ABC Newsradio Breakfast, Interview with Marius Benson

Subjects: World Economic Forum, trade and investment.

Davos, Switzerland

Transcript, E&OE, proof only

24 January 2014

SANDY ALOISI: Representing Australia in Davos with the Prime Minister is the Trade Minister Andrew Robb, and he's speaking here to Marius Benson.

MARIUS BENSON: Andrew Robb, there are a lot of people in Davos: 2633 delegates in all. Who have you been concentrating on? What sort of businesses have you been concentrating on?

ANDREW ROBB: Well, as Trade and Investment Minister I've been particularly catching up with a lot of the trade ministers here, with companies – I've got an evening tonight where I'm catching up with 15 CEOs from around the world, major companies.

MARIUS BENSON: When you talk to corporate leaders about Australia and they get past the pleasantries, what do they tell you that they don't like about doing business in Australia?

ANDREW ROBB: A lot of them have become concerned with the growing regulation, which has really stymied and slowed up a lot of the business activity. It just shows you how the sort of firestorm of regulation over the last few years has really started to choke so many investment decisions and make us un-economic and un-competitive.

MARIUS BENSON: Do corporate leaders tell you that Australia is too expensive a place to do business?

ANDREW ROBB: Well, that's one of the reasons. If you have a firestorm of regulation Australia starts to become too expensive. So – there is urgency in Australia to restore that competitive position.

MARIUS BENSON: There have been calls in Australia over the last day or so for Australia's international competitiveness to be boosted by cutting wages. Are Australian wages too high?

ANDREW ROBB: Look, I think the issue is often the flexibility in many areas. If you look at the construction sector, there is a lot of rogue behaviour which is forcing up costs. It's not just through wages, but it's the restrictive practices that are imposed on many industries, and that is an area which we're looking to tackle with the Building and Construction Commission and on other fronts.

Plus we've got to get the taxes down. They're adding to costs. All of these things, a whole myriad of things which we have to confront on many fronts, and that's certainly a message we're getting through from businesspeople in Davos, at this conference.

MARIUS BENSON: How does that low tax message that was also in the Prime Minister's speech overnight sit with the Government's decision to increase company tax for the 130 biggest companies in Australia to pay for the paid parental leave in part?

ANDREW ROBB: Well, as we've said on many, many occasions, that is a productivity measure. If we do get more women into the workforce, it is a very significant productivity measure.

MARIUS BENSON: Andrew Robb, can I go to a specific issue of domestic industry, which is that it's reported today that you've been in talks with your colleague Ian Macfarlane with Toyota. Is Toyota going to survive in Victoria in Australia?

ANDREW ROBB: We haven't yet had discussions with Toyota. What we have done is establish – the Prime Minister established – a group chaired by Ian Macfarlane, which is looking at how we might best deal with the exit of Ford and now GMH. We will, of course, be talking with Toyota about their situation.

MARIUS BENSON: Can I just ask you a final question about Davos, which is the conference itself has sparked a bit of a debate on equity. The Pope was saying in an address to Davos – sent to Davos, that there needed to be a better distribution of wealth in the world. Tony Abbott says that for a fairer world, a richer world is needed. A richer country is a fairer country.

But the world is richer than it's ever been, and Oxfam figures released this week said that the wealth controlled by the richest 85 people in the world is the same as the wealth controlled by half the world's population, the poorest half: 85 equals 3.5 billion, and Oxfam says that's not equitable. What's your view?

ANDREW ROBB: Well, I think we just should look at where we're seeing the greatest opportunity for taking people out of poverty. If you look at China, when they've moved to introduce some market-based system, over the last 15 years we've seen close to a quarter of a billion people come out of poverty. Nothing like that has happened in the history of the world. It's been a transformation which is unprecedented, and it does show you the power of trade and investment and market-based systems.

If you create prosperity in a country, you lift people out of poverty, and that's why the G20 this year, we are determined to try and put trade and investment fair square in the debate about how we can build sustainable economic growth and therefore create sustainable jobs, and that relates also to people in poverty

MARIUS BENSON: Andrew Robb, thank you very much.

ANDREW ROBB: Thanks very much, Marius.

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