Sky News, Speers Tonight
DAVID SPEERS: First to thegovernment's fortunes this week I spoke a short time ago to the Minister forTrade Steve Ciobo. Steve Ciobo thanks for joining us tonight. I am interestedto get your thoughts on how this week has gone for the Government. You havelost a Senator, you have gained a more fired up Prime Minister it would seem.Has it been a good week from your perspective?
STEVEN CIOBO: Look I think ithas been a good week. As a Government I think we have had a number of goodweeks. We have got a strong legislative agenda that we were able to securepassage of last year and this year we are continuing on with our strong focuson things that actually matter to Australians and one of those is energy pricesand just keeping the lights on.
DAVID SPEERS: And I want to cometo that but Cory Bernardi's defection right at the start of this year. Why doyou really think he left?
STEVEN CIOBO: That's not for meto speculate on. I mean Cory has taken the decision -
DAVID SPEERS: You know the guypresumably.
STEVEN CIOBO: Well he thinks hecan achieve more outside the Coalition than he thinks he can achieve inside ofthe Coalition. That's his choice to make. I frankly think it's a bad choice,the fact is that it's the Coalition that's in government and there will onlyever be the Coalition or the Labor Party that's forming government over theforeseeable future.
DAVID SPEERS: You reckon he wasalways going to go? This was always on his mind?
STEVEN CIOBO: He's had a longtrack record of being someone who is happy to ventilate his grievances againsthis own Party, let's put it that way. I haven't seen a strong track record ofkeeping the focus on the alternatives and what the problems are with Labor'sapproach. He has done that once or twice I'm not going to deny him that -
DAVID SPEERS: But he's a lotmore -
STEVEN CIOBO: But over the longterm he has been very focused on the faults on his own side.
DAVID SPEERS: His argument isthat you lost a lot of conservative votes at the election; you have lost moresince according to the polls. He wants to give then a principled, stable partythat they can rally behind, rally and support. Do you get frustrated thoughwhen you see your own Government having given conservatives quite a bit, whetherit is on climate change, gay marriage or whatever it happens to be and yet he'sstill gone.
STEVEN CIOBO: David we won thelast Election.
DAVID SPEERS: Just.
STEVEN CIOBO: It doesn't matter.We won the last election. We are implementing a policy agenda that isconsistent with what we took to the Australian people at the last Election.There will always be people who don't like some of our initiatives and that istheir right in a democracy to do that, but as a Government we're focused ondelivering on our national economic plan, we're focused on driving the economy,getting more jobs for Australians, growing export markets. That's what drivesthis Government, dealing with those cost of living pressures that Australianhave.
DAVID SPEERS: As you know thatis not being reflected in the polls. Then this week we see just yesterday thePM really fire up against Bill Shorten in the Parliament. It obviously buoyedthe backbench, everyone loved it, was thumping the desks and cheering on. Willit make a difference in the electorate though in terms of how Malcolm Turnbullis viewed?
STEVEN CIOBO: Well you sort ofask me to crystal ball gaze. What I will say about Malcolm's speech is this,the Prime Minister's speech was a speech that was driven by the frustration onour side that Bill Shorten isn't being called out for being the hypocrite thathe is. The Prime Minister made the very valid point that as a union leader thisis a guy that spent a lot more time with his knees under the tables of billionairesthan any union leader before him.
DAVID SPEERS: Just on that, isit a bad thing?
STEVEN CIOBO: No, but I think itsays a lot about Bill Shorten's approach as Labor leader. What does BillShorten actually believe in? When you actually look at his transcripts, histrack record, the comments he has made in the Parliament, you know, he railedabout how important company tax cuts were for example, to boost workers wages,to grow the economy and how it would be good for Australia. He said that whenhe was last in government, now as Opposition Leader because he thinks he canmaybe pick up a couple of extra votes or perhaps because he is beholden to theunion movement, he says the exact opposite. It's the same thing with 457 Visas,Bill Shorten goes up there and says it is all about Australian jobs and he isgoing to work against 457 visas etcetera, yet when he was the minister and wasactually was in the Labor Government at the time, he allowed record numbers of457s and he expanded the visa category so -
DAVID SPEERS: Okay but in -
STEVEN CIOBO: This is whatpeople are sick of.
DAVID SPEERS: In fairness yourown leader, the Prime Minister has had different positions on climate changefor example.
STEVEN CIOBO: Taken to thepeople though and that's the big difference.
DAVID SPEERS: Whether we need aprice on carbon.
STEVEN CIOBO: Taken to thepeople though.
DAVID SPEERS: Gay marriage,whether we need a free vote and all these things.
STEVEN CIOBO: But taken to thepeople and this is the key difference. If you say something and you take it tothe electors for them to have their say on. Take for example gay marriage, wemade it clear that we wanted to have a plebiscite and incidentally we are nowwell and truly into February. We would be a case of being only a week or so, orwhatever the actual number of days is from having that vote, from every singleAustralian having their say, who is in a position to vote, and thus resolvingthis issue. This issue would be done now.
