Laura Jayes: Minister thanks so much for your time; can I ask you firstly about the unemployment figures today, they really haven’t changed much this month but it’s still a number with a six in front of it, this is pretty bad news for a Government who is spruiking jobs and growth as their mantra.

Andrew Robb: The fact is we live in a very uncertain world; a nervous developed world at least, very much so.  We’ve just got the worst terms of trade numbers for decades, and yet despite all that, we have in fact helped create nearly 240,000 jobs in two years and they are new jobs; all that while, we’ve been losing thousands of mining jobs and our job was to do what we could to transition Australia to a far more diversified economy.   With ten times the rate of jobs growth than what we inherited, I think we are doing a very solid job with this transition to a more broadly based economy, and less reliance on the mining sector where the prices have collapsed.

Laura Jayes: And the China Free Trade Agreement will be critical in that.  Can I put a few of the direct criticisms from Labor and get you to answer them directly.  Labor has said in recent days that the China Free Trade Agreement goes further than Chile because it removes the Labour Market Testing for people in trade occupations.  Is that correct?

Andrew Robb: No it’s not.  The labour market requirements that are in the Korean agreement, the Japanese agreement, the Chilean agreement, are the same as what underpins the China agreement.  This trade agreement has been subjected to as much – if not more – scrutiny than most pieces of legislation or most agreements.  It has been looked at by commentators; in fact many Labor luminaries for that matter, by state governments of both persuasions, of think tanks – there’s not one thing that Labor is putting up as a problem, that has not been discounted, not only by us, but by those who have examined this, those with no political agenda at least.  This is just Labor, in a very desperate attempt, searching around for some crumb of difference somewhere, and so far they haven’t found a cigarette paper between what’s in the China deal in terms of protecting working conditions and their rights and their jobs, and the other agreements we’ve signed up to as a country.

Peter van Onselen:  Andrew Robb if I can ask you in a broad sense, I don’t say this gratuitously I say it as a statement of fact quite frankly, you’ve been one of the top performing ministers in the Abbott Government, almost unquestionably; recognised as such by critics that got it wrong, myself included, in the lead up to the last election – happy to eat humble pie on that one – I wanted to get your thoughts on what my colleague at The Australian Chris Kenny put in a column which you would have seen on the weekend, where, in fairness to Chris, he was calling on your strong performance as well, but he was suggesting you are one of these ageing ministers that should get out of the way for renewal, I don’t agree with that.  I wonder whether or not you’re going to commit to another term, assuming that the Abbott Government does win the next election.

Andrew Robb: I was pre-selected again a few months ago; it’s absolutely my intention to keep going.  I’ve still got a big job to do before we even get to that election by the way; India and hopefully TPP, and Indonesia and others.  I enjoy the job; I feel I’ve been training for it for 30 years given the eclectic background that I’ve got, and it’s been a wonderful opportunity.  I feel privileged to have had the opportunity to nail some of these things, and I want to add to it.

Peter van Onselen: Let me ask this question; the India free trade agreement.  You mentioned you had a lot more to do, where’s that at?  Obviously they’re a massive emerging economy and a big trading partner of the future for this country.

Andrew Robb: They are, and it’s very important.  North Asia has been critical for us, but we can’t put all our eggs in the one basket.  India are probably 20 years behind China, but they’re following the same path; they’ve got people coming out of rural areas into the cities and Prime Minister Modi tells me he thinks that will continue for two decades, so they’ve got to build the cities, they’ve got to build the industries, they’ve got to do what China’s done and it’s an enormous opportunity for Australia.  We’re still on track to try and conclude something by the end of the year; they’re less developed than everyone else we’ve done deals with, so it will be more focused on services – how we can deliver our expertise to help them realise the great opportunities.  It will have a goods package, but it won’t be as liberating as the more developed economies.

Laura Jayes: Back to the China Free Trade Agreement, Labor says if this legislation does what the Government says it does, and that includes Labour Market Testing, why can’t you make it clearer in the legislation?  When you do look at this China Free Trade Agreement there are parts of this that rule our Labour Market Testing, but I agree with you and I accept your explanation that there’s legislation with the 457 visas that does give that safety net and there’s the Memorandum of Understanding and supporting documents, but for Labor, obviously they want the Government to make it clearer.  Why is that so hard to do?

Andrew Robb: Well there are a couple of reasons; it’s not difficult to do, but it does create all sorts of complications.  Firstly, there’s no other country that we’ve done trade deals with, that would have this legislation in place for, therefore the Chinese – who are our biggest trading partner, who’ve just spent ten years negotiating this deal, who are very proud of the deal; it’s the first major deal they’ve done with a developed G20 country, it is the best deal they’ve done with anyone, at any time and they feel that it’s demonstrated that they can produce these sorts of negotiations with the developed world, and it’s a great symbol for them of where they’ve arrived in a trading sense.  Now for us to bring in legislation targeted at China, that is going to be an almighty snub.

That will sour so much of the good will that’s been generated out of this; the sense of enormous expectation in China about the growing trade and other opportunities, so that is the first issue.  The second issue is, from what some people in the Labor party tell me, they don’t just want to legislate to mandate Labour Market Testing, they also want to include a list of things as long as your arm, to go into that legislation.  They want to change the Migration Act substantially; things they could have done – why didn’t they do it and apply it to every country when they were in power?  So that will stop the deal.  If this deal gets stalled back into next year, or gets knocked over, China will walk away and the biggest deal we’ve ever had with any country – the most liberalising with the biggest opportunity – it will be denied to Australians and Bill Shorten will rue the day that they’ve done this crass political act.

Laura Jayes: I also note the criticism from Warren Mundine today Minister Robb, but we are running out of time, I don’t want to let you go without asking about the badge you’re wearing today; of course it is R U OK Day, and you’ve been one of the ministers driving support in this area, and of course you’ve written the book ‘Black Dog Daze’, how important is a day like today and it is ‘World Suicide Prevention Day’ as well.

Andrew Robb: Buddy Franklin, the Sydney Swans super star has declared that he has a problem, he’s had to go public, it’s being dealt with. This badge and these activities encourage people like Buddy Franklin to do what is a very brave act; to confront his problem and seek help, because the fact is, if we don’t come out from hiding behind a problem, afraid of the stigma that might be attached to us, we’d be suffering for many years.  I had 43 years of it before I found the courage to confront it and admit to it and get help.  I’ve had five years which have been – every day – better than the last 43; that’s the importance of shining a light on this problem – removing the stigma as best we can, and the majority of people learn to either manage it or get rid of it altogether, so it’s not the end of the line, it’s the start of things to confront it and get help.

Peter van Onselen: And you’ve absolutely helped people Andrew Robb by doing so, including by writing that book. We appreciate you joining us on ‘To the Point’ thanks for your company.

Andrew Robb: Thanks Peter; thanks Laura.


Media enquiries

  • Trade Minister's Office: (02) 6277 7420
  • DFAT Media Liaison: (02) 6261 1555