KIERAN GILBERT: Joining me now on AM Agenda, Steve Ciobo, the Trade Minister. Mr Ciobo, thanks very much for your time. It looks like a bit more work to do in terms of getting that particular omnibus bill through.
STEVEN CIOBO: Well, I mean look, we remain very committed to trying to do what we can to provide extra support to Australian families, especially in relation to child care, and our reforms are going to see most of the subsidy directed towards those on lower incomes. It's going to make a big difference for families. Now, it would be great to have Nick Xenophon and his team's support. I know that Nick's of the view that the savings should come out of the defence budget by reducing defence spending. That doesn't seem like the right way forward to us. The fact is that there's a lot of families in South Australia especially who are reliant on the fact that we are building defence industries in South Australia. Not to mention the fact that in more uncertain times we need to make sure that Australia's defence industry is robust.
KIERAN GILBERT: He said the last straw was the linking of the NDIS and its funding to these saves. He said that that was not the right thing to do because we're not going to - he says - take money from one family that's doing poorly to help the disabled; that funding should be found, and he wasn't willing to negotiate on that premise.
STEVEN CIOBO: But you can't magically invent funding. This is the simple fact, Kieran. I mean we have had many years of budget deficit now. We know that Labor set the NDIS up so that it was unfunded. In other words, they had simply not put in place the required revenue that was necessary to keep the NDIS going. Instead they just sort of washed their hands of it and left us this problem for the Coalition to solve. Now, we are obviously very focused on making sure that we can fix this, but we've got-
KIERAN GILBERT: Politically, is that a bad look to be saying, okay, we're going to make cuts to these families who are struggling to pay for these families who need help.
STEVEN CIOBO: - I mean what we're doing is making reform where necessary in order to make these things viable and to make sure that Australians don't continue to live in deficit. Now, the fact is that if we cut money out of defence, South Australian families are going to be hurt by that. I mean, there's a lot of South Australian families, as I said, who are part of the South Australian defence industry, not to mention the fact that it also goes to our national security and what it is that we're achieving there. I mean let's not ever lose sight of the fact that we saw defence spending in this country reach its lowest level since basically the 1940s under the Labor Party, and it took a Coalition Government to restore that funding back to our defence industry so that Australia was not left in a vulnerable position.
KIERAN GILBERT: Just how much is the Government willing to compromise though? Because the Labor Party says you're going too far, Xenophon says you're going too far, while you think you've struck the balance in terms of fairness. You look at the child care reforms and the paid parental leave reforms, it's hard to disagree with a more equitable policy that your Government has put forward but you can't deliver those unless you get them across the board with the other measures.
STEVEN CIOBO: We'll continue being strong advocates arguing for the fact that we have got the balance right. You see, it's not an endless money supply. There is no secret money tree in government. What there is at the moment are big budget deficits - a direct consequence of the Labor Party refusing to accept reasonable savings and people like some on the crossbench on some issues refusing to support savings as well.
KIERAN GILBERT: Now, Nick Xenophon is going to be meeting with a delegation of business leaders today, as well as I think talking to the Treasurer and the Prime Minister, this group from Adelaide. I put it to him this morning that companies like Haigh's, like Coopers would benefit from, you know, South Australian companies from a tax cut up to a turnover of $100 million a year, let's say, he didn't rule that out. Is that your best case scenario here in terms of the company tax cuts, do you think?
STEVEN CIOBO: Well look, our proposition is very straightforward. I mean it's a proposition that Bill Shorten and the Labor Party supported when they were in government, and that simply is that if we reduce the amount of company tax so that Australia becomes more competitive, because the fact is that we are not competitive right now. We're losing investment in Australia. We're losing the expansion of businesses in Australia and that simply means there are fewer job opportunities –
KIERAN GILBERT: Well you're not going to get the full plan through. Xenophon keeps saying, I'm not going to give tax cuts to banks and so on.
STEVEN CIOBO: Well, we will maintain that we need to make sure Australia is competitive. I mean, this is a pretty fundamental principle. Right? Capital is global. Labour is global. If we are not competitive, and we're not at the moment, but if we're not competitive then it simply means that that money will go overseas. Instead of investing in a new factory or a new manufacturing plant or a new business in Australia, which would employ Australians, that money will go to a different market overseas. It's a pretty basic principle.