DAVID SPEERS: Just on that,because the plebiscite is not going to happen, that time has passed. Is it yourunderstanding, or what is your understanding what the Party Room position nowis?
STEVEN CIOBO: The Party Roomposition is that we were going to have a plebiscite.
DAVID SPEERS: But because thathasn't happened are you allowed a free vote?
STEVEN CIOBO: Well again we aregetting into crystal ball gazing.
DAVID SPEERS: No, what is theposition now?
STEVEN CIOBO: The Party Roomposition, what we took to the Australian people, was that we should have aplebiscite and that is still our position.
DAVID SPEERS: Okay so no one isallowed a free vote on this at the moment?
STEVEN CIOBO: Well we want to goto a plebiscite. You're asking me to crystal ball gaze about what might happen,what I am saying to you is the Government's agenda -
DAVID SPEERS: For the rest ofthe term, what's the Party's position?
STEVEN CIOBO: The Government'sagenda is to have a plebiscite, that's what we wanted to give Australians theright to have their say on this very fundamental issue.
DAVID SPEERS: So if a PrivateMember's Bill comes along you're not allowed a free vote on it?
STEVEN CIOBO: Well the Coalitionby definition always has a free vote on every issue because Coalition membersare allowed to cross the floor. We have seen that -
DAVID SPEERS: Just notfrontbenchers?
STEVEN CIOBO: Of course, that'sa -
DAVID SPEERS: And that's the difference.
STEVEN CIOBO: That's a validpoint.
DAVID SPEERS: A free vote allowsyou to cross the floor, well not to cross the floor but to vote whichever wayyou want.
STEVEN CIOBO: Yeah but you knowwhat David I know that this – but hang on, I want to make a point.
DAVID SPEERS: I am justwondering whether, what is the Party's position right now?
STEVEN CIOBO: But I want to makea point about exactly what we are talking about here. You and I are now sittingdown, talking about same sex marriage, okay. It's an issue. It's an importantissue for some people but you know what, this is not a major order issue forthe vast bulk of Australians so when you see the Prime Minister and blokes likeme make the point about saying we think there's a disconnect, it's because thethings that we want to talk about are the things that matter to Australians. Wehave spent maybe 15 seconds talking about energy prices -
DAVID SPEERS: I know but if wecan just get an answer.
STEVEN CIOBO: And then we havespent four or five minutes -
DAVID SPEERS: But if you canjust get an answer.
STEVEN CIOBO: I have given youthe answer three or four times.
DAVID SPEERS: So you don't ...The question was pretty simple, are you allowed a free vote now?
STEVEN CIOBO: You are asking andI have made clear to you -
DAVID SPEERS: It's either a yesor no isn't it?
STEVEN CIOBO: No, the Party Roomposition -
DAVID SPEERS: It's somewhere inthe middle?
STEVEN CIOBO: No it's not, andyou know it's not. The reason you know it's not is because it depends on whathappens and the way in which the legislation comes before the Parliament andyou know that. So with the greatest respect to you, you are a very goodjournalist, but you know that the answer is contingent upon what happens withthe Parliament, but again to go back to the answer that I have already givenyou multiple times.
DAVID SPEERS: I don'tunderstand. Honestly I don't understand.
STEVEN CIOBO: The answer I havealready given you multiple times. The Party Room position is a plebiscite and Ihave also made it clear that when it comes to the Coalition backbench everyvote is a free vote because Coalition backbenchers are not expelled -
DAVID SPEERS: For backbenchers,okay.
STEVEN CIOBO: - from the partyon those issues. But why don't we talk about what matter to Australians?
DAVID SPEERS: I don't want toget bogged down there, I don't know how we did end up there. Let me ask youabout your portfolio.
STEVEN CIOBO: Sure.
DAVID SPEERS: Because you are inthe hot seat in a lot of ways now with trade -
STEVEN CIOBO: Sure.
DAVID SPEERS: With Donald Trumphaving changed 'the game' in terms of global trade. We know he has withdrawnalready from the TPP and when that happened a few weeks ago there was talkabout trying to revive something from the remaining 11 members.
STEVEN CIOBO: Yes.
DAVID SPEERS: Has much happenedon that in the last few weeks at all?
STEVEN CIOBO: Well a lot hashappened. I've had conversations with the Canadians, with the Japanese,Malaysians, Singaporeans, New Zealanders, Mexicans –
DAVID SPEERS: With almost all ofthem. And what are they saying?
