PATRICIA KARVELAS: The Minister for Trade, Tourism, and Investment is Steve Ciobo, and he joined a very short time ago. Steve Ciobo, welcome back to RN Drive.
STEVEN CIOBO: Pleasure to be with you.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: Obviously what happened last night was a stupid mistake, a government voting against itself, but it's the second in just a few months. It's a bad look, isn't it?
STEVEN CIOBO: Look Patricia, it was a procedural error on the floor of the Parliament. I think it's important that we don't make it into something bigger than what it actually is. And quite frankly, and quite truthfully, I just don't think this type of thing is what Australians care about. What they care about is what we've actually done substantively in the House this week, which is put extra money in people's pockets by delivering on tax cuts for ordinary wage earners in Australia - 500,000 of them - delivered on our commitment to CFA volunteers as we promised prior to the election, and just signed this joint comprehensive partnership with Singapore that's going to deliver great market access for Aussie exporters into a key Asian and region hub. Frankly, do I get too worried about procedural matters? No, I don't, because I think that it’s that other much more substantial matters that people actually care about.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: Sure, but the Minister Kelly O'Dwyer seemed to compound the mistake but not being across details of her own portfolio, not being able to answer a question on her own portfolio. Given how embarrassing last night was, this is an issue for you and people do expect their ministers to be able to speak with authority, with detail when they're asked a question in question time.
STEVEN CIOBO: And look, and Kelly can speak with authority in detail, Kelly is someone who previously has worked...
PATRICIA KARVELAS: But she didn't in this case.
STEVEN CIOBO: Well, I didn't watch the debate so if you say that, maybe it's correct, maybe it's not. What I can say is that Kelly is someone with a very rich history in the financial services sector, a very substantial woman who understands the industry, the sector, the issues exceptionally well. And I'm sorry, I'm just not going to fall for the trap that suggests that because there was a procedural stuff-up, and just to confirm that this was a procedural stuff-up, the Labor Party actually supported the Government in having it declared null and void, so to speak. The Labor Party was with us on that, I'll give them a bouquet in that respect. But it does just reaffirm that this was nothing other than a procedural error and it certainly in no way, shape or form goes to Kelly O'Dwyer’s competence because frankly, she is an outstanding mind and an outstanding talent with respect to both financial services, but also her responsibility as Minister for Revenue.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: Okay, let's go to the substantial issues that the Government has delivered this week. The changes you're making to this free trade agreement focus specifically on the services sector, financial, legal, education, health. What will this mean for Australians in one of these industries wanting to work or do business in Singapore? I wonder if we can boil it down, taking it out of the trade language, to really how does... help me here.
STEVEN CIOBO: Yeah, sure. What does this actually mean? So what it actually means…Let me take one step back. If you look at the Australian economy, Patricia, 75 per cent of our GDP, our country's economy, is driven by the services sector. Four out of five jobs are in the services sector - so services is a very big component of the Australian economy. What we've been able to do through this comprehensive strategic partnership with Singapore is make sure that Australian services providers have incredible access now to Singapore, have the opportunity to be able to use Singapore as, in many respects, a launching pad into the region. An example that I often give to people, if I'm, for example, speaking to a Perth audience, I'd say to them, "If you're thinking about going to Australia's east coast, that's great, but consider going to Singapore as well." This is actually part of expansion of Australian businesses to tap into these new markets, these large populations, knowing that they'll be able to do so, recognised in the same way there that they are here in Australia.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: Just on a couple of different issues: On this backpacker tax the Opposition will send your changes to the backpacker tax to a Senate inquiry once they pass the Lower House. How much could that delay the passage of the legislation?
STEVEN CIOBO: That’s sort of ‘how long is a piece of string’ because Senate committees, as you know Patricia, can sometimes get a will of their own. I think it's a really poor decision by Labor. The extraordinary thing about it, Patricia, is that the Labor Party has form in this area. Labor jacked up the Passenger Movement Charge by 45 per cent when they were in government, and it's because of that component of the Working Holiday Maker Reforms that they're claiming that they now need to refer this for closer scrutiny.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: Just because they've done something before doesn't mean they give it endorsement every time it happens.
STEVEN CIOBO: No, not in isolation, that's the correct principle. Here's the other issue, Patricia: The other issue is that in Labor's costings that they had for the election, they kept the tax rate on backpackers at 32 cents. I just find it very passing strange that the Labor Party - one, has historical form in this area, two, were happy to take all the extra revenue but now run around claiming, "Oh, this is outrageous and it needed to be fixed". This just, once again, is a concrete illustration that the Labor Party is far more preoccupied with the politics of any issue, rather than actually focusing on the substantive benefits that flow. As a Government we have now taken a decision, Patricia, that's going to make Australia far more attractive to working holiday makers. It's going to help to drive more backpackers into this country which we know that the tourism and agriculture sector are screaming out for. It's going to put Australia in a better position because we're going to be able to reduce the visa fees for backpackers, and here's Labor dragging the chain saying, "Oh well, we need to have a very close look at this". It's just done for the politics and for no other reason.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: If you’re just tuning into RN Drive, my guest is the Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment, Steve Ciobo, and our number is 0418-226-576, that's the number you can text me on. You can also Tweet us using the hashtag #RNDrive. Backpackers who come to Australia to pick fruit make decisions about where they're going well in advance, really. Are you able to say how much the delay combined - your delay, this delay... There's been a few delays including from you because you've re-calibrated a policy that you took to the election, it's a different policy now. How much will it cost the economy in terms of lost tourism?
