Laura Jayes: The Trade Minister Andrew Robb joins me on the line now from Beijing; Minister Robb thank you so much for your time. First of all, going on from what Bill Shorten has said in the last half hour, he says he’s willing to negotiate with the Government; he’s yet to put a proposal to you, but are you willing now to sit down with the opposition and make sure this deal is not in jeopardy?
Andrew Robb: Well I’ve been prepared to talk with the opposition at any stage, but we’ve got Bill Shorten trying to have it both ways; he’s been out white-anting this agreement for all it’s worth. He’s been suggesting economic sabotage, he’s been tugging the forelock of a bunch of union thugs from the CFMEU – the most discredited union in Australia – and now he’s saying he wants to talk. Well of course I’ll talk; we’re quite happy to talk. This is a great deal for Australia, and they sure as hell should talk to us, because Bob Hawke is right, to oppose it is absolutely against Australia’s best interest.
Laura Jayes: Minister can this be sorted out? How easy will it be for you to comply with what we’ve heard from the unions and Labor; can you satisfy them do you think, that these jobs will be protected?
Andrew Robb: Well there’s nothing that the unions and Labor have raised, which is not already operational within our 457 system, and is not already a central part of the free trade deal that was negotiated. What they’re doing is simply playing politics, they are establishing a straw man, they are trying to suggest that there are things that have been excluded – it is not correct. Everything regarding workplace relations, all of that is totally consistent with the conditions and the rules and the regulations that applied under the Labor government in recent years.
Laura Jayes: Instead of changing the letter of this Free Trade Agreement deal that has been done, can you allay the concerns that have been expressed by Labor and the unions through perhaps changes to the migration act for example?
Andrew Robb: This treaty is completed, it’s signed; it can’t be unbundled. I’m not negotiating with the opposition. I’m happy to talk to them any time, I’m very happy to provide as much clarification as the opposition and the unions need about the details of the trade deal and the provisions that apply and the way in which this is totally consistent with the existing 457 visa arrangements, that have existed now for several years. So that is the situation; we’re not negotiating.
Laura Jayes: So you’re willing to explain it to them but you’re not willing to change anything that’s already been done with the Chinese?
Andrew Robb: The deal is done; it’s signed. If we open up this treaty now, the whole thing gets opened up, the whole thing – thousands of different items. Chances are this will disappear, the Chinese will say it’s been enough time, ten years – six of those under Labor where it went nowhere – and they’ll say we’ve got bigger fish to fry and they’ll leave and we won’t have a deal, we’ll never have a deal.
Here we are with the biggest deal that’s been provided by China to any developed country; it’s the biggest trading country in the world, and we’ve got the unions – a small group of unions by the way, a corrupt union – together with their lap dogs – the Labor party – threatening this deal.
Laura Jayes: What are the Chinese saying to you on the ground? Are they concerned about this? What questions are they asking you?
Andrew Robb: They’re quite confused because they saw President Xi in Australia, which they thought was one of the most successful visits he’s made to any country; they were very pleased about the way in which that furthered our relationship. At the time, he and our Prime Minister Tony Abbott shook hands on this deal, and Bill Shorten stood there and looked him in the eye and said he supported the bi-lateral Free Trade Agreement. Now they hear that the alternate Prime Minister Bill Shorten, is doing the bidding of one of the most discredited unions in the country; they are confused, and it’s really unfortunate.
I’m up here trying to assure them the Australian Government is 150 per cent committed to this and that the Australian community – I’ve got 35 businesses, CEOs from across a whole range of sectors – they’re getting angrier by the day that this thing is being threatened; the prospect of major contracts, thousands of jobs being threatened by the politicisation of this issue by a bunch of thugs in the union movement and the lap dogs in the Labor party.
Laura Jayes: When will you put this legislation before parliament; I understand there’s a committee process at the moment, but will we see this legislation in October?
Andrew Robb: We will, as soon as the committee process is completed, the enabling legislation – there’s not much of it – but there is enabling legislation.
Laura Jayes: You can talk to the cross bench in this case can’t you?
Andrew Robb: We’re talking to everybody; everyone, the whole parliament should support this. We want unanimous support for this deal because it is of such profound consequence for Australia. We want Australian business and everyone to know about it. It’s why we’ve got 200 workshops going around the country to inform business, it’s why we have a big communications program coming up; for the first time by either side of politics, we’re going to make a very big effort to inform business about the opportunities so we can capture the thousands of jobs that are going to emerge from this arrangement.
Laura Jayes: Minister Andrew Robb joining us on the line from Beijing; thanks so much for your time.
Andrew Robb: Thanks very much Laura.
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