BARRIE CASSIDY: Steve Ciobo, welcome.
STEVEN CIOBO: Good morning.
BARRIE CASSIDY: Is it fair to say in the new global environment that your job as Trade Minister has got a whole lot harder.
STEVEN CIOBO: Well look being an advocate for trade, being the person who is representing Australia's national interest in negotiating trade deals, I mean it is not ever a straightforward job Barrie, but I think we’ve got to just wait for a little bit of time to elapse. If you look at where Donald Trump is, his trade policy, if you actually look at what he said, beyond what's been reported, he’s made it clear he is not anti-trade. He said he wants trade deals that are better for American workers, better for American wages and help America's budget position. And you know what? Those are goals that aren't dissimilar to mine for Australia. I want trade outcomes that are better for Australian workers, good for Australia and help to achieve better fiscal consolidation in terms of our budget position.
BARRIE CASSIDY: You have said the TPP is now less likely but is there any prospect at all the Trump Administration might reflect on this and say that the better approach is to go back and negotiate a better position for them rather than walk away from it altogether?
STEVEN CIOBO: Well look at this point in time Barrie, we’re not open for renegotiation on the TPP in terms of this forthcoming ‘lame duck session’ as it's called. Congress is still in session up until the inauguration of President-elect Trump. I know the Obama Administration is looking to try to secure passage of the TPP but, as I've said, I think that's less likely than likely today. But we’ve just got to wait and see what comes to pass.
BARRIE CASSIDY: Securing the passage given the new Congress would be a bit problematic, wouldn't it?
STEVEN CIOBO: Well it looks unlikely but, nonetheless, Australia stands by our advocacy as do, indeed, the other 11 of the 12 countries that agreed on the TPP, which is that this is a good deal for trade, it’s a good deal for bringing down lower red tape and lower levels of compliance when it comes to trade and it is ultimately a benefit to all 12 member States.
BARRIE CASSIDY: Can the other 11 go it alone?
STEVEN CIOBO: Well, in theory, yes, but really with the United States not being part of it, first of all, one officially the TPP would not get up but, secondly, if we then looked at ‘Is there enough merit to look at a trade deal among the 11 of us?’ It changes the metrics substantially. But this is not a case of all eggs in one basket. Australia continues to pursue a number of other trade options, we’re pursuing a Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, we’re looking at Trade in Services Agreement plus we’ve got other bilateral agreements we are looking at, including the European Union and the UK.
BARRIE CASSIDY: If you were to go it alone or even consider that prospect, countries like Australia, Canada, you look to Asia, is there a strategic, a security implication to all of this that perhaps the Americans don't yet get?
STEVEN CIOBO: Well I have seen commentary to that effect. And look no doubt the United States has led the world for many decades with respect to the benefits of uniform trade rules and having a common set of standards. They, of course, play a major role with respect to the World Trade Organization. If it comes to pass that the TPP doesn't secure United States domestic ratification, it’s certainly not the end of trade globally as we know it. It will continue. I will be in there with the United States looking for opportunities to boost trade outcomes and to achieve what is ultimately a better trade environment. Because what we know Barrie is that liberalised trade drives economic growth. And the reason that's important is because it translates to jobs here in Australia. And that's the reason why we pursue these outcomes.
BARRIE CASSIDY: And you look at the prospect of a trade war with China, Donald Trump said at one stage in the campaign that since China joined the World Trade Organization, 70,000 factories closed down in the United States. Now do you see that as a direct result of China joining the WTO and does he need to tone down that sort of language?
STEVEN CIOBO: Well I'm not going to provide gratuitous advice to President-elect Trump. What I would say is if you look at the past several decades, we have seen a number of forces at play, we see increasingly automation that’s affecting people’s job prospects. Yes, there is more trade now but that increased trade activity has underpinned the economic living standards that Australia’s enjoyed. The fact we've had 26 years of continuous economic growth is in no small part Barrie directly attributable to the fact we trade with our region. And in fact if you look at Australia today, if you look at those areas that are feeling some economic downward pressures, in other words not growing as fast as they'd like, that's largely because we have seen a drop-off in the commodity price cycle, we’re actually not exporting enough into other markets. That's actually the biggest factor. When we are driving exports, we actually have an increased economic buoyancy in this country.
BARRIE CASSIDY: And why don't you think Donald Trump can't see that on exports? The point you made, if he has a trade war with China, consumer goods from China will be more expensive in the United States and then barriers go up, their exports drop off and they'll lose jobs?
STEVEN CIOBO: But that's why I think it's important Barrie we actually look at what comes to pass, not necessarily what's been said up to this point. I particularly stress that President-elect Trump hasn't said he is anti-trade. He's indicated that he wants better trade outcomes. And there’s a big difference.
BARRIE CASSIDY: You look at how Labor has responded to this. Their immediate reaction, a couple of things, the first one is they say they will be tougher negotiators on trade. Now Donald Trump has said the United States in the past hired stupid negotiators which seems to suggest he is going to get tough negotiators in from now on but, I guess, what Bill Shorten and others are saying, if they play hard ball, so should Australia?
