Weekend Breakfast Interview

  • Transcript, E&OE
Syria, TPP
15 April 2018

ANDREW GEOGHEGAN: Well for more now on the strikes in Syria let's get the Australian Government's reaction and we're joined by the Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment Steven Ciobo from the Gold Coast. Minister, welcome.

STEVEN CIOBO: Good morning good to be with you.

ANDREW GEOGHEGAN: How confident is the Australian Government that the military strikes in Syria undertaken by the United States, Britain and France have been effective?

STEVEN CIOBO: Well, certainly, all the advice we've got from the Americans indicates they have been, as the Prime Minister himself described yesterday these calibrated, proportionate responses by the U.S. the U.K. and France to send a clear message that we will not tolerate the use of chemical weapons by any regime. And this is why it's so critical that we do send that clear message that it will not be tolerated, especially with the regime that's got a track record of using chemical weapons against it's own people on a number of occasions now.

ANDREW GEOGHEGAN: So the Government has had direct communication with the United States about its operations?

STEVEN CIOBO: Well we obviously speak to the Americans on a regular basis. We speak to the Americans constantly, both pre and post all of these types of activities and that's consistent with past practice.

ANDREW GEOGHEGAN: What's the possibility that Australia could be asked to take part in any future action in Syria?

STEVEN CIOBO: Well I'm not sure that there's a lot of benefit in speculating about what might happen here or what might happen there. The fact is we deal with matters as they approach us. We deal with them as matters arise. Australia, obviously, has a strong track record or working shoulder to shoulder with other countries around the world to make sure that we are providing support; now whether that is humanitarian support or military support for activities that have taken a number different theatres. Australia has played its role to be a good rival citizen and to make sure that Australia interests, as well as global interests, are well served.

ANDREW GEOGHEGAN: Is there a consideration though, given that while Australia was not asked to take part in the military action just undertaken, Australia does have military presence in the Middle East, albeit limited. Is there any consideration that Australia could contribute some of its forces into the ongoing conflict in Syria?

STEVEN CIOBO: Well, Andrew, as you know Australia has had military involvement in Syria. We've had some of our air force that sits there we've of course also played a role across the region more broadly, in terms of Afghanistan and Iraq as well, in providing support as well as actual engagement, from time to time. Now, we take all of these things, on their merits, as they present themselves. So I'm not going to speculate now what might happen. In fact, that's obviously the decision that will be taken by the Prime Minister, Defence Minister in due course. But what I'm saying is that we've got a strong track record of standing shoulder to shoulder with other countries to make sure we are good global citizens but equally and perhaps even more importantly than that, to send a strong message that we will not tolerate the use of chemical weapons by regimes especially ones with murderous Assad regime. Because the world needs to send that clear message.

ANDREW GEOGHEGAN: How would you characterise the Russian response to the air strikes?

STEVEN CIOBO: Well, in many respects it was predictable but look, I think that the decision for Russia, likewise the decision for Iran, is where they want to be judged in history. Do they want to be alongside murderous regimes that use chemical weapons against their own people? Or would they rather be aligned with those countries that motivated to protect the innocent and to try to bring a successful, peaceful resolution to this ongoing conflict, in a way that gives Syrians the best opportunity for a better future.

ANDREW GEOGHEGAN: We did mention this war has been on for some seven years, while there has been outrage about the chemical attack in Douma, there are more conventional weapons used and hundreds of thousands of Syrians have lost their lives. Where is the line, where should the line be drawn? How concerned is the Australian Government about the ongoing conflict and what can be done, because there's often talk about a political solution, nothing yet has eventuated?

STEVEN CIOBO: Well Andrew, nobody likes conflict. Nobody wants to see death and destruction. People are focused on doing what we can to bring a successful and like I said peaceful resolution to this ongoing conflict. We see, unfortunately, the consequences that of two forms of action: those where we take action to intervene as we did with, for example, Afghanistan and Iraq as well as what happens when countries don't intervene in any material way, which is unfortunately, the situation with Syria. So, you know, none of these things are clear cut, it's not a case of it being black and white. There are consequences both intended and unintended, from involving yourself but also from not involving yourselves in conflict. I think any reasonably-minded parson would recognize that these are the though choices that leaders have to make, but with respect to Syria we're doing a very major role. We're playing a very major role, providing humanitarian support and assistance. We do that again alongside a plethora of other countries because we're focused on trying to, as much as we can, ease the impact to that ongoing conflict.

ANDREW GEOGHEGAN: Steve Ciobo, you say the Government has open communications with the Trump Administration, we're hearing, or he has said, that he is willing to reconsider joining the Trans-Pacific Partnership. What have the Americans said directly to you about that?

STEVEN CIOBO: Well, I've got a very good, in fact, a really warm and close working relationship with the U.S. Trade Representative Ambassador Lighthizer. He and I see each other regularly. We speak regularly. The United States' position on TTP had been pretty clear and consistent for some time. President Trump announced before the election that he would withdraw the United States from TTP. Australia at the time, of course, was not surprised but disappointed when that happened, he's also indicated that the U.S. might possibly look at the TTP-11 if they able to re-negotiate a 'better deal', to use the President's language. Now from Australia's perspective we've pursued the TTP-11 because we knew it was in Australia's economic interests, we knew it would help to provide a boost to exports and it would help to create jobs in Australia. That's why we pursued it. Frankly, it stands in contrast to Bill Shorten and Labor, who wanted to walk away from this deal. Now, were are focused and committed to bringing the TTP-11 into effect. We know it's going to be good for Australia so that's what my attention is zeroed in on at the moment.

ANDREW GEOGHEGAN: You've said right now Australian agricultural exporters are materially advantaged, relative to the American exporters. So, should the Americans join the TPP, would that mean the Australians would be at a disadvantage?

STEVEN CIOBO: No, what it does is it changes the metrics around this decision, now for example, right now Australia, well I mean it's actually once the TTP-11 comes into effect, but right now with the agreement having been signed off, all countries are working through the domestic ratification processes. When the TTP-11 comes into effect, which we hope will be at the start of next year, we'll see for example Australian beef farmers being advantaged compared to, for example, their U.S. beef competitors. Now that's a good outcome for Australia with respect to the Japan market. Now, if the United Stated did some back to the table, if they did do a deal that the TTP-11 countries were happy with, well that would change the metrics around that. But more importantly it would also change the metrics around the deal overall. And the impact of that, in terms of our national interest, would be a beneficial one. And that's what I'm focused on.

ANDREW GEOGHEGAN: Talk about changing the metrics though, bottom lime – should the Americans join the TPP, would it mean Australia would have to make concessions?

STEVEN CIOBO: No not at all. The thing about trade deals and often it's a bit if a false picture that people portray because they make it look like it's a win lose. In order for one side to win, another side has to lose. That's not the basis of good trade deals at all. A good trade deal does not involve one side winning and one side losing. A good trade deal actually delivers win-win outcomes. And so what you do is you get access in these particular areas and you give some access in these other areas. In aggregate terms, which is what matters Andrew, you get a boost of the benefit to both countries or if its like this, a regional trading deal, a boost that's of benefit to all the countries involved, and that's precisely why we've seen it be policy orthodoxy for 50 years. Which has delivered higher standards of living, better employment prospects and that's the consequence of in countries engaging in more frequent trade and more investment with each other.

ANDREW GEOGHEGAN: Trade Minister Steve Ciobo, thanks for joining us.

STEVEN CIOBO: Good to speak with you.

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