HAMISH MCDONALD: Good morning to you.
STEVEN CIOBO: Good morning. How are you?
HAMISH MCDONALD: We'll get to the issues of Tony Abbott in a moment. First though, let's talk about the crux of why you are joining Malcolm Turnbull on this trip to the United States. Donald Trump recently hinted that he may potentially rejoin the Trans Pacific Partnership if he can get a better deal for the US. In your view, is that good news for Australia?
STEVEN CIOBO: Look, it is good news. This trip seems the most significant delegation of Australian political and business leaders, we of course have the Prime Minister, all the state and territory premiers and chief ministers, with the exception of South Australia and Tasmania attending, as well as a number of CEOs or chairmen of various Australian businesses, and we want to reinforce strong linkages, the broad investment ties and trade ties between Australia and the US. Of course the TPP-11, which the Coalition has championed, together with Japan, and seen that come to fruition, is a critical way in which we can engage.
HAMISH MCDONALD: Would a better deal for America, would that not mean a worse deal for everyone else? That's the nature of these sorts of multi-party trade negotiations.
STEVEN CIOBO: Well, actually that's not the nature of them at all. Let me just put that immediately to bed. The notion that trade deals are about one side winning and one side losing, is to completely misunderstand the nature of modern day trade deals. They are, actually, trade deals that produce win-win outcomes. They are trade deals that aren’t a zero-sum gain, so the simple fact is that you can actually do a trade deal, secure an agreement that sees all parties better off, as a direct consequence of the trade deal.
HAMISH MCDONALD: So in that sense, you see it very differently to Donald Trump, who viewed it as a terrible deal for the United States?
STEVEN CIOBO: Well, look, the President made the comments that he made pre- his election; we were disappointed that he took the decision to withdraw from the TPP, but we weren't surprised when it happened, given it had been part of his pre-election commitment. But that's part of the reason why the Coalition has been so focused on continuing to make sure that we pursue, with great vigour, the TPP-11 and I'm so pleased that now we've seen it come to fruition.
HAMISH MCDONALD: Sure, I suppose that leads us to the question though, can you convince a President that has seen this is a fairly binary thing in which the United States was losing, to see that the broader win-win thing in which all the participants might have something to gain?
STEVEN CIOBO: Well they'll certainly try. And the objective here is to make sure that we can provide as compelling a case for the United States to come back to the table. Not just Australia, but all eleven parties in the Trans Pacific Partnership agreement have left the door open for the US to come back. The very structure of the TPP-11 also means that other countries can sign up to it in due course, if they so choose. We know there's a lot of interest from other countries to be part of this TPP-11 Agreement, because fundamentally, everyone recognizes that a trade deal that sees common rules, lower barriers to trade, lower barriers to investment, is ultimately going to provide a more prosperous future, stronger economic growth and more jobs for all of those countries.
HAMISH MCDONALD: Can we talk about what's meant by leaving the door open to the United States? I note that about 20 provisions have been suspended. Many of those are the same provisions that were demanded by the United States, and they include extending the intellectual property protections of pharmaceuticals, which would have raised the cost of some medicines in this country.
STEVEN CIOBO: Well, again, Hamish I'm sort of loathe to pull you up on that, but that's not an accurate summation. Just in relation to biologics, look, let's deal with the principles first. There are a number of suspensions that are in place, and yes, those suspensions do represent U.S. interests. Of course, we've left those in the agreement but suspended them as part of the attraction for the United States, to look at coming back into the deal. But specifically on the issue of biologics, no, Australia would never, the Coalition would never sign up to something that was going to cause damage or harm to Australia's very well-functioning PBS, and our Medicare system. That's the reason why I just wanted to pull you up on that as well.
HAMISH MCDONALD: Fine, but on this question of the suspended components, I mean this is the deliberate strategy to find a way for the United States to re-enter. It's worth noting that there is this pressure from Republican Senators within the United States, on Donald Trump to move back towards the TPP.
STEVEN CIOBO: There is and I welcome that. I think it's terrific, that there is a body of opinion within the US political systems, as well as within their business lobby, that recognise that there are important benefits that will flow to the US and indeed, to the other eleven parties that are currently signed up for the TPP-11, by the US re-joining. So I remain hopeful that we can provide a compelling case for the US to come back to the table. I think if we succeeded in that, it would be good for the United States, it would be good for Australia, it would be good for economic growth and ultimately, that would be good for jobs for Australians.
HAMISH MCDONALD: One of the contentious components of the TPP, I mean I have the text, is labour market regulation. Last month, when the deal was signed, you told Fran Kelly on this program that you could be absolutely certain that could reassure your listeners that there is no delusion of the Government's ability to regulate our labour market. There won't be an invasion of foreign workers who are unskilled or unqualified. But we’ve had confirmed from the text, is that an employer can bring in workers from half a dozen TPP countries without first advertising the jobs to Australian workers. How many workers do you think or do you expect will come into Australia under this deal?
STEVEN CIOBO: We have seen over the years very few workers coming to Australia on the old 457 Visas from the TPP-11 countries. In fact, it was much higher under the former Labor Government than it's been under the Coalition. And-
HAMISH MCDONALD: Okay, but let's do some analysis, what figures are you expecting?
