Alan Jones: Andrew Robb good morning.
Andrew Robb: Good morning Alan.
Alan Jones: Why is all this cloaked in secrecy?
Andrew Robb: Well firstly can I just make one clarification if I could Alan. I think you’ve been suggesting to listeners for a couple of weeks now that I’ve been hiding. My office has actually told you that I’ve been crook; I got shingles three or four weeks ago and I don’t know if you’ve had it or not but it can be quite debilitating.
Alan Jones: No Andrew I haven’t said that, not at all and I knew you were coming on here and we got that message.
Andrew Robb: I just wanted to make that clarification. We had a robust discussion a few months ago and I’m happy to come on anytime Alan.
Alan Jones: Let me just clarify what happened, I think we put a call through when all this TPP stuff was going on and I said I hope Andrew Robb’s not hiding or something. Subsequently I heard that you were ill and I didn’t think it was proper, in the interest of your privacy, to be telling people something about yourself that you may not want to tell them yourself, that was my point, so I didn’t mention that you were ill.
Andrew Robb: Well I’ve just told them so...
Alan Jones: Well I hope you are well. You’ll need to be by the way.
Andrew Robb: Well I’m still on the morphine so it takes a while with shingles to get through it I’m afraid but anyway, I’m okay.
Alan Jones: Alright, well I just make the point about America, Nancy Pelosi led the charge of – she’s the leader of the Democrats – 144 Democrats opposing Obama, and she said basically this is the only way we will be able to slow down this thing (the TPP). Now, how do you manage with America; there’s an overwhelming vote against it in America. Is this thing dead in the water?
Andrew Robb: I think it is looking pretty problematic in the U.S. now mainly because, well not mainly, but Hillary Clinton came out the other day, and of course Hillary Clinton introduced this when she was Secretary of State, so let’s not look at the contradictions, but she came out and said it’s a worthwhile thing but we need to bring it back and have a look at some of these measures.
Alan Jones: I think she said that any agreement must protect American workers. Now I don’t know how you protect American workers and protect Australian workers at the same time?
Andrew Robb: Well the thing is you do that if there is growth, this is the point. Most people look at all these – as in those who disagree with any change in any area – and assume that the change is going to be a zero sum game; someone wins and someone loses. But the fact of the matter is, you look at Australia and New Zealand; 32 years ago we struck a Free Trade Agreement with New Zealand. Every year since – for 32 years – our Ministers meet; I met the last two years, each year with my counterpart. We have an agenda for further freeing-up trade between both countries, and movement of labour by the way. And what’s happened, for 32 years on average, year-on-year-on-year-on-year we’ve had a seven per cent increase in two-way trade between our two countries. Now there’s the proof; these things work, they free-up an economy. You protect workers by growing your economy – your economy gets bigger…
Alan Jones: We’ve got a Free Trade Agreement with Thailand. That’s led to the opening up of our car component manufacturing industry to cheaper Thai imports, so they’ve flooded in here. Our car component industry is gone. Ford are closing their plant in Geelong. Where are they going to go? Thailand. Cheaper to be able to make the car in Thailand and export them back to Australia. But can I just come back to this TPP…
Andrew Robb: Hang on, don’t just drop it out there and give me no chance to say something Alan. The fact of the matter is that our trade with Thailand has increased massively both ways, not just cars. The thing about a trade agreement is that when you free-up the trade between two countries or several countries, what happens is that the things that you are good at, the things that we are good at like resources and energy, so many services: agriculture and agribusiness in Australia, international education – we’ve got 15,000 Thai students now in Australia right this moment, giving millions of dollars of investment here and jobs in Australia. So what happens is investment in these countries gravitate to what you are good at; we can make the cars but not cheaply enough, Thailand can make them cheaper…
Alan Jones: No, they pay their workers nothing, like China. We can’t compete with China.
