Michael Brissenden: Andrew Robb joins me on the line now from Darwin, Mr Robb good morning.

Andrew Robb: Good morning Michael.

Michael Brissenden: The TPP text was released last night; it’s pretty long, 30 chapters, thousands of pages, it’s going to require some close examination but already there are some concerns about specific issues like labour protections, healthcare and the environment; while it has been released it hasn’t been ratified by the US congress so there are still a few hurdles to overcome yet aren’t there?

Andrew Robb: Yes, as always with these wide ranging and very comprehensive agreements. It will take 12 countries – not just the US – to ratify the agreement.  First of all this text has been put out in record time in order to give as many interested parties as possible, the opportunity to pore through it and satisfy themselves that what we’ve said was the outcome, truly is the outcome.  Then we will sign it, then it will go back to all of the countries, possibly in the first half of next year, to be ratified.

Michael Brissenden: One of the concerns expressed already is about the environment chapter; there’s a concern that there’s not enough detail in there.  Climate change for instance isn’t even mentioned; why not?

Andrew Robb: This is not a climate change policy.  It’s not an agreement to do with climate change; it’s a trade agreement which looks at issues relating to trade that can affect public policy in the environmental area.  Now it’s very explicit on those issues, it does provide the best safeguards that have ever been provided in any agreement, in this regard, and I was a bit disappointed that 6,000 pages hit the table last night at 6 o’clock, and literally within 20 minutes there were predictable people ringing media outlets across the country giving so called expert advice; they’d had no opportunity to study the document, and they don’t do themselves any justice, much less the rest of the population, by jumping at shadows and peddling lines they’ve been peddling for years without having a decent look at what’s been negotiated.

Michael Brissenden: Okay, you can’t divorce these big issues from trade though can you?

Andrew Robb: No, but that’s my point; it’s in what sense are trade issues relevant to the environment, and the argument all along has been – and Australia has been at the forefront of tackling this issue – that the Investor State Dispute Settlement mechanism is not used and abused by groups in other countries to litigate against particular countries.

We have been successful in leading the charge in getting significant carve-outs which preclude public policy in environmental areas from being subject to litigation.

Michael Brissenden: You’re obviously across the detail a lot more than others because this has only just come out; there will be people who will hone-in on particular areas of interest.  Are you totally confident that at the end of the day this is not going to leave us exposed?

Andrew Robb: This has been negotiated over many, many years.  We were aware from day one of the major areas of sensitivity; we have spent literally hundreds of hours on these areas.  With the issue of biologics in the last negotiation, we had over 40 hours straight of negotiations – ten different meetings in 40 hours – to ensure that what we said we would do, that we in fact did do it, and we did protect the five year data protection issue; we haven’t moved one iota on any of that health area. It was obvious to us all along, what the sensitive areas were, and I’m very confident that we have addressed those and protected issues that were of great concern to various groups within the Australian community.

Michael Brissenden: As you mentioned, all 12 countries still have to ratify this, but clearly the US is the most important in this process.  What are you hearing from the US because there’s some big momentum against it there isn’t there?

Andrew Robb: There’s a presidential election coming up so there’s a lot of politics being played.  I would not particularly place a lot of emphasis on what certain people are saying at this stage because they’re still chasing nominations for their own party nomination for the presidency, and it’s a very highly powered political environment at the moment.  I do feel that in the end, whatever happens in the next few months, whatever people say in the next few months in the US, my sense is that this issue is so important to the United States that in the end, whoever’s president, whoever is in congress, this issue will pass through the congress because of the significance to the region for the United States.

Michael Brissenden: Just turning to a domestic issue for the moment, do you support lifting the GST or broadening its base as part of a tax reform package?

Andrew Robb: I support us putting everything on the table, as we have done.  I support us dealing with all sensible options from open-minded stakeholders such as ACOSS, and I hope that the opposition can be constructive and forward looking so we can set Australia up for the most extraordinary opportunities that are emerging in the region around us.

Michael Brissenden: But does that include a rise in the GST because ACOSS and Labor as you know argue that any rise in the GST would hit the lowest income households the hardest.

Andrew Robb: It’s a question of how you structure a package, whether we’re talking GST or other major components; this is a wide ranging review, this is not just one particular item and how it might impact on the community.  It’s the interaction of the whole taxation system, so to focus one at a time on individual taxes, to me always leads you to the lowest common denominator.  We’ve got to get our thinking above that, we’ve got to be looking at it in a broad ranging sense, but most of all we have to have every option on the table because that’s when you get the opportunity to do what’s best for the whole economy, including those on low incomes.  It’s got to be fair; we’re not going to do anything which starts to undermine the fairness of our taxation system, but we’re also looking to see how we can best encourage innovation and how we can best encourage people to take opportunities, because the opportunities emerging in the Asia-Pacific region are just spectacular, and if Australia doesn’t get itself positioned to be competitive in that area, then we will miss out on the best opportunity that’s ever emerged in our history.

Michael Brissenden: Andrew Robb we’ll leave it there; thanks for joining us.

Andrew Robb: Thanks Michael.


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