FAINE:

Mr Robb, good morning to you.

ROBB:

Good morning Jon.

FAINE: 

Thank you very much for joining us. Penny Wong before the news says that your stance on the free trade agreement risks Australian jobs.

ROBB:

Well it is just not correct at all and I think the measure is what change has occurred with this agreement as compared with previous agreements, the Japan one, the Korean one the Chilean one which was of course concluded seven years ago by the Labor Government and the fact is that there is not a cigarette paper between the work place conditions and entry conditions, the labour testing conditions that applied to any of those other three, than there is in this agreement.

FAINE:

Ok but you do understand that there are not concerns widespread in the community about a flood of Chilean workers coming over here yet there is that concern over Chinese workers and plenty of it has been expressed now for a long time. You do see the different there?

ROBB:

But these conditions applied under the Labor reign when they had 127,000 or 123,000 457 temporary workers here. We heard no complaints and that’s the highest we’ve ever had and they were needed at the time with the mining boom but that applied to every country, virtually every country, 160 countries around the world and that is still the case.

FAINE:

Only well let’s go through a few of the particular issues because I was trying with Penny Wong this morning to isolate exactly what the problems are. If it is to do with 457s and labour market access and we are talking about the free trade of products and capital and labour, if indeed there are concerns then maybe those concerns can be met. If you need to put on some extra bureaucrats in the compliance department of the Department of Immigration to check 457s well do it, it is worth doing if it means getting Labor across the line. 

ROBB:

But Jon these conditions are no different. If we unravel this package, there are thousands of pages and thousands of parts of this agreement. If we unravel this because we say we are going to treat China differently to every other country in the world that is where this racial element comes in. There was no problem with the Japanese or the Koreans or the Chileans or any others around the world but now the union, the CFMEU is playing the China card very strongly and sadly the Labor Party is supporting it.

FAINE:

Either way do you want to get the deal through or don’t you? If you want to get it through the Senate then if it means that you put more people in the compliance department in Immigration and you do check 457s more carefully well that’s worth doing.

ROBB:

If only it was as simple as that Jon but what they want to do is unravel a whole lot of arrangements which they themselves put in place actually, the Labor Party put these things in place when in government and if we unravel it and open up this deal China will say that everything is back on the table and this is very important, their likely reaction is, and I was there last week in China, is they will walk away. They have done 10 years of negotiations and they have given us the best deal, better than any other country in the world.    

FAINE:

If Andrew Robb said we are going to put a few extra bureaucrats into an office in Canberra to check paperwork and check compliance on 457s is what it says it is, if we are going to improve the labour market testing they will walk away from the whole deal? I’m not sure that’s not just a bluff.

ROBB:

But it is not as simple as that Jon, putting on a few people well fine. That’s not what the CFMEU want.

FAINE:

I’m not talking about the CFMEU Minister.

ROBB:

Well you should because they are the ones who dictate the pre-selection of all the Labor Party members, they are the ones that fund the Labor Party, and they are the ones running robo-calls in every marginal seat around the country. It is a political exercise.

FAINE: Well no, just in Canning for the by-election.

ROBB:

And the Canning by-election yes. But also they have done my electorate and they have frightened the hell out of a whole lot of seniors who think that the electrician they got in last week is not qualified. I mean it is irresponsible and it is political if there was a real problem let’s hear it.

Simon Crean said yesterday that the conditions are there for workers both for labour market testing and also for workers conditions and standards and they are absolutely fine and they represent what the Labor Party put in, so there is not a problem here Jon. The changes they want will open up the package and I suspect China could walk away from the best deal that we will have ever received and the best deal that they have ever given to any other country.    

FAINE:

Ok what if China don’t walk away but you fail to get it across the line because you weren’t prepared to negotiate over something that just a moment ago you yourself conceded was really not such a big deal anyway?

