David Penberthy: We talk now to Andrew Robb who is the Trade Minister. Mr Robb, thank you so much for your time. Do you think there’s a danger that as this debate swirls out of control that China might just saw ‘we’re not interested anymore’?
Andrew Robb: Good morning David and thanks for the opportunity.
Look, I’ve got no doubt, I was there a couple of weeks ago; they are totally confused. Bill Shorten, when President Xi was in Australia and shook hands with Tony Abbott on the deal, Bill Shorten looked him in the eye and said, ‘I support this Free Trade Agreement’ and now they’ve done nothing else since but try and undermine it.
The Chinese are one confused, I think starting to get concerned that it’s a symbol to them that the Australian community perhaps doesn’t value the commercial relationship that we’ve got. Of course they are our biggest trading partner and if we start to move legislation which discriminates against the Chinese compared to every other country – and we both claim on both sides of politics to have a non-discriminatory migration policy. If we do that with the biggest deal they’ve ever done; they’re very proud of this deal because it’s the first with a major G20 country. It’s a symbol for them to the rest of the world of what they can do in terms of these sort of sophisticated, liberating agreements, if we snub them in this way and discriminate against them in this way, there’s every chance that they will say ‘you don’t value us, we will walk away’. Or if we delay this thing, they’ll walk away.
They have spent 10 years on this project with us, they are very proud of the agreement. It really is the best deal we have ever done, the best deal they’ve ever done and there’s just pure politics being played here I’m afraid and it’s not looking at the national interest; just pure politics.
David Penberthy: You probably wouldn’t be aware of this minister but we’ve got what we call The Royal Show going on here in Adelaide at the moment, similar to the Easter Show they have in Sydney, where basically the bush comes to the city for a week. We interviewed a farmer from Border Town last week, guys like him, they’re really, really excited about the fact new markets are going to be opening up, for meat, for wheat, for wool, all these things that in the past, because of these trade barriers, Australians couldn’t export to places like China which meant fewer Australians could find employment here in Australia.
Andrew Robb: If we manifestly increase exports of all of these things, it will provide capital to the farmers, and the processors and the transport operators and the storage companies; all these things downstream from the production leads to massive increases in investment and that investment, those storage facilities, those transport chains all these things require jobs; it gives jobs to Australians. The thing is that there are provisions; we’ve got 100,000 people in Australia now who are doing jobs that employers couldn’t find Australians available to do or with the right skills. Now it’s been a big part of our economy; under Labor, under us, for decades for that matter, and yet, they’re trying to make out that we’ve changed something.
There’s not one difference between the worker protections and the employment conditions that applied under Labor for the six years of their Government and since then. Those conditions are identical and they know that, yet for two and a half months now, they have supported these outrageous ads from the trade union movement; no Chinese person will be able to come into this country under the investment agreements etc, without Labour Market Testing. Just like anyone from any other country around the world; they will not displace Australian workers. Blue collar workers have got absolutely nothing to fear from this China agreement and everything to be heartened about because it will create tens of thousands of jobs in this country.
David Penberthy: So the politics of it minister are really who will blink first; is the Government prepared to blink and say to Labor, and rationalise it by saying the deal is so important that we’re prepared to write some protections into the legislation or rather, by writing those provisions into the legislation do you think that the Government would offend China so much that the deal could be scuttled and you’re just going to look Bill Shorten in the eye and say you’ve just got to get on board or you’re going to wreck it.
Andrew Robb: Well the thing is the deal can’t be re-opened; if we tried to re-open the deal, China will walk, I’ve got no doubt about that; they’ve got bigger fish to fry. It will be a slight to them. The embarrassment to them in the global trading scene will be such that they will walk in my view. The opportunity of a lifetime that this presents will be squandered. Our opportunity to start to really benefit from the economic revolution that is going on in all the emerging countries around us will be put in jeopardy. This is pure politics; those protections are in the deal. Nothing has changed from when Labor did an agreement with Chile; the same provisions are there – they just want to now do something that we haven’t done with anyone else; they want to mandate that there will never ever be a change, that this is cast in stone for China, but of course for everyone else, there’s flexibility.
So this is just a political play, they’re looking to pander to the CFMEU; Bill Shorten got the boats policy turned around at Labor’s national conference on the condition that he stood up against this Free Trade Agreement. Now this is him being led around by the nose by the thuggish CFMEU who are facing all sorts of criminal investigations at the present time; it’s bizarre really that the country is being run by a union that, before the Royal Commission daily, is being exposed as being involved in fraudulent and criminal activities.
David Penberthy: We’re going to have to leave it there; Andrew Robb thanks for your time this morning.
- Trade Minister's Office: (02) 6277 7420
- DFAT Media Liaison: (02) 6261 1555