ELIZA BORRELLO: Steve Ciobo, thanks for the interview.
STEVEN CIOBO: Pleasure.
ELIZA BORRELLO: Strategically what does this mean for the region? Is this an indication that Singapore feels vulnerable to the instability China's creating in the region?
STEVEN CIOBO: This is a great agreement for Australia and Singapore. This is an agreement that reflects the way in which our two economies are moving closer together. It's an agreement that builds on what has been a very strong relationship historically. We want to make sure it goes from strength to strength. Through this agreement we've put a focus on collaboration, on defence, on trade, on innovation. It's consistent with this Government's focus on making sure that we have a national economic plan that drives the economy, that drives jobs and that also helps to effectively manage the transition in our economy away from resources and energy, and to better embrace the opportunities that exist around a more diversified economy.
ELIZA BORRELLO: Why does Singapore feel it needs to have an extra 8000 troops testing weapons is in Australia?
STEVEN CIOBO: I can't answer on behalf of the Singaporean Government. Obviously that's a question best put to them. What I can say is that the opportunities that we've opened up now, the improvement in both Shoalwater Bay, but also Townsville, the investment that will flow from that, this is going to be great news for those two areas. It's going to be great news in terms of opportunities for collaboration between the ADF, the Australian Defence Force, and the Singapore Armed Forces. This is a good news story in terms of those opportunities for collaboration and to work together.
ELIZA BORRELLO: What do you see as the following effects for the Queensland economy of having that many more people on rotation through that area?
STEVEN CIOBO: Sure. I think it's really good news for Queensland. I was speaking with Ewen Jones, the Member for Herbert, and he tells me that people in Townsville will be genuinely very excited about this opportunity. We're talking about a multi-billion dollar investment, both in terms of Shoalwater Bay and Townsville. We're going to see big improvements in terms of the capital that's been expended in terms of those defence bases and the training facilities that are there. There's going to be more troupes moving through. This is all a very positive story. It's part of our diversification of the Australian economy. It's going to underpin growth in jobs into the future.
ELIZA BORRELLO: Essentially this deal will see a foreign government sink $2.25 billion into two marginal liberal states or LNP seats on the eve of an election. Are you worried about the optics of that?
STEVEN CIOBO: Not at all. I think that's a very cynical point of view. We are talking about two very established defence force bases and training facilities. That's what drove this, not the politics. I think most reasonable Australians would recognise, of course the focus is upon where we have defence bases. I don't think for a moment that Singapore was that concerned about which seats these bases happen to be in.
ELIZA BORRELLO: The announcement is being made on the eve of an election though. Has it been fast-tracked in any way?
STEVEN CIOBO: No. This has been a calm, methodical, consistent approach. Full credit to Andrew Robb, both as previously Trade and Investment Minister, and now Special Envoy for Trade. One of the reasons why he stayed on in his role as Envoy for Trade was to build upon the significant work that he'd been undertaking over the past years in relation to bringing together Singapore and Australia. You’d recall, of course, that the Prime Ministers of Singapore and Australia announced last June that we wanted to bring our relationship more close and be able to go forward on that basis. This is a combination of work over that entire period.
ELIZA BORRELLO: There are some changes to visa arrangements. Can you take us through them?
STEVEN CIOBO: There's some really good news. What we've seen in terms of this agreement is an opportunity for us to clench with Singapore agreement around opportunities for increased flow of people between Singapore and Australia. If you're an Australian who wants to go to Singapore for business, more opportunity than ever before to be able to do that. If you're involved in the tertiary sector in terms of tertiary education and you're a student, there will be things like recognition of degrees that you have in Australia. That will be recognised in Singapore. It's going to help to cement the very strong people to people links that exist between Singapore and Australia. Those visa changes are just going to make it easier for our two nations to be able to work together.
ELIZA BORRELLO: I understand this marks the official end of your L plate. Andrew Robb's time is over and this is you moving into the spotlight. Do you feel you're ready?
STEVEN CIOBO: Look, I certainly do. I don't mind, people can call it whatever they want to call it, L plates or whatever. I actually think, and certainly it's been my experience from speaking with Australians, that they really value the fact that we've actually had a succession plan in place. Frankly most people say to me that they wish that happened in politics more often. The fact is that Trade is a complex portfolio. I don't feel in the least bit embarrassed about the fact that he and I have not only had a really close friendship and personal relationship and professional relationship for many years now, but we actually have been able to now pass the baton, so to speak, in a number of key areas. This is a great example of where Andrew Robb had unfinished business. He was able to finish and conclude the work he was doing with respect to this comprehensive strategic partnership with Singapore. In the interim I've been able to focus other areas in pursuing Australia's national interests, such as the resumption of formal discussions with Indonesia around a comprehensive economic partnership. As far as I'm concerned this just demonstrates that the Coalition is adopting a calm, methodical, business-like approach to good governance for our nation.
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