ROBB:

No, no it is the way that you put it ‘just employ a few people’ that is not what they want. They want to change the conditions that apply to China. China will be very sensitive given that they are our biggest trading partner by a country mile, given that they have spent 10 years on this, given that they have given us concessions they have given no other country. The opportunity for our service providers will be unbelievable the tens of thousands of jobs that will come into play straight away.

FAINE:

But there are winners and losers in this. Let’s call a spade a spade. There are winners and losers in any of these and you are talking about the winners. But the Labor Party say they are trying to make sure that they are minimising the number of people who end up being losers.

ROBB:

But they are making assertions Jon that are simply not true. The Immigration Department have been given a set of rules and conditions about entry. Those conditions about entry are at the moment identical for every country. They are strict, they are thorough, they applied under Labor, they apply now and they apply in this agreement as they do in others. If we start to discriminate against China compared to any other country, China will be deeply humiliated and China will tell us to take our agreement and run because they are our biggest trading partner and yet we don’t trust our rules to apply to them equally as they do to every other country in the world. It makes no sense and Labor know what we are playing with. Bill Shorten, he should be on board with this.

FAINE:

He should be but he isn’t. Minister let’s take a slightly lateral approach to this. I am sure you have not failed to notice Four Corners and Fairfax covering the situation with 7 Elevens and massive rorting of international student visas by the people who run the franchises for 7 ELEVEN stores right around Australia; rampant exploitation, a complete disregard for the rules. You’ve noticed all that?

ROBB:

I’ve seen that program.

FAINE:

There is an example of where things go wrong. It’s not xenophobic, it’s not racist, it’s in fact a straight exploitation.

ROBB:

It is xenophobic. Why China and why no one else?

FAINE:

No they are principally….

ROBB:

Why China? Why no one else? Answer that for me please Jon.

FAINE:

Minister these are principally Indian workers exploited through the 7 Eleven franchise system on an abuse of their international student visa. What the unions are saying here and the Labor Party on their behalf is saying; that is what happens when you don’t have proper scrutiny and compliance and they say that’s where you’ve got to tighten up the rules over for instance diesel mechanics or electricians or whatever else it is that want to exploit the free trade agreement.

ROBB:

You’re moving into new areas now. Jon, you have just shifted to a whole new area

FAINE:

No I’m using a lateral example to illustrate the point.

ROBB:

No it is not illustrating the point. The point we were on was about labour market testing and now you are talking qualifications. They are two different issues. You can’t just slide into that.

FAINE:

No, I’m talking about compliances in both instances. I am talking about compliance and rorting in both instances.

ROBB:

Again you want to impose in regard to Chinese workers, skilled workers by the way who might come in like every other country. We’ve got a lot of skilled Chinese workers here for god’s sake, so what is different about this deal.

FAINE:

Ok I will tell you. Let’s again call a spade a spade, we’re getting lots of spades out here.  It’s in the same way that we are seeing flammable Chinese cladding with fake certification now being used and causing a public safety risk on for instance hospitals and high rise buildings.

ROBB:

You’re starting to play the Chinese card yourself now Jon? I can’t believe this. We have problems with materials from lots of countries.

FAINE:

Minister I am raising serious public safety concerns. Fake certifications…

ROBB:

Am I going to get a word in here Jon or are you going to dominate the morning?

FAINE:

Well, no it’s not a dominance Minister. I am asking you to address the issue, rather than abuse me.

ROBB:

I can’t get a word in Jon. Now the thing is if you put any system in place, as soon as you put a regulation in government anywhere in the community you get people, the smarties, who violate that agreement. That is why you need…

FAINE: (interrupts) you need compliance.

ROBB:

Oh here we go. Give me another chance please. That is why you need compliance exactly, and that is why the Department of Immigration in the case of the 7 Elevens, someone appears to have broken the rules and that is why we have got a compliance team,

FAINE:

Well it wasn’t working was it?

