Steve Price: We’re joined by the Trade Minister Andrew Robb. Mr Robb, regarding the Chinese free trade deal; is it still possible it could fall over?
Andrew Robb: Well we require, in all likelihood, the Labor party support in the Senate. So, there's not much legislation, but there are two very simple customs bills which change the tariffs because of the agreement, but interestingly there's no migration bill in there because we don't have to amend anything because nothing's changed, despite what you hear in the ads and the rhetoric from the Labor party and the unions. But yes, if they do stay bullied and beholden to the CFMEU this deal could go under and we will literally as a community, as Australians, pay for it for decades and decades.
Steve Price: It's been a very dirty, dishonest ad campaign.
Andrew Robb: It's been atrocious. The interesting thing is if you look back to when the text became available, I signed the agreement with Minister Gao, my counterpart, in June. Late that afternoon, the text became available. An hour or so later, literally hundreds of thousands of what they call robocalls – telephone calls – were made in a whole series of electorates. Bear in mind there are 70,000 households in each electorate, so I believe there were calls in around 12 electorates that night; 12 times 70,000 is the number of phone calls they made. And the next day they had ads running on the television. Now the unions had no opportunity to look at what the detail was. They were ready; they'd obviously spent two or three months minimum, to get all of that campaign ready. It ran the night that we signed the deal and the text became available, so that's why I called it racist from the outset, because they didn't do this with Japan, they didn't do it with Korea, they didn't do it with Chile; all of those agreements – the workers' protections are identical.
Andrew Bolt: The thing that people have struggled to come to grips with perhaps Andrew is the deal says that companies that invest in projects more than $150 million – which isn't that much in terms of really big projects – don't have to check under certain categories; they don't have to do labour market testing etc. And you say, ‘Well if you go to another document or other protocols or whatever, they do have to prove that Australians can't do the job’. Why is it in one part of the deal that they don't have to prove it, but it is in another part?
Andrew Robb: The thing is that in all of the agreements that we've done and in fact some of those Labor concluded like the Chilean one – they didn't conclude too much, but that was one they did conclude – there have been the exclusion from labour market testing, of a couple of categories. Now, it largely refers to senior executives of companies; the team that they bring – the senior engineers, it's like Lendlease…
Andrew Bolt: Things like nurses and all that kinds of stuff? I just don't understand how you can say no market testing in one part of the deal, but insist to the public that there is market testing to show that Australians can't do the job overall. I just don't understand why the same demand for market testing isn't in every part of the documentation?
Andrew Robb: Well the thing is that labour market testing was brought in originally by the Howard Government and then it was removed because it wasn't deemed to be an effective way of measuring whether there really were people available or not. Then in 2013 the Labor party reintroduced it but it is quite limited; 84,000 of the current 100,000 people who are here under 457 visas, haven't gone through labour market testing. Now that's under the Labor party system as well as ours. The thing is that standard business sponsors currently are required, so if you've got a business and you want to bring in 15 people who are writing code or they've got certain skills – they are specialist welders or whatever they might be – and you can't find them in Australia, you're required to demonstrate labour market testing, unless they're exempted from certain professions.
Andrew Bolt: Are they blue collar professions?
Andrew Robb: Well unless they're under international trade obligations, invariably no they're not. They do include nurses and engineers but they have degree courses.
Andrew Bolt: So it doesn't apply to blue collar workers, so then you can't actually say can you really, that labour market testing, under the China free trade deal, applies to all workers, because it doesn't.
Andrew Robb: No it doesn't and it didn't under Labor.
Andrew Bolt: No that's fine, I'm just saying let's put it on the table.
Andrew Robb: They're saying you're not doing labour market testing and my best defence is that all through this negotiation, I knew that if we strayed from what already existed as our requirements in Australia, if we strayed from the worker protections that were put in place by Labor, I knew that we would have a hell of a dog fight. So every time my negotiators came to me and said, ‘We're looking to offer this or make this concession’, I'd say, ‘Is that still within our worker protection legislation?’
Steve Price: Well the reason we get hung up on this is the scare campaign works.
Andrew Bolt: On the blue collar workers anyway.
Steve Price: On our radio station last week, Minister we got caller after caller after caller with all of these very strange conspiracy theories about the invasion of Chinese workers; ‘We won't be able to drink milk because there'll be none left’, all of that stuff is out there, and an audience that listens to this station is believing it. So the sales job's got to be a bit better doesn’t it?