STEVEN CIOBO: Well I can, I mean, for example, if I think back to several years ago, we saw, out of something like more than 50,000 applications that the numbers of applications for this visa class from TPP countries, was around 200. That's 200 out of 50,000. So again, I think it's important that we not get overly, sort of, blown-away rhetoric around all of this. The simple fact is that, and let's not forget this, this flows both ways. So this also means that Australian workers have the opportunities to enter into new markets, to take those skills abroad, to export those skills, to drive exports and wealth creation, for Australian businesses and Australian workers in other markets abroad as well. So –
HAMISH MCDONALD: But these, these arrangements won't provide an incentive for business here to potential grow that. Wouldn't it? I mean you must expect it to be more than that in the future.
STEVEN CIOBO: Of course not. I mean the simple fact is that this. and bear in mind I make this point, this issue of labour market testing, in the main, involves what are called intra-corporate transfers, that is for those workers who work for a business in one country that's then looking at then relocating that worker to the same business in a market, that's what actually most of this is in relation to. So again, we've got to make sure we deal with the facts, and not with a lot of the scare campaign frankly, that the union movement in particular, has bought into the debate around this issue. So Intra-corporate transferees are a very big category, but let's also remember that if you're an Australian business, you're going to hire an Australian worker first, if you can find someone. The cost of doing that is substantially less than trying to recruit someone from overseas, which is precisely the reason why as I said, when I last looked at these figures a little while ago was something like 200 out of 50,000. So that actually speaks to what's happening in the marketplace.
HAMISH MCDONALD: Alright, I'm speaking with Federal Trade Minister, Steve Ciobo, he's in New York, but I have no doubt that you've still managed to listen to Sydney talkback radio. Here's Tony Abbott speaking on it yesterday.
TONY ABBOTT: I think Scott's problem is that he's been captured by his department. Let me repeat that, that is Scott's problem. He has been captured by his department. Treasury is always in favour of more migration. They're always in favour. He is the treasurer. He is echoing the standard Treasury view. But with great respect to both the treasury and the Treasurer, his view is wrong.
HAMISH MCDONALD: That's the former Prime Minister, Tony Abbott talking about immigration and Scott Morrison's view of immigration and saying that the Treasurer has been captured by bureaucrats in the treasury department. The Treasurer has pointed out that there would be a $4.5 billion hit to the budget. Tony Abbott firing back on that. Steve Ciobo, how helpful is the contribution that Tony Abbott is making to the Government’s agenda right now?
STEVEN CIOBO: Well, in a democracy, I always welcome everyone's opportunity to put their two cents into the debate, I think that's a big positive. And I think it's important for national discussions that we tease some of these issues out. But let me also say that I could not disagree more strongly with Tony Abbott's comments. I think its great shame that we often see immigration and, in particular, immigrants having the finger of blame pointed at them on issues of say for example escalating house prices or depressed wages growth, I think that's lazy. I think it's highly inaccurate; I myself in terms of my own family history, am the son of an immigrant who came to this country after the second World War with very poor English skills, and now I’m Australia's Trade Tourism and Investment Ministry in Cabinet. That is just my story. One of the business leaders, who is travelling here to the United States with us, Anthony Pratt, again, the son of an immigrant who came to Australia with not a lot of wealth and who built a substantial business empire that now employs tens of thousands of people. I mean, the stories behind immigration to Australia, the wealth that it has brought Australia, the prosperity its brought Australia, not solely because of immigration, but they have certainly, those immigrants, have certainly played a massive role in that.
HAMISH MCDONALD: But if it's both lazy and wrong is it irresponsible of Tony Abbott to connect immigrants or immigration with the cost of living, house prices, lower crime rates? I mean these things affect how people think about other people in their community.
STEVEN CIOBO: Look, I think, as I said earlier, that we live in a free society, a democracy, people can put forward their two cent's worth. But from my perspective, the story of immigration in Australia, the contribution of immigrants and their children to Australia is completely, without any challenge, as being a positive one for our country. The fact that arguments are made gives me an opportunity to rebut them. For example, the suggestion that immigrants play a role in pushing up house prices is a palpably absurd statement to make.
HAMISH MCDONALD: So Tony Abbott doesn't know what he's talking about
STEVEN CIOBO: Well, the problem with, well, he puts forth one point a view. The problem is house pricing in Australia, bear in mind too of course, the Sydney market doesn't represent house prices across the nation. I mean we've got some markets where house prices are falling. In Western Australia, house prices are going down. In other markets house prices are going down. The suggestion that immigrants are causing that or causing Sydney prices to rise is clearly inaccurate. We are continent; we are a massive country in terms of geographic land space, and the modest increases in immigration, which, actually, increase aggregate demand across the board, which helps to drive our economy, is a clear ability for us to continue to become more prosperous into the future.
HAMISH MCDONALD: Alright Steve Ciobo, we'll leave it there. Thank you very much.
STEVEN CIOBO: Good to speak with you.
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