ROBB:

Hang on, if they are not adequate well then they should be improved for every case for every country that is involved. Not some specific written rule in a trade agreement with China which discriminates against China compared with the rest of the world. The unions know, the CFMEU know that they can scare people about China that’s the whole bottom line. The night that the detail was released, the robocalls went into 14 marginal seats around the country. They hadn’t even had a chance to read the detail and their calls were running to hundreds of thousands of households. This was motivated by playing the race card so they could scare people and then they fished around for something that they could pretend was changed. Nothing has changed. This is identical to what Labor had when they were in office. Why didn’t they change it if it was so inadequate?

FAINE:

Minister they are accusing you and your colleagues of trying to get an industrial reform disguised as a free trade agreement.

ROBB:

And Simon Crean says it’s not. Dan Andrews says it’s not, Bob Hawke says it’s not. They are playing politics. You can smell a rat when every Labor leader, Federal and State for the last 25 years supports the Free Trade Agreement and says that it is not putting in jeopardy workers standards and the assessment of vacancies. You smell a rat when they all say bring it on and who’s the only person that is standing up against it? Bill Shorten.

FAINE:

No Minister that is a mischaracterisation. The other Labor people, and for instance the Premiers are saying it needs to be done with the safeguards which you just said you were not prepared to pursue.     

ROBB:

No, Daniel Andrews stood up in the Parliament and said this deal, as it is, is fit to be introduced and that is what Simon Crean said yesterday. He was the President of the ACTU, he was an employment minister and he knows a little bit a about work place relations and this sort of legislation. He has looked at it and said that there is no problem, there is no change and there is no need for change. Sure if there was a compliance issue with any country then that is an issue outside the free trade agreement that is an issue to be dealt with. But it is not part of the free trade agreement and we shouldn’t open it up and put rules in there that don’t apply to any other country in the world.

FAINE:

Just before the news Senator Penny Wong on behalf of the Labor Party said you need to stop trying to harangue people into the agreement and start negotiating

ROBB:

No we have to stop the politics. This is an anti-government exercise by the CFMEU. You know they did the same thing in the Victorian election; they were 12 months into all the marginal seats running lies and lies and lies. I witnessed it in Bentleigh, it was in my electorate. They are doing the same thing again there are robocalls, and ads and billboards all over the country but only in the marginal seats. They want to start their campaign and get rid of the Government because of the Royal Commission and they have now told Bill Shorten, now you stand up and follow us Bill because we need to get rid of this government. Well if you are going to call a spade a spade, that is the spade you need to look at.

FAINE:

Will you negotiate or not?

ROBB:

There is nothing to negotiate. If they showed something to negotiate, if they showed any substance, if they showed something that Simon Crean said yes that is a flaw, you should be doing it, if Bob Hawke yes that is a flaw you should be doing it, and Daniel Andrews said, who is very connected to the CFMEU but is showing leadership for this State where he needs to get jobs. Bill Shorten does not have to get jobs. The only job that he wants and is trying to get is the one for himself as the Prime Minister.

FAINE:

Just finally Mr Robb, you said before if it was just a matter of beefing up compliance then that could be done, well why not put that on the table as an offer, you might actually get the ball rolling?

ROBB:

Well, if there’s a problem you know I want it to apply and be dealt with across the world, not with our biggest trading partner being discriminated against Jon and this I am not going to reinforce the scares and the fear campaign based on one country that has been propagated by the CFMEU in the first instance and then Labor limply supporting all this and letting the CFMEU do all the hard and costly work. Tens of millions of dollars have already been spent on this issue and it’s for no good reason. It’s pure politics. If they put up something of substance of course I will talk to them anytime. I will. But when I see something of substance that is not just a crass political exercise well then I will act. I am not going to play their game. I am not going to confirm their view of China and I am not going to confirm the sort of scare campaign that is totally unwarranted based on the claims they’ve made to date.

FAINE:

I am indebted to you for the extra time that you have given us this morning and if I interrupted you I apologise but we have made some progress I think in this discussion and certainly the audience want to join in now too so thank you for your time.

ROBB:

No thanks for the opportunity.
  
FAINE:

Trade Minister in Tony Abbott’s Federal Liberal Government, Andrew Robb.

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