STEVE AUSTIN: Australia’s Federal Trade Minister Steve Ciobo has been criticizing the plan since it was announced. He’s accused the Queensland Government of being reckless, naive and endangering our international agreements. I spoke to him earlier this morning and asked him whether or not he feels it's hard to tell whether that's a pre-election ad or an ad for the Buy Queensland First roadshow and I asked for his reaction.
STEVEN CIOBO: Well, I think it's unfortunate that the Queensland Premier persists with misleading Queenslanders about what Buy Queensland means. Let's break it down to its most basic elements, Steve. Queensland exports are worth $70 billion. Queensland's government procurement is worth $14 billion. Now this is a Premier who clearly is very, very bad at maths. She's jeopardising $70 billions’ worth of exports from Queensland. That's our sugar cane farmers and agricultural farmers, beef producers, all up and down the length and breadth of the state of Queensland. Those exporters are all being directly threatened by this policy, so the Queensland Premier can strut around and claim that she's all about what's good for Queensland.
STEVE AUSTIN: The roadshow started on the first of this month, this was the Buy Queensland strategy, where they're explaining to people what it will mean, and it's apparently booked out, they put on an extra session for Brisbane. There's allegedly so much interest. Why do you think that is?
STEVEN CIOBO: Well, Steve, I can only assume that people are keen to find out what the actual policy is as I am, and I've asked the State Government 15 times. 15 times I've asked the State Government to provide me the details about whether they're going to honour the obligations that they've made in the past and I'm still waiting for a response. So, I'm not surprised that there's a lot of interest around this.
STEVE AUSTIN: What are the question marks about our obligations? The Government does appear to have softened or changed their language from when they first announced the policy, at the State Labor Party Conference.
STEVEN CIOBO: Well, this is a Queensland Labor Government that's completely split down the middle. You've got people like Minister Mick de Brenni, a senior Minister in Queensland, saying that he could not care less that this Queensland Government policy is in breach of trade agreements. His words were, he “couldn't give a toss”, they are his actual words. And then of course you've got the Treasurer and the Trade Minister in Queensland who's saying “no, of course”, they “will comply with trade obligations”.
Let's just quickly say why trade obligations are important, Steve. Exports from Queensland are worth $70 billion. The reason those exports matter, and this is the State Government's own figures, because it’s something like 500,000 jobs in the state of Queensland that are tied to trade. We need to open up international export markets to make our state economically stronger and to boost jobs. Now, when you’ve got the Queensland Government that says “we don’t care what our trade obligations are,” that they’re happy to close down export markets for Queensland exporters, that’s a very serious problem.
STEVE AUSTIN: So will Queensland honour its already signed trade obligations? You’ve asked 15 times and not had an answer.
STEVEN CIOBO: That’s right. I mean, I would love the Premier just to very, in plain English; it’s not a hard question, just very straightforward plain English question. Premier, are you going to honour your trade obligations? Now, if the Premier says yes, we don’t have a problem. And in fact, I would support the Premier doing something that honours the trade obligations, but the problem is, this is a Premier, this is a state Labor Government, that's talking out of both sides of their mouths. On one hand they've got some Ministers saying, ‘we'll honour our trade obligations,’ which, of course, means that's good news for Queensland exporters. But on the other hand you've got the Premier running around trying to whip this up into some kind of political thing against the LNP. I mean frankly it is pathetic, it's a lack of leadership and it's fundamentally dishonest.
STEVE AUSTIN: So do you see this as a pre-state election position or something that the state government wants to do as part of their economic policy?
STEVEN CIOBO: Well, unfortunately Steve, we just don't know. This is the fundamental problem. That's why I just wish the Premier would give a straightforward plain English answer about whether she intends to honour trade agreements. As I said, the maths around this is very straightforward Steve, $70 billion worth of exports. Only $14 billion worth of procurement. To have a Premier jeopardise $70 billion worth of exports so that she can basically puff her chest out and say, “look at me, I'm a proud Queenslander,” over $14 billion, that is pretty bad maths.
STEVE AUSTIN: The Queensland Chamber of Commerce and Industry has very strongly supported this position. The national body, The Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, have they spoken to you about their position?
STEVEN CIOBO: Yeah I don't think ACCI, which is a national body, is supportive and certainly the National Farmers Federation has come out and slammed this policy. The Export Council of Australia has come out and slammed this policy, because Steve, anyone who takes a minute to actually look at what's at stake with this policy knows that this is a very, very bad policy. Any policy that threatens our exports, that closes down export markets, that throws a spanner in the works about being able to get more exports for, not only Queensland but indeed for Australia, in order for the Premier to be able to strut the stage and claim that she's in some way doing something good for Queensland, that's just a lack of common sense.
STEVE AUSTIN: Minister Steve Ciobo, thanks for your time.
STEVEN CIOBO: Good to speak to you.
- Trade Minister's Office: (02) 6277 7420
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