KIERAN GILBERT: With me now, the Trade Minister Steve Ciobo, and as I said, really, if you're talking about stopping trade with those that trade with North Korea, you're talking about one country, aren't you? That's China.
STEVEN CIOBO: Well I mean, look we've got to wait and see ultimately what happens on the Korean Peninsula because clearly things are very dangerous at the moment and it's quite clear that North Korea continues to pursue a course of action that's reckless, and of course threatens millions of lives potentially. In terms of trade, it's in no one's interest for there to be a trade war. It's not in Australia’s, it's not in China’s It's not in the Unites States' interest. We are, of course, applying trade sanctions against North Korea as part of a suite of sanctions we've got in place to try to put as much pressure on that regime as possible.
KIERAN GILBERT: But you, you were just in China last week. You know how important that relationship, in an economic sense, is to our country. If there were to be a shutdown of trade between the US and China as part of the fallout of this North Korean crisis, that would be diabolical. Wouldn't it? It would have, you know, security implications as well potentially.
STEVEN CIOBO: Sure, I mean the Productivity Commission undertook a study to look at what the implications of a global trade war would be, and no surprises, Kieran, the implications would be that the world would go into recession and we'd see thousands of jobs lost. The impact on economic growth of course, would be gruelling. But that's why I reinforce, nobody wants that outcome. For me, as Australia's Trade Minister what I've been focused on making sure is continuing to open up more and more trade opportunities for Australian exporters. The more markets we open, the more diversified our trade mix is, the better that is for our country because it means we can mitigate the risk that flows from just dealing with one particular market…[Interrupted].
KIERAN GILBERT: Do you think sort of the mutually-assured destruction, as we saw in the cold war, has been replaced by this mutual dependency in an economic sense between China and the US? That those around Trump would be smart enough at least, advising him to say look don't turn down this path because it will have a huge blow back on us.
STEVEN CIOBO: I don't think that the President is of a mind to unilaterally start a trade war. What I'm focused on, want I know the world is focused on ... certainly China is putting in its best endeavours with respect to North Korea. They're putting a lot of pressure on North Korea. The United States, as a straight rule, have sanctions in place. The United Nations Security Council's put sanctions in place. We don't want to go down a path where we actually have trade implications because that's not good for anybody. So what we need to make sure we do is work out a pathway forward that places pressure on North Korea but still not recognising the fact that today, countries economies’ are more interconnected than they've ever been. And so, you cannot adopt an approach that's going to put in place trade walls because all that those trade walls will achieve, will be to slow down your own economy as much as anyone else's.
KIERAN GILBERT: Let's look at a story out of the High Court today and suggestions that the Government might have to look to a plan C if the postal survey is knocked out by the High Court and the problem is there is no plan C, is there? There's no option. You know we could go through with a dozen you're in ... big problems internally, aren't you?
STEVEN CIOBO: Well look, we are absolutely focused and committed to holding ... We wanted a compulsory attendance plebiscite, and we took that to the Senate. The Labor Party said ‘no’ on two separate occasions so we have the postal survey, which is in the field at the moment. We'll be at the stage where the High Court, we are very confident, will find that yes there's appropriations in place, yes, that can be done, and we're confident about that.
KIERAN GILBERT: And if it's not though, it's diabolical for the Government - internally there's so many very forceful opinions on this and it really could split the party if you don't get this dealt with.
STEVEN CIOBO: I mean you're asking me about this assumption, that assumption. What if this happens? What if that happens? I want to make it clear, is we took to the Senate on two separate occasions our preferred course of action, which was a compulsory attendance Plebiscite -
KIERAN GILBERT: It was knocked down by the Senate and knocked out by the High Court, potentially. We have to wait for the judge-
STEVEN CIOBO: We will know in the next little while, but all the legal advice that we've had makes it clear that we are on very solid territory.
KIERAN GILBERT: Bill Shorten provided his evidence yesterday that he'd renounced his British citizenship - that ends that furphy according to Labor, and now puts the heat on your ministers again.