STEVEN CIOBO: Well, we do Barrie. We always achieve an outcome in Australia's best interest. But you know this is the kind of throw away comment I have come to expect from Bill Shorten and the Labor Party. It is absolutely meaningless -
BARRIE CASSIDY: To get tougher?
STEVEN CIOBO: Well it means nothing. They are going to get tougher, what does that mean in concrete action? We saw the ridiculous situation arise Barrie in the lead-up to the China-Australia Free Trade Agreement where the Labor Party was talking out of both sides of their mouth. In the Parliament, Bill Shorten was saying how much he thought the China-Australia Free Trade Agreement was going to be a good thing but, in the public domain, the Labor Party was actively saying to the CFMEU, encouraging the most militant organisation in Australia, to run a very negative China-Australia Free Trade Agreement campaign. So this is the problem with Labor. They actually don't adopt a policy position that you can follow because they are trying to walk down both sides of the street.
BARRIE CASSIDY: Well the other point they make they are going to crack down harder on the 457 visas for overseas workers. I imagine that, in the current environment, will go over well.
STEVEN CIOBO: But again Barrie, the fact is Labor has form on this. Bill Shorten himself as a senior Minister in the Labor Government when we saw under Labor in 2010, there were about 68,000 457 visa workers. And by 2013, a mere three years later, there was something like 110 to 120,000 457 visa workers. So again, I make the point Labor can't be trusted on these issues because they say whatever they think is popular but their actual delivery is something very different.
BARRIE CASSIDY: But now they are saying something that's popular and we have seen in the United States it might work. It just might work.
STEVEN CIOBO: With some quarters Barrie but the key issue here is that there are a lot of Australians, especially our agricultural sector, whose livelihoods, whose economic benefit, is tied to us being able to export into global markets. The fact that under the Coalition we secured these three major free trade agreements with China, South Korea and Japan, that has paved the way now, for example, where our biggest export market for Australian wine is actually China. The benefits are cascading down through the Australian economy and we are seeing actually as a consequence more Australians in export-oriented businesses and better economic growth as a direct consequence of these trade agreements.
BARRIE CASSIDY: What was the message voters sent to the National Party yesterday in the Orange By-election?
STEVEN CIOBO: Well look I think in NSW we have seen a range of NSW-specific factors. There is absolutely no doubt Mike Baird got the call wrong in relation to greyhounds. He received that message I think loud and clear from a number of quarters. I think this is a concrete example of some of the community concern about some of those calls.
BARRIE CASSIDY: Was one of them the mishandling of the backpackers’ tax?
STEVEN CIOBO: At a NSW level, no, I think this is a bigger issue than that. As I said, I think it is the issue of what specifically happened in relation to greyhounds, council amalgamations and those types of issues.
BARRIE CASSIDY: Just on that issue though and you have reduced the level of the tax, to pay for it, you have increased the departure tax. You said in the Parliament not long ago that previous increases in the departure tax ‘choked the golden goose’, that is Australia's tourism industry, why then won't this latest increase do exactly that?
STEVEN CIOBO: Well the challenge for any government is to make sure we balance appropriately our need to repair our budget situation. We’ve had to make a decision to put a very modest increase of $5 on the Passenger Movement Charge which, by the way Barrie, in real terms after you allow for inflation, is something like $1.20.
BARRIE CASSIDY: Yeah sure but if an increase to $55 ‘choked the golden goose’, an increase to $60, why does that not do the same thing?
STEVEN CIOBO: Well no, it's not. Because Labor's increases were much, much bigger. So we saw two things happening. The first is Labor put, in percentage terms, much bigger increases on the table but, but secondly, they actually didn't put extra resources into marketing Australia internationally. As a Coalition, we are putting a lot more money into Tourism Australia, our key marketing body, and we are seeing dividends flow from that. We’ve got more tourists coming into Australia, they’re staying longer and they’re spending more money. Now ideally you'd say you'd never ever have to make a change to something like the Passenger Movement Charge in an ideal world. But we have to be realistic about the budget crisis and the budget situation we’ve had to overcome over the past years.
BARRIE CASSIDY: And just finally on the announcement that’s to come today on the refugees, I mean clearly it’s great for the refugees involved but is this important to the Government? How important is this to the Government to finally get a handle on this issue?
STEVEN CIOBO: Well we’ve made big process. I mean Barrie you look at where we have gotten to from where we came -
BARRIE CASSIDY: Yeah I am talking here about people getting out of detention. It’s not the broader policy.
STEVEN CIOBO: The objective is always, of course, to continue the repair work that the Coalition’s commenced. I am not going to speculate in terms of media headlines, the Prime Minister will make an announcement in the not-too distant future. So we’ll be able to see all the details revealed then. But as I said, the Coalition's focus has been upon continuing to repair the damage that was left to the border integrity and generally to the framework that applies to asylum seeker policy that Labor left behind.
BARRIE CASSIDY: Thanks for coming in this morning, appreciate it.
STEVEN CIOBO: Pleasure.
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