Andrew Bolt: And in fact to pick up on that, weren’t there poll indicators that in the seat of Canning which is going to a byelection in a couple of weeks – lots of fly-in-fly-out workers – the issue is biting with them?
Andrew Robb: No it is biting everywhere; I’ve never disputed that. If you spend $12 million scaring the pants off people all over the country, that's the consequence. Now, $12 million they've spent on calls, television ads and they’ve got billboards up and down the coast – all in marginal seats by the way – that is having an effect. You tell people you're going to lose your job because of this free trade agreement, there's no explanation or anything; it cuts through. But we haven't got $12 million. $12 million is about half what either the Labor or Liberal party spend on each campaign. The unions have spent it in two and a half months on this one issue.
Steve Price: So how do you counter it and how do you convince the Chinese that we're not somehow backing away from this deal because we're worried about it?
Andrew Robb: Well I went to China two weeks ago for this very purpose, to assure them that we're 110 per cent committed, and I think in time common sense will prevail, by the time we get to the legislation. Secondly, I think Bill Shorten is now totally isolated with the CFMEU around this issue. All of the former Labor luminaries – all the former leaders and the current leaders at the state level and people like Simon Crean and Martin Ferguson – they've all said, ‘This has to pass; this has to go through; there are no problems associated with it’. We have to progressively try and build the pressure on the Labor party that their economic credentials will be absolutely trashed.
Andrew Bolt: But you know what's going to happen; they are going to maintain this front until the Canning byelection to get maximum, and then they'll give in after that because it doesn’t matter if the result’s bad for you. That’s what will happen. What’s needed is some simple lines: ‘This does not apply to blue collar workers’. That would be a good message to go out. Just straight like that: ‘Doesn't apply to blue collar workers’, because that's where it's biting hard; doesn't apply – it just applies to white collars. Let them worry about it.
Steve Price: And the economic benefits have got to be sung a lot louder.
Andrew Robb: The farmers are out today with ads and there’s been endless amount of…
Steve Price: But how about having a few press conferences on dairy farms saying, ‘Look, this guy is going to expand and put on all these workers’. I think instead of defence attack, attack.
Andrew Robb: Yes but unless you've got a dog fight, no one's too interested.
Andrew Bolt: No, I know that. Now the Syria deal; I find it really interesting. The Government has been saying that this deal will apply to persecuted minorities, by which we're supposed to hear, Christians. Except it doesn't dare say Christians. Why don't you dare?
Andrew Robb: Well, because it is a persecuted minority but there are Druze; there's Kurds, there's Turkmen, there’s Yazidis. Now probably, the most significant persecuted minorities are a whole raft of different Jews and Christians and a lot of non-Muslim minorities. And the criteria we're really seeking to use is that, we're the other side of the world, right? So if they come here, we have to have the frame of mind that we're trying to resettle these people for life. Now, that is the principal criteria. I suspect it will apply more to the persecuted Christians and Jews.
Andrew Bolt: That they will fit in more?
Andrew Robb: Well they fit that category more. But having said that, there are still Kurds, and there's Druze and there's Turkmen…
Andrew Bolt: I know, but basically a lot of people in Australia are worried about the idea of how well Muslims from war zones fit in to our society. And they've got reason to worry about that. Now when you say persecuted minorities, you're sending a signal that you do not need to worry, we will be taking in predominately Christians. Now I understand that there's an argument that you don't need to go down that way, you just need to say, ‘They're more persecuted than anyone else, that's why they're getting there’. But why don't you dare say ‘Listen. We will take in Christians’, and assure people that way?
Andrew Robb: Well because amongst that there will be Muslims obviously; there will be because there will be some persecuted minorities, but a lot of the Muslim-persecuted groups – many of them would prefer to stay near where they came from or in Europe…
Steve Price: But you’re making the assumption. Would your preference be for Christians to come?
Andrew Robb: No there are Christians who are persecuted and Jews and others, Armenians, who we could fairly accurately assume there is no place for them back where they came from; that's not going to happen. Whereas there are Muslims who are persecuted, some of whom we can assume the same – that they're not going to be able to go back to where they came from – but others who are more likely to be able to go back in due course. So they – if they're in Europe or somewhere – have that choice far more readily than if they relocated to Australia. So that's why we set the criteria that our focus is on the persecuted minorities, who have been displaced and are very unlikely – that's a very important point – ever to be able to go back to their original home.
