FRAN KELLY:

The biggest trade deal in two decades will finally be signed today in a ceremony in Auckland. A dozen countries including Australia will formally endorse the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which covers 40 per cent of global trade. Federal Parliament will then have two years to ratify the deal, which is still attracting some pretty widespread criticism. Australia’s Trade Minister Andrew Robb is in Auckland for this singing ceremony.

Minister, welcome back to Breakfast.

ANDREW ROBB:

Thank you very much Fran.

FRAN KELLY:

The TPP, it will be signed today then it will have to be tabled in the Federal Parliament, scrutinized by the Treaties Committee and it could be two years before it comes for a vote so the benefits of this trade agreement are still some way off is that right?

ANDREW ROBB:

They are the requirements or the procedures that were agreed on, that we had up to two years but talking with the trade ministers last night I think most countries, if not all will have it ratified sometime during this year and now I would assume Australia will do the same so we might see by the end of this year that it does enter into force and that is pretty standard for any of these agreements that these processes do take time because there are public hearings and all the rest.

FRAN KELLY:

So six of the 12 countries have to ratify before it can come into force is that right?

ANDREW ROBB:

Yes, those six have to represent 85 per cent of the trade between the 12 countries.

FRAN KELLY:

Is Canada going to throw any kind of spanner into the works on this? There has been a change of government and I understand they are signing today but the new Trudeau Government is not so keen on ratifying. Is that correct?  

ANDREW ROBB:

Well that is not true. They have an open mind and during their election campaign they said that they were in favour of trade agreements but because they had not been a party to any of the negotiations they wanted to listen to the community and I think the Minister herself told me she has had 70 public hearings already around Canada so they are putting in a very genuine effort into their assessments and I am very confident that they will come around and look to support it but they haven’t reached that position as yet.

FRAN KELLY:

There are still criticisms and concerns here. Yesterday nearly 60 community organisations including World Vision, the Public Health Association, the ACTU, Catholic Religious Australia joined up to call for an independent assessment of the TPP before Parliament ratifies. Will you agree to that?  

ANDREW ROBB:

No we won’t.

FRAN KELLY:

Why not?

ANDREW ROBB:

Because they are all the usual suspects I have to say Fran.

FRAN KELLY:

What does that mean?

ANDREW ROBB:

It means that most of the people who are driving that campaign have been opponents to free trade agreements for decades frankly. They are entitled to that point of view but the fact is that nothing that would come out of an inquiry would satisfy them I can tell you. They have made up their mind many of them long, long ago and they protested the whole way through, they said they wanted the text out early and we got it out within 45 days, unprecedented. They’ve had three months and I know they have all been poring over it like there is no tomorrow and because they haven’t found anything in over 1000 pages that they can hang their hat on they are now asking for some ill-defined inquiry. This is just a political stunt by those people and we are having public inquiries and they can come and put up their point of view. There will be public hearings starting very soon so they can come and join the rest of the community and participate in the usual process that we, on both sides of politics have put in place for these sorts of agreements.

FRAN KELLY:

If it was an ill-defined inquiry that would be fair enough but the Productivity Commission has offered to do a cost-benefit analysis of this and you’ve said no. Why not?

ANDREW ROBB:

Again because this agreement has gone through five years of thousands of consultations with members of the community, as distinct from the suggestion of secrecy, again this is just nonsense. We don’t move on any of these agreements, I mean how would I know what to do if I didn’t go and consult with all of the industries and sectors and organisations, including the ACTU by the way.

We’ve had extensive discussions over the labour chapter and they did influence the way that we went and there are for the first time labour provisions in this agreement that have never been there before which will ensure that in some countries which might be abusing youth workers and all the rest, that they will not be able to do that. So there have been significant advances yet they have a closed mind and any amount of consultation we’ve had, they could participate like everybody else. There is a genuine process and they’ll have every opportunity but there is nothing that they have said that convinces me that they are genuine about this – they have got a fixed view that global trading is a bad thing. Now they are entitled to that view but I think that the community accepts that we have 25 years of uninterrupted economic growth in Australia, we’ve got millions of jobs which have come off the back of Australia opening up and participating in these sorts of major agreements around the world with all of our trading partners.

FRAN KELLY: 

Minister, on other matters, while you’re there the GST debate rages on here. I think that you were the first Minister to come out and publically declare your support for changing or increasing the GST, a number of reports today of Coalition backbenchers coming back to Parliament after spending the summer in their electorates incredibly nervous about the prospect of campaigning on a higher tax. I see that some of your colleagues have termed these nervous nellies ‘bed wetters’. What is your message for these people who are nervous of trying to fight an election on GST?

ANDREW ROBB:

Firstly, I don’t think I have ever put a position, I am like my colleagues very keen to see the merits of all sorts of different tax reform and see what is going to work best in terms of creating growth really, because in the end that is what it is all about.   

FRAN KELLY:

Sorry I thought you were on the record as talking about the positives of expanding the base, I thought that was a position that you had supported, I beg your pardon.

ANDREW ROBB:

No. Thanks Fran but no it wasn’t. But secondly I did see the article this morning where it says that the back bench are spooked. I think it is a total beat up. I mean people are looking at it and discussing it, I don’t doubt that for a second but I was in the Party Room on Tuesday before I left for New Zealand and I don’t think GST was raised and I don’t think it was raised because all the colleagues know that we are, as we said we would, looking at all options and there has been nothing decided.

There is a genuine attempt to really see what mix of tax reform would drive further growth and jobs – that is the bottom line. There is not some obsession, we are not going to use it to pay off the debt, we are looking to have an income neutral tax reform from the Government point of view but something that will drive jobs and drive growth. So I feel that the stories are in part a response to the scare campaign that Labor is running and you would expect them to do this sort of thing – they have to do their job of trying to spook everybody and make things up and in the meantime we have to govern and we have to get out there and look in a very uncertain world we need to keep doing things, like these free trade agreements and other things which are going to set Australia up for strong growth, notwithstanding what is happening in other parts of the world.    

FRAN KELLY:

Andrew Robb, thank you very much for joining us.

ANDREW ROBB:

Thanks Fran.

FRAN KELLY:

Andrew Robb is Australia’s Trade Minister.

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