceremony coming up on March 8. With that, and the recent indications from theUS they might be open in some way to re-joining, presumably this has to stay asis. You can't afford to renegotiate the crux of the deal given how fraught thishas been.
STEVENCIOBO: Well, look, you're exactly right. I meanso the simple fact is that we've done this deal now between the 11 countries,as we called it the TPP-11. That agreement's there, it's on the table. It's areally good agreement and in fact, it largely mirrors the original agreementthat included the United States. What we did was suspend the operation ofcertain provisions that really represented the interests of the United States,because obviously if they're not in it, why would we leave that in the deal? Sothey've been suspended, but the balance of the deal, which is a really gooddeal, going to be great for Australia's economy, great for Australian jobs,great for Australian exports, that's all there. We're going to sign theagreement on March the 8th and it's going to make Australia a richer and moreeconomically sustainable and stronger country.
TOM CONNELL: So thoseelements can be re-enacted if you like if the US joins holus-bolus, but themore likely situation seems to be they might do some one-to-one deals. Is thatyour next job? Has that already started?
STEVENCIOBO: I mean, you're sort of asking me tocrystal ball gaze. Look, I don't know what the United States is going to do.Obviously in time we'll see what the administration decides to do. I've got areally strong working relationship with the United States trade representative,USTR Bob Lighthizer. He's basically my counterpart. He and I we work verystrongly together, consistent with the great relationship between the US andAustralia. In the fullness of time, they will make a decision about what theychose to do. We have the biggest trade agenda that Australia's ever seen. Youknow we've just, we're about to sign the TPP-11, we've just concluded a dealwith Peru. We have deals underway with India, with Indonesia, with Hong Kong,with the Pacific Alliance countries, with the European Union, with the UK, sowe've got a lot happening in this trade space. The reason we've got a lothappening is 'cause we know one fundamental thing. If we grow trade, we grow aricher country and we create employment.
TOM CONNELL: Right.Just on this though, would the theory be, without committing to what's going tohappen, you take the crux of this agreement and try to get the US to sign up toit? 'cause this stuff takes so long as you know, it's so complicated. Is thisstill the starting point and you hope you can get a little one-on-one done withthe US?
STEVENCIOBO: Well, we already have a one-to-one interms of bilateral FTA, obviously, between Australia and the United States.Yeah, it remains our desire that the US comes back to the Trans-PacificPartnership. We've kept all of the bait, for lack of a better term, in thedeal, like all the things that they would be interested in, so there'sincentive for them to come back.
TOM CONNELL: 'Causeit's not just trade for them, they want to just set the rules. It was seen asthis-
STEVENCIOBO: But that's all still there. This is thething. I mean it is a comprehensive trade deal. It's a really good trade deal.
TOM CONNELL: Allright, you left the US and the reports were that despite some lobbying ofDonald Trump, we don't know whether or not we're going to be subject to thissteel tariff. Is that still the situation?
STEVENCIOBO: Well we made clear the understanding thatwas reached at the G20 meeting last year, which is that Australia would beexempt in terms of steel and aluminium. But of course, until the Presidentdecrees it as such, so to speak, then we need to make sure that we're alwaysputting our best foot forward. Myself, the Prime Minister, we make no apologiesfor being strong advocates about what's good for Australia. I mean –
TOM CONNELL: It'sstill in a bit of doubt though, right now, as to what would happen with thistariff.
STEVENCIOBO: Well the President hasn't said what he'sgoing to do. We've made clear the agreement that we reached in the G20 forAustralia to be exempt is our expectation, understandably, given that was whatwas reached at the G20. But of course I'm going to take every single opportunityand I won't apologise for taking every opportunity to stand up for Australianbusinesses.
TOMCONNELL: What would the impact be on oursteel industry if that did go ahead?
STEVENCIOBO: Look, I don't know, in summary, because itwould depend on ultimately what it looks like. Is it a quota? Is it a tariff?Is it a combination of both? You know, there's so many parameters there thatwould need to be determined. We just don't know.
TOM CONNELL: Allright. I want to ask you about company tax. The Hanson, Pauline Hanson's OneNation Party is saying no to this. It looks pretty dead for the moment in theSenate. She suggested alternatively a payroll cut. Now I know this is State andyou'd have to have sort of an overwhelming reform deal that actually went ahead,'cause it was supposed to be cut after the GST was brought in. What do you makeof this? Would that be a pretty good avenue to go down for your electorate?
STEVENCIOBO: Look, we're talking chalk and cheese.Payroll tax is an anti-employment tax. There's no doubt about that. But StateGovernments rely on it, and State Governments I think in a lot of StateGovernment budgets, payroll tax accounts for something like 20-25 per cent ofState budgets. So I understand where Pauline's coming from, but it has nothingto do at all with the Federal Government-
TOMCONNELL: But given-
STEVENCIOBO: -that's a decision for State Governments.
TOM CONNELL: Sure,given it's an anti-jobs and anti-wages tax as well really. I mean this isdirectly what it taxes.
STEVENCIOBO: Yeah, but, Tom, we can sit here and talkabout this for the whole day if you want-
TOM CONNELL: Notreally.
STEVENCIOBO: -but at the end of the day this is a StateGovernment decision.
TOM CONNELL: Sure, but what about, is it the sort of thing that you'dthink about, going back to a macro form agenda, you look at GST, you look at awhole range of things again. Or is that just not going to be revisited after-
STEVENCIOBO: You know, look, I think, frankly, I thinkit's a waste of time, us spending 10 seconds more talking about payroll taxwhen it's a State Government issue. So let's talk about a tax that we cancontrol at a Federal level, which is company tax. One thing that is very clear,and this is why the Government has put forward this agenda, we're into theUnited States where they have cut company taxes. We heard from all of the majoremployers in the US who were there. We had about 20 of the CEOs from major UScompanies that employ tens of thousands and hundreds of thousands of workers.They made it crystal clear that, as a direct result of those company tax cutsin the United States, they're reinvesting in the US and they're drivingemployment. We make this same point here in Australia. That's why I say to theAustralian Labor Party, they need to stop being so arrogant, 'cause Labor'sposition is to say to the CEOs of Australian businesses "We don't carewhat you say." I mean the CEOs in Australia say repeatedly, "Cutcompany tax. Keep us competitive. Help us invest in our business. Help us growthe economy."
TOMCONNELL: I'm sure there's an argumentthere, but CEOs are self-interested.
STEVENCIOBO: CEOs work to the betterment ofshareholders. I mean, I'm sorry, but that's a preposterous thing to say. CEOswork-
TOM CONNELL: But hangon, that's ultimately true, but shareholders ultimately are best off whenprofits are biggest.
STEVENCIOBO: That's right. And who benefits from that,Tom? Who are the major beneficiaries when companies do well? Mums and Dads inAustralia. Because you know who owns all these businesses? Everybody'ssuperannuation funds. You know sometimes I think we make a mistake in thiscountry. People think "Oh this is only benefiting the rich or the1%." Rubbish. The people who benefit from companies being more profitableare two groups of people. One - it's the shareholders, which are Mums and Dads,who own all of these businesses through their superannuation funds. The secondgroup of people who benefit are the workers. The workers benefit because morepeople can get employed, and as more people get employed that means better paythat goes through to those workers.
TOM CONNELL: Ah, wellthere's a whole range of arguments to wade into there, but we are out of time.Steve Ciobo, Trade Minister. Thanks for your time today.