KIERAN GILBERT: Let's go to the Trade Minister, Steve Ciobo. Not a good message in terms of investment certainty.
STEVEN CIOBO: Well, look, it's not. And we've got to be realistic about what it is and the pressures that these companies are facing. I mean, these are very big employers across the Australian economy. That's why the Turnbull Coalition Government has been so focused on what we can do to deal with the energy prices across the country and to try to put some downward pressure on these different sectors, which are really seeing massive increases in electricity costs. And, part of our concern, you saw this demonstrated in South Australia, is that we've got some crazy state government policies, which are just forcing up the cost of electricity even higher and that impacts not only on businesses, it even impacts on households as well.
KIERAN GILBERT: But doesn't that, the very point that you make there, that political point, go to the heart of the problem here? And that is, the lack of certainty on policy because both sides are fighting about what to do?
STEVEN CIOBO: Well, certainly the Federal Coalition is focused in terms of what we can do in terms of policy framework to give certainty and to give stability. We've got a whole range of initiatives –
KIERAN GILBERT: You've got to remove the politics surely?
STEVEN CIOBO: We'd love to.
KIERAN GILBERT: If you don't have both sides agreeing, there's no certainty, is there? No certainty for 18 months.
STEVEN CIOBO: Kieran, we would love to, but part of the challenge that we have is, for example, take Queensland, where Glencore's operations, in this case, is actually placed. Now the Queensland Government says 'well, we're going to introduce a 50 per cent renewables energy target'. Now we know that the impact of that is going to have a massive impact on energy prices in Queensland. It's going to make it harder for operations like Glencore to continue, which directly threatens the jobs of those employees at Glencore. But the Queensland Government just sails along, blissfully saying, 'well, we're just going to have this renewable energy target, and you know, it'll all be okay', with a nod and a wink. 'Trust us'. Well, that's not good enough. That's not good enough, from state governments, we've seen what's happened in South Australia. We're trying to give a very clear warning to Queensland and other states: you need to pull your socks up. But there's only so much we can do. At the end of the day, the Federal Government doesn't control these assets.
KIERAN GILBERT: Well, so much now rests on the Finkel Report to be handed down in a couple of weeks at that COAG. That is really proving to be a turning point, isn't it, in terms of investment certainty for this country?
STEVEN CIOBO: I think that everyone can hear the drumbeats are getting louder. There's no doubt about that. The drumbeats are getting louder. We're hearing consistently from big business across the country, and when I say big business, let me be very clear what I mean: big employers across the country who are saying 'this is a problem'. And we're saying repeatedly to the state governments 'you've got to get your act together'.
KIERAN GILBERT: Yep. And well, the Federal Government does too, doesn't it? In terms of an overarching national energy market.
STEVEN CIOBO: And look, we are putting in place a whole bunch of initiatives, but the problem we have is that we have state governments blinded by ideology who say, 'we don't care'. We are trying to push forward, for example, and we've floated, the Prime Minister himself floated, a new coal-powered electricity generator. The reason we're putting that is because we want to put more supply into the grid to help put downward pressure on prices. What do we get? We get the Australian Labor Party, we get the Greens running around like headless chooks saying, 'oh you can't do that, you can't do that!' I think the Australian public know that the Coalition is focussed on trying to pull down energy prices, introduce stability. We've got an ideologically-obsessed Australian Labor Party and the Greens who are running around doing the exact opposite, creating uncertainty, and that, in turn, will mean job losses.
KIERAN GILBERT: Yeah, well businesses will be hoping, as you well know, that we can move beyond this very partisan handling of this issue, which is so pivotal to the future of operations, not just Glencore but so many of them right around the country. Let's look at the issue of schools. You'd welcome the fact that not far from your electorate, the Brisbane diocese, the Catholic diocese saying that they're not going to be raising fees next year. This is quite a disagreement with their Victorian counterparts.
STEVEN CIOBO: Well look, we've made it very clear. The fact is that under the schools policy that we've put in place we have a robust transparent system, a system that treats all sectors across the country equally. We're putting in record funding now to our school system as well. We've said consistently that some of the claims are frankly preposterous. Some of the claims that there's going to be big increases in school fees are just plain wrong. You know, we couldn't be more transparent, accountable and open in terms of our approach to schools funding, which is record funding, and treating everyone equally.
KIERAN GILBERT: What are the prospects of getting that through? Are you optimistic you'll get it through before the mid-winter break?
STEVEN CIOBO: Well look, obviously it was disappointing to see the Australian Labor Party voted against the legislation. The Australian Labor Party was trying to vote down increased school funding. Make no mistake about that. That's what they actually did last night.
KIERAN GILBERT: It's gone through the House, now to the Senate.
STEVEN CIOBO: Now we've got to see what happens in the Senate. It'll come up to the Senate crossbench that we'll need to work with because unfortunately, the Australian Labor Party is once again proving themselves to be nothing other than negative and obstinate when it comes to school funding.
KIERAN GILBERT: What about the Medicare levy, this proposal that Labor, in fact, had put up itself four years ago under Julia Gillard? Now it's opposing it. Is the feedback from your electorate positive about that particular move?
STEVEN CIOBO: I think really it comes back to a more fundamental point, Kieran, which is that when I speak with people in my electorate, and I know having spoken with colleagues, Australians understand that the NDIS is there for all Australians, and I think that are very willing to accept that all Australians need to make a contribution. As you said, this is a principle that the Australian Labor Party themselves argued only three or four years ago. Yet now we've got Bill Shorten being the opportunist that he typically is running around saying how he won't support this. I mean, he's got a deeply divided frontbench on the opposition, half of them saying they support his position, half saying they support Anthony Albanese's position. And this, of course, all gets caught up in the factional and the leadership tension between Anthony Albanese and Bill Shorten.
KIERAN GILBERT: To the Pauline Hanson latest dramas in One Nation, a former treasurer of One Nation, Nelson, releasing this tape to the ABC last night. He claims it suggests that she was aware of a donation of that plane. They say it wasn't a donation. Where is all of that at?
STEVEN CIOBO: Well I think this is ultimately going to be subject to the investigation that's taking place and I think that that's appropriate. I think it's important that everyone complies with Australian electoral laws. Australian electoral laws have got to be what is at the core and the foundation of our democracy, and so we expect all political parties and all political operators to abide by the laws.
KIERAN GILBERT: Trade Minister, I appreciate your time.
- Trade Minister's Office: (02) 6277 7420
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