STEVEN CIOBO: Well hopefully, we are trying to minimize any impact on the tourism industry, on the agriculture sector and the economy overall. That's part of the reason why we've announced $10 million specifically directed towards marketing Australia as a backpacker destination, into our key source markets of backpackers which include the UK, Germany, Italy, for example. So we're putting a lot into this direct marketing. We've reduced or proposing to reduce the tax rate down to 19 cents, so we are making a concerted effort to make sure that we overcome the challenge. But if I could just for one moment, Patricia, reinforce, never forget that this issue was presented to government as a result of an administrative appeals tribunal decision. It wasn't a policy change by government that delivered this up, it actually was a decision of the AAT and we're responding to decisions that were taken in that respect and trying to do so in a fairly quick way, having listened to industry. As I said, this matter could be resolved, but for the fact that the Labor Party is, once again, more interested in playing politics and dragging this out, rather than just having this change put through.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: Just on health, because health was really dominant in question time today, Labor is obviously really making this an issue. The Health Minister Sussan Ley say the Medicare rebate freeze, which has been hugely contentious, effectively stays even though after the election the Prime Minister stood up and said, "Lessons needed to be learnt on Medicare and on health, the public was concerned". Did you just sort of say that and had no plans to actually reform or change any of your health agenda? Clearly, this policy was very unpopular among voters.
STEVEN CIOBO: No, I don't agree with the assertion of your questioning at all, Patricia. Frankly, we're still recoiling from the blatant lies that we saw Bill Shorten and the Labor Party execute when they were texting vulnerable people, telling them if they voted for the Coalition...
PATRICIA KARVELAS: If I can just get in here, you can't have it both ways. You go on about that lie and the Mediscare and how upset you are by this, but you also said consistently from the Prime Minister down, that you had to learn lessons, you had to hear the message from voters on health and on Medicare, that people did not trust the Coalition on these issues. So, yeah, you want to point to Labor and the Mediscare campaign but this is a bigger issue, isn't it?
STEVEN CIOBO: Well again, Patricia, you'll understand why I'm just not going to agree with the assertion of your question, that we're saying that people don't trust the Coalition when it comes to health, because I don't agree with that?
PATRICIA KARVELAS: But you've said it before. You've said it before, the Prime Minister said it.
STEVEN CIOBO: No. The comments that were made was that we need to listen to what the Australian public are saying, and we do. That is the job of any responsible government.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: Where's the evidence that you've listened?
STEVEN CIOBO: I'll tell you exactly where the evidence is. If you look at, for example, bulk-billing rates under the Coalition, and if you want to compare track records, an extra 17 million GP services have been bulk-billed under the Coalition last year, compared with Labor. If you look at, for example, the average rate across the country, we see GP bulk-billing now at a historic high of 85.1 per cent under this Government, up from 84.3 per cent in 2014/2015. It also sees an investment from the Coalition of $7.1 billion into general practice. So you know, if you actually look at what's happening with Australia's health sector, you look at one of the most important barometers of that, which is bulk-billing rates, this is a Government which has a strong track record which is improving under this Government’s policies. That's why-
PATRICIA KARVELAS: So does that mean you're just going to instead be spruiking what you already do in trying to convince the public that it's okay based on your current policy settings?
STEVEN CIOBO: But Patricia, you know, part of the problem with this is that we've got to have a rational conversation. Now we have paused the increase in the rebate which, incidentally, the Labor Party initiated. A lot of people like to gloss over this. This pause was initiated under Labor. We have extended this pause, I don't deny that for one second. We've extended this pause but Labor put it in place first. We're keeping it in place and the reason we're keeping it in place really boils down to two things: one, we have a job to do, to repair our country's budget. We're a $39 billion budget deficit, we've seen seven years of deficit and as government we take very seriously our responsibility to make sure we don't keep living beyond our means because, fundamentally, we don't think it's fair to steal from the next generation, to pay for today's standard of living. So we're doing what we can to get our expenditure under control. The second reason why we've kept the pause in effect is because it does make a material difference to our budget position. But also, the impact at a local GP level works out over four years to something like $2 or $2.50 a consultation. So when Labor runs around and says, "Oh well, now doctors are going to put prices up $10 or $20," it just doesn't stack up. How on earth does a $2 or $2.50 change in the rebate, possibly justify a $10 or $20 increase from doctors. And you know what, Patricia? It's not happening and that's the reason why bulk-billing rates continue to increase.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: Final question before I let you go: The New South Wales parliament has unanimously passed a motion calling Donald Trump a revolting slug. What do you think of that? Do you think he's a revolting slug?
STEVEN CIOBO: Well I find a lot of his comments very offensive.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: Are they revolting?
STEVEN CIOBO: I'm not going to get involved in playing word games. I find a number of his comments offensive, a number of the positions he take doesn't align with mine. I'll add, there's a number of positions that Hilary Clinton has adopted which I also don't support. If I was an American citizen, I'd be challenged with where I would want to put my support.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: Would you be hiding under a doona?
STEVEN CIOBO: Having said all of that, to answer your question directly, I don't think it's helpful. Frankly I don't think it's helpful that the New South Wales parliament has done that. I don't think it advances any cause whatsoever, I don't think it does anything to enhance Australia's diplomatic relations with our long-time ally, the United States of America. Frankly it's a little gratuitous.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: Steve Ciobo, thank you for joining me.
STEVEN CIOBO: A pleasure, thanks Patricia.
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