KIERAN GILBERT: You'd get most Australian companies if you got it up to a turnover of, let's say, $100 million per annum. That would be a win, wouldn't it?
STEVEN CIOBO: Look, of course, every incremental gain is an improvement on Australia's position, but let's also not lose sight of the fact that these bigger companies, the ones that the Labor Party now, although they had a different position six years ago, and that some of the crossbench say they don't deserve tax cuts, let's not lose sight of the fact that these are businesses that Australians have their superannuation invested in. If you're in an industry superannuation fund, if you're in a retail superannuation fund, if you've got your own self-managed superannuation fund, that money is typically invested in Australian businesses. That money flows back to Australians anyway when those tax cuts are delivered.
KIERAN GILBERT: One comment you made yesterday, you're the Trade Minister of course, and yet you spoke of One Nation and that their approach has been economically rationalist and a bit more fiscally responsible. Is that jarring from a Trade Minister given how protectionist they are as well?
STEVEN CIOBO: No, no, no. Let's be very clear about what I said. What I said was that they were acting more economically rationalist than the Labor Party was. There's a difference there. The fact is that they are. I mean, the Labor Party, and I look at this criticism from the Labor Party saying, "Oh, they're pro-protectionist. How could a Trade Minister say it?" Well, guess what? I've got quotes from Bill Shorten saying how he doesn't believe in free trade. We saw Bill Shorten running an incredibly xenophobic campaign against the China-Australia Free Trade Agreement. The very driver of economic growth and jobs in Australia right now, which has been our blooming exports, especially to markets like China. The Labor Party want to tear up our free trade agreements, because they say anything that contains a dispute resolution clause, an ISDS clause, Labor doesn't want to have –
KIERAN GILBERT: So you're happy to preference One Nation over Labor, federally as well?
STEVEN CIOBO: That's not my decision. These are decisions that are taken by the party –
KIERAN GILBERT: You're a Cabinet Minster from Queensland.
STEVEN CIOBO: Well, what I'm going to say is that I will call out Labor's hypocrisy every day of every week when Bill Shorten and Labor members start lecturing us about doing deals. I mean, this is the Labor Party that does deals with one of the most extreme political parties in Australia, the Greens movement. The Greens movement, who incidentally would like to tax tourism, especially in relation to the carbon tax, so that it's actually cheaper for Australians to not be in a position to travel and it's actually cheaper for international tourists not to come to Australia.
KIERAN GILBERT: But you can understand why Barnaby Joyce is peeved, to put it mildly, with Colin Barnett's move to preference One Nation over the Nationals?
STEVEN CIOBO: Well, I think one, you're verballing him, but secondly –
KIERAN GILBERT: What? To say that he's annoyed?
STEVEN CIOBO: Well, I think, secondly the fact is that the National Party in WA has preferenced other parties before the Liberals as well.
KIERAN GILBERT: You don't think Barnaby Joyce is annoyed? Peeved?
STEVEN CIOBO: No, but what I'm saying is historically, if you go back over the past several elections in WA, the WA Nationals have preferenced other parties before the WA Liberals.
KIERAN GILBERT: Not one that's an existential threat to them. You said I verballed him. How did I verbal him? He's been pretty clear cut on that.
STEVEN CIOBO: Well, no, I don't think he has been. Look, in my view, Barnaby Joyce has exercised control, has made his position clear in a very matter of fact way, so I'm just saying that I wouldn't run around saying that he's mad or angry or peeved. That's what my point is.
KIERAN GILBERT: Well, is it a threat though, if you start, last question, if you start doing deals with One Nation elsewhere to the Coalition?
STEVEN CIOBO: Well, take for example - well, of course it's not. I mean, the Coalition is the bedrock of good, conservative governance in this country and it will be for a long time yet. My point is simply to say that if you look at WA, the Nationals have preferenced other parties before the Liberals. On this occasion the Liberals in the Upper House have taken a similar decision. At the end of the day, Kieran, Australians decide where their votes go. They decide who their preferences flow to. The Coalition will always be strong. We're all deeply committed to it, and work alongside our National Party colleagues very closely. In Queensland it's the one party, the Liberal National Party. We've got a strong healthy future.
KIERAN GILBERT: Steve Ciobo, thanks for your time – the Trade Minister.
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