STEVEN CIOBO: Correct. And we'vebeen having conversations about what the TPP achieved and whether we want tohang on to those gains or see them slide away. The general consensus is that wewant to hold onto the gains. I mean, this was an agreement that took nearlynine years to negotiate and reach a point of agreement. The fact is that theseregional deals are good deals because if you're a small to medium sizedexporter, for example, you have one common set of rules that apply across allthese countries. And bear in mind, for example, Canada and Mexico, we don'thave free trade agreements in place with those countries.
DAVID SPEERS: So how do you geta hold onto those gains? What are you actually talking about? What's yourpreferred way?
STEVEN CIOBO: So on March the15th, Chile is hosting a meeting bringing together all the TPP members. They'vealso invited China, and they've also invited -
DAVID SPEERS: All of them exceptthe US?
STEVEN CIOBO: No, the UnitedStates has been invited as well.
DAVID SPEERS: Okay.
STEVEN CIOBO: And they've alsoinvited China and have also invited the Pacific Alliance countries, that'scountries like, for example, Colombia, to come together in Chile to be able todiscuss what might be the best way forward. Because there's a strong feelingamong many countries that we want to remain committed to promoting trade. Tradedrives economic growth and it drives jobs.
DAVID SPEERS: So what's yourargument going to be at that meeting?
STEVEN CIOBO: Well, look, I willpursue the best outcomes for Australians, for Australian economy, forAustralian workers that I possibly can. Our approach is to do that throughbilateral agreements, plurilateral agreements, and multilateral agreements.Now, that all sounds very jargony. What I'm basically saying is that we'regoing to pursue trade agreements one-on-one with countries, as well as inregional blocks if we need to.
DAVID SPEERS: You're not boundto going for multilateral or bilateral, you'll take -
STEVEN CIOBO: Correct.
DAVID SPEERS: Whatever is in thebest interest for Australia.
STEVEN CIOBO: Whatever is goingto be the best interest of Australians and Australian workers.
DAVID SPEERS: Because you arealso, separate to that process, talking to Indonesia I know at the moment.Where are those negotiations up to?
STEVEN CIOBO: So we announcedlast March the formal recommencement of negotiations on an FTA. As a CoalitionMinister, I was very pleased to make that announcement. I've been engaging in areally constructive and proactive way with the Indonesians. I hope to concludethat deal this year. That was the timetable that we outlined last March. Andwe're really working toward that outcome.
DAVID SPEERS: So we'll get atrade deal finalised this year, do you think?
STEVEN CIOBO: Absolutely. That'sthe goal that I'm working toward.
DAVID SPEERS: Alright. Well thatwould be something to build on the deals we already have in place.
STEVEN CIOBO: Indeed.
DAVID SPEERS: Do you fearthough, it's one thing to negotiate it, it seems it's another thing now to sellthat to the Australian public. Because there is this growing, rising mood inthe US, here in Australia as well, of protectionism.
STEVEN CIOBO: Sure.
DAVID SPEERS: That people aren'tkeen to see, in this case, cheaper Indonesian goods into our market.
STEVEN CIOBO: Well let's beclear on this, David. Because I think there's a lot of misconceptions around.The fact is that many Australians - not all - but many Australians recognisethat as a country, part of the reason we've enjoyed 26 years of continuouseconomic growth - well we're into our 26th year - of continuous economicgrowth, is because of our exposure to trade. There are a lot of Australianbusinesses, and a lot of Australian farmers, and miners and others, who havereally benefited as a result of us opening up export opportunities. And infact, in December, we just had our largest trade surplus in recorded history -some 3.6 billion. We've generated a huge amount of exports from Australia. Itwas roughly $36, $37 billion worth of exports from our country. This ishappening because we've been able to open up these markets. I'm going tocontinue opening up even further, new markets for Australia. And ultimately, doI need to be a salesman about how these are benefiting Australians? Of course Ido. And I'm going to do that.
DAVID SPEERS: Do you think it'sa tough environment in the Parliament, at least to sell these things?
STEVEN CIOBO: Yeah I think theanswer to that question is, "It depends". And what I mean by that isthere are some parliamentarians who will deliberately manipulate, ignore, thereal facts about Australia's trade story. They will talk about, for example, afactory that closes down. They'll just focus on the closure of this factory,and they'll say, "This is all because of exposure to trade". Butthey'll never talk about the fact that one in five jobs is in relation totrade. They won't talk about the fact that we've had record trade surpluses.They won't talk about the fact that as a country we have enjoyed higher levelsof national prosperity because we've been able to export Australian products.They won't talk about the fact that Boeing invested $1 billion and employed1200 Australians in a new factory here as part of their advanced manufacturinginitiatives that they're undertaking in this country. And so my answer when Isay, "It depends", well, if people are honest about all the benefitsthat have flowed to Australia from trade, the argument is much morestraightforward.
DAVID SPEERS: Trade MinisterSteve Ciobo, good luck with all of that ahead. Thanks for joining us tonight.
STEVENCIOBO: Thank you, pleasure.