STEVEN CIOBO: Well, not really. What it shows is that Bill Shorten is a man that's more preoccupied with playing silly political games than he is with actually trying to provide any real direction. I mean, Kieran, the question is this. Bill Shorten has had this document presumably for years, certainly for months, so why engage in this silly game he had going for weeks and weeks and weeks? I mean, the Australian public know this guy is shifty. I mean why would you participate in this course of action?
Shorten could've released that document weeks, if not even a month or more ago, I mean he didn't - why? Because this is the whole point, he's so preoccupied with playing silly games on the floor of the Parliament rather than actually providing any kind of leadership at all. I mean, we are going to continue to focus on what we know Australians care about that's why we're talking about energy, that's why we're talking about North Korea, and meanwhile we've got the Australian Labor Party rocking into question time, rocking up to Parliament playing these kinds of foolish games -
KIERAN GILBERT: Labor would argue that Mr. Shorten sought to make a statement on North Korea to start question time yesterday but was precluded from doing so by the Speaker.
STEVEN CIOBO: Not at all. The simple fact is that there was indulgence the Prime Minister spoke to it, Labor could've spoken and asked questions about, but they don't, instead they ask questions about citizenship. I mean, we have the biggest threat to the Korean Peninsula in more than 60 years and the Labor Party is just mute.
I mean this just demonstrates an Opposition that as I said is completely obsessed with political games and not actually focused on really important issues, whether it's family household budgets, whether it's energy prices, or whether it's something as complex and potentially threatening as the North Korean escalation that's happening right now around nuclear weapons. I mean, Labor I just think they betray their own people by refusing to engage on matters of substance.
KIERAN GILBERT: In relation to the other story that's front page of "The Australian" today on the energy crisis, are you comfortable that the government's got a way forward here in terms of expanding the capacity of coal-fired power stations already in operation? Because, according to this AEMO report, which is going to be released later in the week, there is a base load problem here, in terms of base load power over the next 10 years, with a number of power stations being closed.
Is there room, first of all, to keep them going for longer? And, secondly, possibly to expand some of the power stations already in place?
STEVEN CIOBO: Sure. Well, I guess two points for this. The first is that this article today is speculation. And, so I just highlight that, because not necessarily what's in the report, it's speculation of what might be in the report.
But, the second point goes to the issue that you raise, which absolutely, is a genuine concern. We are continuing to see more and more of the base load generation from coal-fired power stations slip out of the system. Now, that's part of power stations slip out of the system. Now, that's part of the reason why this government is acting so strongly on this matter. Because, we cannot allow a situation to occur where you lose more and more base load generation, the constant, stable supply that comes from coal-fired, coal-powered stations. Because, that impacts our industry, it impacts on employment, it impacts on economic growth.
KIERAN GILBERT: Well, in terms of the next few to be phased out. Liddell by 2022 and Vales Point, both in New South Wales, we’re hearing those closures would have a much bigger impact than Hazelwood, for example, which was a hit to the sector, so how do you provide those incentives to keep them going for longer?
STEVEN CIOBO: Well, this is what we need to do, and this is why we have the Finkel Report. This is the great work that Josh Frydenberg's doing. This is part of the reason why, as a government, we acted very decisively on Australian domestic gas, as well. Because, we need to make sure there's gas in the Australian domestic system, because that ultimately has a big impact on power prices.
So, we are doing a lot to repair the damage that Labor left. I mean, we've seen, over the last week, Labor has finally conceded that they were warned about the impact of the policies that they take in terms of gas exports. They ignored those warnings. We are now fixing that.
We see, for example, in South Australia, the consequences of the state Labor Government that says, "We couldn't care less about base load power generation; we're just gonna go renewables."
And, we've seen the intermittent supply, the lack of consistency in South Australia. Even in Queensland, on a federal level, Labor still maintains this policy that says, "We're gonna have 50 percent renewables." No explanation at all about how they're actually gonna ensure consistency of base load power supply.
KIERAN GILBERT Now, just finally, getting back to one issue ... We touched on the citizenship matter ... I should ask you. Have you sought reassurance about your own heritage and citizenship?
STEVEN CIOBO: I've been asked this question a thousand times. As I made clear every single time, I absolutely am 1000% certain I have no issue about Italian citizenship whatsoever.
KIERAN GILBERT: Thank you. Appreciate it Trade Minister
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