ABC News Radio with Marius Benson

Subjects: Visit of Chinese Commerce Minister, Health Services Union, Newspoll, AFR's Senate predictions.

Transcript, E&OE

10 April 2012

SANDY ALOISI: China is today expected to raise objections with the Federal Government over its decision to ban the Chinese telecommunications company Huawei from bidding for National Broadband contracts. The objections are expected to be put when China's Commerce Minister meets the Prime Minister and other senior ministers in Canberra today. With the Prime Minister and Treasurer at the meeting will be the Trade Minister, Craig Emerson. He's speaking here to Marius Benson.

MARIUS BENSON: Craig Emerson, when you meet China's Commerce Minister today, do you expect him to raise the issue of Huawei being excluded from NBN contracts?

CRAIG EMERSON: Well, that's entirely up to Commerce Minister Chen Deming. But we've had now 10 meetings since I've been Trade Minister; we have a very good friendship and a very productive set of discussions every time we meet, including long conversations over dinner. So we've got to know each other very well. And I can say this: Commerce Minister Chen Deming thinks there is enormous untapped potential in the Australia-China relationship, despite the fact that we have been working over 25 years to strengthen the economic integration between our two economies.

BENSON: Untapped potential? China is already the biggest buyer of our exports, and it is the biggest supplier of our imports, and it's hit the $100 billion mark. How big can it be?

EMERSON: Well, very big indeed. Whenever you think of China, think of a large number and then double it, and perhaps treble it. This is an economy comprising 1.32 billion people that's been growing in the last decade at 10 per cent per annum. They're looking at a growth rate of about 7.5 per cent this year and it's just as likely to come in at around 8 per cent. What we're looking at is diversifying the relationship as China moves towards more of a consumption-based economic growth model. That means they'll lift the emphasis on services. And, here again, there are very big opportunities for our service providers, whether they be education and tourism, which are more conventional services, or financial services, architectural design – there's a vast array of opportunities for Australian businesses. And, indeed, I took a delegation of 100 of them to provincial cities in China last year. So it's onwards and upwards from here.

BENSON: Can I go to another matter: the Health Services Union is in turmoil today, with internal bitter disputes in that union. Would it be better for the Government if Craig Thomson - the former union head, now a Labor MP and the subject of allegations - if he went to the cross bench?

EMERSON: I believe in two very important principles here: the presumption of innocence - this should be available to all Australians, as should the other principle and that is non-interference in the role and work of independent agencies and authorities. With respect to the Health Services Union, they're not affiliated to the ACTU any more. The Labor Party just stands back and can't believe the internal ructions going on in the Health Services Union. Obviously for the people who pay their subscriptions, this needs to be sorted out and sorted out decisively.

BENSON: There is no new opinion poll out today: you might have expected one on the fortnightly basis of Newspoll. Bit of a disappointment for you there - no new poll?

EMERSON: I'm absolutely shattered.

BENSON: There's an analysis, nonetheless, of old Newspolls showing that everyone hates Labor across all areas of Australia and all demographics. What are your thoughts on that?

EMERSON: I think that's a slightly wild exaggeration - if you can have something that is a slightly wild exaggeration - maybe a completely wild exaggeration. Look Marius, again we do normally end up talking about polls. I think that a valid criticism in the past is that governments have been too poll-driven and playing to the 24-hour news cycle. Well, you know, that's not us. We're interested in implementing policies that are for the long-term benefit of this nation, rather than rolling out of bed every Monday morning and discussing polls and adjusting policy accordingly.

BENSON: The Financial Review this morning has looked at the Queensland state election and projected to the national scene - and says if Bob Katter was to do as well nationally as he did in Queensland, that could give him the balance of power in the Senate, the significance of that being that with the Coalition then he would be able to allow Tony Abbott to, say, rescind the Carbon Tax. What are your thoughts on that?

EMERSON: Well, Tony Abbott says he will rescind the Carbon Tax that comes in on the first of July. Then he'll need to explain to the people of Australia why he's going to put up to a million people back into the tax system that are taken out from a trebling of the tax-free threshold from $6,000 to $18,200; why he's going to cut their pensions; why he's going to increase their taxes.

BENSON: Craig Emerson, thanks very much.

EMERSON: Thanks very much, Marius.

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