Steve Price: Our colleague Ross Greenwood, whom I know you talk to on a regular basis, has done the numbers, and he's better at numbers than Andrew and I; he says no way is this going to only cost $700 million.
Andrew Robb: Well I was the Minister for a year, responsible for refugees, and that was back in 2006. That year we had 12,000 refugees under our humanitarian normal program and we had the 12,000 from the year before and the year before and the year before. It was costing us then about $600 million for 12,000. But that was per year, and we had all the ones from the years before etc. So prices have gone up, I think we're talking about $750 million
Andrew Bolt: $750 but it's closer to the round billion, actually.
Andrew Robb: I was thinking to myself in Cabinet – because I was trying to compare it to when I had responsibility – because of course Cabinet was asking ‘what is it going to cost?’, and I didn't think it was that far out of whack, to be honest.
Andrew Bolt: All right. You're more travelled than the average minister, and certainly more than the average Australian, being Trade Minister, just being reflective; you look at Europe, the illegal immigrants now are about 4,000 a day that it's gone up to, mostly Muslimist third-world. How is that going to change Europe if that doesn't stop? Because I don't see any way at the moment of Europe actually stopping what's happening.
Andrew Robb: Well, I don't know if they can or they can't. You can see what happened in the UK; you could understand it all the colonies could come in. But even if they’re usually sympathetic and all the rest of it, they do change the community. You’ve got whole cities that come from different countries and that could well occur in Europe, so it will change very much. But I think despite all the numbers you hear coming out and all the rest – Europe's talking about settling about 4,000 per country per year for three or four years – but what they do with the rest, I don't know.
Steve Price: Can I ask you a question on that? You spent more of your last two years out of Australia than in, most of it in places like China, Korea, and Japan. How it is that none of those countries put their hand up to take anybody?
Andrew Robb: Well, as developing countries…
Steve Price: Developing countries; Japan and Korea?
Andrew Robb: No, Japan is not of course. Japan has never embraced immigration for one second, much less resettlement. Look, I don't have to defend any of these countries...
Steve Price: You can be diplomatic, that's fine. I just thought I'd ask. I find it unbelievable. And even the Middle East countries.
Andrew Robb: They are now suffering a consequence; we bring in, quite apart from the refugees, which we're one of three countries in the world that has – in an uninterrupted fashion – brought in refugees for 60 years. But we've controlled it; we've chosen them. And we spent serious money on helping them to settle. Even then we've had problems, but…
Andrew Bolt: We still have problems. Look at some of the suburbs of Sydney.
Andrew Robb: I accept that but overwhelmingly, we have been very successful with many groups. Very successful; the Vietnamese, the people from Myanmar and…
Andrew Bolt: The Afghans, the Somalis, the Sudanese. I think we're coming into a different era now, I'm afraid.
Andrew Robb: Well no, the Myanmar people are not different.
Andrew Bolt: No.
Andrew Robb: But okay, they’re quite different cultures and it's going take us more time. But we have, as a country, been remarkably successful in bringing in people from many different parts of the world. Sure, many of them came from Europe with a lot of similar sorts of values, but we have been remarkably successful. And I do feel that we still are benefiting enormously from the 250,000 a year of skilled people coming in who are young…
Andrew Bolt: Yeah that's different. But I tell you what, Andrew; I bet you a lot that there wouldn't be a Japanese politician looking at what's going on in Europe and Germany or whatever and thinking, ‘We should take in more, too’. There wouldn't be one that would think that an Asian-Japanese population is better as long as it's still mono-cultural.
Andrew Robb: Well they're struggling; the Chinese are struggling now – they have a one child policy. Within five years, they will be looking to have people come into the country. Which is quite counter to the argument the CFMEU is putting up, but they are running out of young people who are ready to work, and do all the things that are necessary in a country and support the seniors in their community.
Now Japan is really up against it in terms of the age profile of their country; it's becoming seriously out of whack. And I don't know what they're going to do about it and I'm not going to tell them what to do about it, but they've got an issue and I'm sure it’ll be making them think about it.
Steve Price: It’s great to talk to you. Thanks for giving us your time. You're doing a great job. Thanks for your time today.
Andrew Robb: Thanks a lot. Thanks for the opportunity.
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