Andrew Robb: China used to pay a lot of workers very little. Now, I don’t know how recently you have been up there Alan, but you go to many provinces now in China and a lot of the manufacturing has now moved to Vietnam or Bangladesh or other countries in the region because the wages now in China, they are getting up at levels at about a quarter of ours at the moment, but higher and higher in other…
Alan Jones: Andrew we are getting away from the point, why? You’re arguing from a position I hope of being informed. I’m not allowed to see this TPP thing. Your Cabinet haven’t. We’re thinking of signing a document before…
Andrew Robb: I didn’t get a chance to do anything in this negotiation with other countries until I had established in Cabinet and got approval from each of the ministers and the full Cabinet, and all of their advisors about the mandate that I had. In other words, I’ve been given a set of tram tracks. I can’t go outside of those tram tracks. Cabinet know everything that I’m doing Alan.
Alan Jones: No they haven’t, why can’t we, hang on. Andrew, with respect, we are the masters here, you people are the servants. Why can’t we see the document before it’s signed?
Andrew Robb: You do get to see it before it enters into force. The signing is just that, none of the countries will back-off before this is the final deal that’s been agreed. But it doesn’t take effect until it goes to our two major committees of inquiry in our parliament. They take public submissions, they have public hearings. It will go on for months.
You take the Free Trade Agreement we signed yesterday with China, it will go to the Treaties Committee – it will have hearings. It goes to a Senate committee inquiry – it has hearings. It has to then be passed by the parliament, by the people that you and everyone else elected to represent you, to say that this is in the national interest; there is ample opportunity. The agreement only reflects the instructions I received from Cabinet and the mandate I received.
Alan Jones: I wish Cabinet, whoever the hell they are, would tell us a little because we know nothing. Let me take one thing, because we could be here for five hours. On the pharmaceutical issue and this is a big issue, I’m talking to people out there who are sick. I understand as part of this TPP, the pharmaceutical industry will get a 12 year monopoly after a new treatment is released. So that is, during that time companies will be able to charge whatever the market will bear, they will have a monopoly for 12 years, that’s seven years longer than the current data protection period in Australia after which competitors can develop and sell cheaper, generic alternatives. So for someone suffering a serious illness who needs affordable medicine, there’s another seven years – there could be a life and death difference – no one can enter the market. So life-saving drugs that could be subsidised by the Australian Government’s PBS, or the PBS could say ‘they are too expensive, we’re not subsidising them.’ So there is a monopoly protection for the pharmaceutical industry of 12 years for God’s sake.
Andrew Robb: Well you’ve made a very impassioned plea which I am also sympathetic too and what you just advocated is the U.S. position – 12 years. We’ve already got five years in Australia legally now. But you are sort of making out that it is fact. This is part of a negotiation, and I’ve said publicly we will not do anything which will undermine the PBS. Now that means, and my view is, and I agree with you that the 12 years would. I’ve got no intention of ever agreeing to the 12 years. No intention.
Alan Jones: Okay, we’re running out of time, let me take another one then. Because the United States I’ve read, and look I’ve only got hearsay but I do read, that the United States is refusing to slash its agriculture tariffs and its import quotas, that is quotas on how much they will receive from us by way of agricultural products. How could you negotiate a Free Trade Agreement including the United States with no agreement from the United States to open up its markets to our agricultural products?
Andrew Robb: Well I couldn’t.
Alan Jones: So you won’t be signing this thing?
Andrew Robb: No, I’m saying that we are negotiating with not only the U.S. but 10 other countries…
Alan Jones: But you’re hoping to get this signed?
Andrew Robb: Yes, but this is the nature of a negotiation.
Alan Jones: But we’ve just got two major stumbling blocks.
Andrew Robb: But the U.S. puts a position out there, everyone has positions. The U.S. has not established what their position is on agriculture, that’s just WikiLeaks. I know you read but you’ve got to be careful what you read sometimes Alan. WikiLeaks are a bunch of lefties who are out there trying to stop trade, they don’t believe in trade, they don’t believe in growth, they want the world not to get any bigger and they don’t want people to be any better off in life.
Alan Jones: I didn’t think the day would come when Andrew Robb would tell me I’m a leftie. Look you’re lucky and I suppose we are all lucky; the bell has gone. It’s good to talk to you. More importantly, your health is important so I hope that improves and we must talk again.
Andrew Robb: I’m happy at any time Alan.
Alan Jones: Good to talk to you Andrew Robb.
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