BEN DAVIS: Steve, good afternoon
STEVEN CIOBO: Good afternoon, Ben.
BEN DAVIS: How were the talks? Were they convivial?
STEVEN CIOBO: They were important discussions to be had and Toddy McClay and I are doing our best in the circumstances to try to ensure that we keep our trade investment relationship on track. But, let's be clear about this, Ben, this isn't just about New Zealand. This is about commitments that Australia has with Japan, with Chile, with Korea, with the United States. In a short while it will be the arrangements that we have with Singapore as well. And what this is all about, this is not a choice between looking after Queensland businesses when it comes to government contracts or not. That's what the Premier wants to pretend it's about, but that's not what it's about. This is about making sure that if you're a fruit grower and you grow lychees on the Atherton Tablelands or you grow mangoes in the Queensland Central Coast or you're a beef producer out around Roma or you're an IT business in Brisbane, whatever it is, if you're exporting all of that is being jeopardised by this policy that the Queensland Premier's putting in because she wants to pretend that there's no impact on exports but try to claim that she's being some kind of home town hero riding some kind of protectionist wave.
BEN DAVIS: Now, you were trying to explain it to me on Friday. Again, for those who are just coming in on this late, how is the Queensland Government willing to spend their money - our money, taxpayers' money - on local businesses, how's that going to jeopardise exports from a private business who may be dealing with a private company overseas?
STEVEN CIOBO: Sure, the simplest way to put it is that you can't have your cake and eat it too. And what I mean by that is that in order for Queensland and indeed all Australian exporters, to get access to markets overseas we expect those markets to open themselves up to competition. So when they open themselves up to competition - in other words when they say yes, we're going to allow Queensland farmers, we're going to allow Queensland IT businesses, we're going to allow Queensland manufacturers to export their goods to us. Well guess what? If they're going to do that for us we have to open up our markets to competition. That's how it works. You can't say you open yours and we'll keep ours closed thanks. You've got to say either they're both open or they're both closed. And what the Premier's trying to do here is walk away - in the case of New Zealand - walk away from 25 years’ worth of agreements that have been in place, put in place by the former Goss Labor Government, and now this Premier stands up and boldly says well I'm no longer going to be bound or honour the commitments that she herself has made as a Premier. I mean it's simply not good enough.
BEN DAVIS: Last time we spoke you feared that there was going to be legal action and you were trying to get legal advice about the ‘Buy Queensland’ policy. What have you gleaned in the last few days?
STEVEN CIOBO: Well I am in receipt of advice and my concern- you'll understand that I'm not going to put that advice into the public domain, but my concern boils down to this. The Queensland Government's policy-
BEN DAVIS: Is it illegal or not?
STEVEN CIOBO: Well, like all legal advice it's not black and white. My concern is that we are potentially in breach. My concern is that this reckless policy by Premier Palaszczuk is directly threatening not only Queensland exporters but all of Australia's exporters. And I am not going to stand by as the Federal Trade Minister when this Federal Government has put so much effort into opening up export markets in China, in Japan and Korea. I mean for heaven sake, over the last 12 months more than half of our nation's economic growth - and think about it in terms of jobs, Ben, so many jobs have been created off the back of our export success, and this Queensland Premier who either out of naivety or complete recklessness is running around saying well, everyone else can get stuffed, we're going to give special advantage to Queensland businesses which puts us, potentially, in breach of our agreements, not good enough and I'm not going to let her destroy the hard work that we've done.
BEN DAVIS: Have you spoken to Annastacia Palaszczuk about this?
STEVEN CIOBO: I've written, I'm actually still waiting. I've written to the Premier urgently seeking her clarification of what this policy will mean and which trade agreements. I mean she boasted that she would no longer honour the agreements - which trade agreements she intends to walk away from? Eight days ago I wrote. I note the Premier's happy to stand up in Question Time and I note the Premier's happy to put out press releases, but I'm still waiting as Australia's Federal Trade Minister, I'm still waiting for the Premier to get around to writing back to me.
BEN DAVIS: She claims that on Monday there was a briefing between yourself - or departments at least, her department, your department - briefing on this around ‘Buy Queensland’ but it was cancelled. Your department cancelled it.
STEVEN CIOBO: That was a briefing between officials because we are waiting for the Premier to write back with clarification.
BEN DAVIS: Wouldn't you have needed that briefing before meeting with your opposite number from New Zealand?
STEVEN CIOBO: No, what I need is clarification from the Premier. I mean she has had eight days the Premier's been sitting on this letter. I mean for goodness sake, she's got time to pump out press releases about this issue; surely she's got time to write a letter back to me as the Federal Trade Minister.
BEN DAVIS: Alright, what about your New Zealand opposite, how unhappy is he?
STEVEN CIOBO: Well I'll explain what my concern is. He's not ruled out -
BEN DAVIS: What's his concern?
STEVEN CIOBO: He did not rule out possible retaliatory action. And see this is the danger that we run into. Now I had a look at Queensland-
BEN DAVIS: Retaliatory in which way?
STEVEN CIOBO: Well, in terms of New Zealand choosing to discriminate against Queensland businesses into New Zealand. I mean that's what the Premier's doing here. She's discriminating in reverse. Now over the last two years there have been $115 million worth of contracts that Queensland based companies have gotten with the New Zealand Government. So that's just in terms of government procurement. So $115 million worth of work from the New Zealand Government that's gone to Queensland exporters to Queensland based businesses. Now it would be very easy for the New Zealanders to turn around and say, right, well if you're going to discriminate against us then we'll close down our markets. Think about the job impacts on Queenslanders jobs, I mean that's in two years, if we lost $115 million worth of export sales. But then you start to realise, Ben, as I said, this also potentially includes the United States, Korea, Japan, Singapore. I mean if all of these countries started acting the way this reckless Premier is acting we could see for example our mango exports close down or our beef exports close down. I mean in an extraordinary twist of fate the Premier wrote to me today, a letter asking me to do more on beef exports from Queensland because the Chinese have raised some concerns and stopped beef exports. I mean this Premier doesn't know whether she's Arthur or Martha.
BEN DAVIS: But you're saying so she still hasn't addressed your concerns about ‘Buy Queensland’?
STEVEN CIOBO: No, correct. Eight days later I'm still waiting for her to give me the courtesy of a response about what her policy means. And I'll tell you what, Ben, I'll tell you why she hasn't written back because this Premier's trying to walk both sides of the road. She's trying to make out that this is not actually a big deal when it comes to the concerns that the Federal Government has, but then she's running around in Queensland trying to make out that this is a great policy that's going to deliver you beaut outcomes for Queensland businesses and that's why eight days later I'm still waiting for a response.
BEN DAVIS: Alright, Steve we will still try and get a response from the Premier as well and we'll keep abreast of this.
- Trade Minister's Office: (02) 6277 7420
- DFAT Media Liaison: (02) 6261 1555