Fran Kelly: Andrew Robb welcome back to Breakfast.
Andrew Robb: Thanks very much Fran; thanks for the opportunity.
Fran Kelly: When we spoke last week you were uncertain but hopeful this agreement could be reached; is time running out for the TPP?
Andrew Robb: It is getting tight ahead of a number of major political events in the US, and Canada has an election coming up etc., but I still think there’s the opportunity, basically because I felt in the last week – including the week before with the officials who were negotiating the lower level things – we made more progress than in any other negotiation that I’ve been associated with over the past two years. Nothing is agreed until everything is agreed, but we have taken decisions, I would say provisionally, on over 90 per cent of the issues, so we are very close and it just needs some movement in many respects by the US on a couple of big issues and we would be there.
Fran Kelly: I was going to ask you about that because when we spoke last week you basically said the red lines for Australia were around pharmaceuticals and agriculture; the US is the one that’s been pushing this free trade agreement – President Obama has really made it a bit of a signature of his – but it doesn’t seem to be giving ground on sugar, on pharmaceuticals and now we read that President Obama actually rang Tony Abbott last week, urging him to back America on extending medical patents. Does the US want this all their own way?
Andrew Robb: I do feel on the biologics, the US has been over the last few days, trying to accommodate our position and the position of others, so that one had made reasonable progress; it was stymied by the problems with two other big areas – cars and dairy. The US, in some ways with the TPA – the approval for the president that consumed two or three months of activity recently, getting the TPA through the US – I think in many ways they gave a lot of commitments to congressmen and senators which seemed to have tied their hands when they got to the negotiations, and a lot of those senators, as you’d understand well, in the US there’s no great party discipline – it’s all about what can I protect in my own patch – and I felt it held back the resolution on a couple of those very big issues, the cars for instance, in a way that was quite unfortunate because it is a deal, which I keep saying to the Americans, to reduce protections, not increase it or maintain it.
Fran Kelly: Yes, it sounds like some of those senators were in sugar seats. What about the foreign investment protection clause; the US want it included in the deal, the so called Investor State Dispute mechanism. Were you prepared to give ground on that?
Andrew Robb: I’ve said before we were not going to move on that and we won’t move on that until such time that we’re satisfied that there are safeguards which give us room to take decisions on public health and the environment in a way that can’t be litigated against. We were making very good progress on that, as I said, nothing’s agreed until everything’s agreed. So it’s amazing how some things can unwind once you get this sort of extension of the negotiating time, but hopefully we’ve locked away over 90 per cent, and that one’s close to conclusion I think.
Fran Kelly: Just before we leave this, when will you meet again? Is there plans for another meeting; as you say Canadian elections in October, the presidential election campaign will really gather full steam next year in the US.
Andrew Robb: There’s disappointment – it was a tension-packed week, and a lot of anger at times – but in the end, there’s clearly a strong commitment by some of the major players – not all of them – but certainly Japan and the US are very very keen, most of the smaller nations have been keen; we’re very keen because there’s a huge amount in this for Australia, even on what we’ve already decided frankly, a huge amount.
Fran Kelly: But not unless the bottom line gets signed.
Andrew Robb: Well that’s the point; I understand that exactly and I’ve been through enough deals in the private sector and in government to know you can get very close and not make it. We have agreed though within a few weeks, to reconvene; we don’t like to put a date on it because all sorts of things complicate it, but I’m confident that within a few weeks we will reconvene and it’s really a question of how much leg work is done in the interim to try and resolve a couple of the big issues which really just involve the big four nations.
Fran Kelly: Andrew Robb on another matter you’ve returned from Hawaii to find a pretty big change in the parliament, the speaker Bronwyn Bishop has resigned. This issue – her spending – has been a distraction for weeks, are you worried the damage has already been done here?
Andrew Robb: No, I think people understand that these things need to be teased out.
Fran Kelly: Are you glad Bronwyn Bishop has done this; has resigned?
Andrew Robb: Bronwyn has taken a decision and I think she’s recognised and conceded the interests of the party, and that’s to her credit. The other thing is that it does provide an opportunity to see whether the parliament is meeting community expectations with the entitlements or the remuneration of business expenses that takes place in the parliament, so we’re going to go through that exercise and it’s right and proper, given the reaction in the community to some of the things that swirled around with Bronwyn.
Fran Kelly: Some of the spending we’re now seeing reported by Bronwyn Bishop was quite spectacular; it’s clearly more than just moving in the gap between the rules and expectations isn’t it. It’s closer to flagrant exploitation of the rules that might be too loose.
Andrew Robb: Again it’s a question of the rules, and in some ways the expectations; we as politicians get, on many occasions, criticised because people think that we don’t have enough contact with all levels of the community, and a lot of the travel is expensive. I spent a lot of time in Northern Australia over the last five years for that matter, because of the Northern Australia policy and it’s not cheap to get around and sit down in the kitchens of cattle stations and go and see indigenous communities – by the time you add it all up, it’s quite expensive but it’s essential if you’re going to make decisions where you put yourself in the shoes of those people who are going to be affected by it. So it’s not as clear as it sounds, even to get a car an hour-and-a-half away from the airport in Melbourne – a taxi now costs about $90 from my place and I’m near the inner-city so these things do add up.
Fran Kelly: That’s a bit different to a limo; we’re almost out of time, the issue of the Speaker – Bill Shorten is proposing the Speaker comes from the government of the day but remains independent from the Party Room, in the interest of non-partisanship, is that a good idea?
Andrew Robb: It’s often been the case, and there’s some merit in considering what Bill Shorten’s had to say and we’ll talk it through, but it is important that there’s a significant measure of independence that I think Bronwyn did exercise, they did target her from day one…
Fran Kelly: We’re going to hit the news Andrew, I’m going to have to interrupt you there, but Minister thanks for joining us.
Andrew Robb: Thanks very much Fran.
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