MATT WORDSWORTH: Australia’s Trade Minister Steve Ciobo is also attending the summit in the Vietnamese city of Da Nang. I spoke to him earlier.
STEVEN CIOBO: Good to be with you.
MATT WORDSWORTH: Well firstly, the Peru trade agreement, who are the winners here?
STEVEN CIOBO: Well, we don't have a lot of trade with Peru at the moment, but that's why concluding this deal is such a good outcome for Australia. This is going to represent a new opportunity for Australian exporters to tap into Peru. Now, it's one of the fastest growing economies in the world. It's had an incredible average growth rate of 5.9% over the last 10 years. It's got a population of 31 million people. It's a country that Australia hasn't had much entry into in the past, and, in fact, they've imported something like $4.5 billion worth of agricultural products, of which Australia only provided a very small $5.3 million dollars. So you can certainly understand the tremendous potential of this deal.
MATT WORDSWORTH: So Peru is one of the TPP countries. Why do you need this deal if you also want to have the TPP deal as well?
STEVEN CIOBO: Correct. Well, the TPP is, of course, a regional trade block and I'm hopeful that over the next 24 or 48 hours, we'll be able to conclude the TPP-11 deal. That will be tremendous for Australia if we can do that. But that notwithstanding, the fact that we've been able to get now and secure a trade deal with Peru, and this is, of itself, a deal worth doing. But it also helps to build momentum to, I hope, securing the TPP deal as well.
MATT WORDSWORTH: Yeah, so on that TPP Deal. The US is out, Donald Trump has said as much. Do you think that there is any chance he could change his mind?
STEVEN CIOBO: Well, one thing about politics I've learned is you should never say never, so who knows? But certainly he seems to be someone who's been very firm and indicated before the election that he was not going to remain in the TPP and, true to his word, he's withdrawn the US from it. From Australia's perspective, though, this is certainly a deal well worth doing. There’s a lot of benefits in the TPP-11, and that's why we've been pursuing it, together with Japan and other countries, including Singapore, for example, because we know this is a very good deal for Aussie exporters.
MATT WORDSWORTH: Yeah, New Zealand has thrown in a curve ball though haven’t they? They were dead keen and now Jacinta Ardern wants to renegotiate. Have you heard any of those details?
STEVEN CIOBO: Well, look, we're almost at the tail end. It's effectively one minute to midnight and, as I said, I'm hopeful that in the next 24 or 48 hours, we will conclude this deal. We're not there yet, but, boy oh boy, we're very close. New Zealand, no doubt, it has brought a couple of issues to the table, but we'll work through those, resolve those issues and I'm still very certain that we should be able to conclude this deal.
MATT WORDSWORTH: So a couple of their issues are, they want restrictions on foreign property investment, they don’t like the ISDS provisions. Jacinta Ardern called them a ‘dog’. But the Japanese media, they’re reporting that the Japanese officials are quite worried saying, if exceptions are made for New Zealand alone, the whole thing will fall apart. Is that the danger here?
STEVEN CIOBO: Look, I mean, I can't speak on behalf of New Zealand. That's for the New Zealand Government to do. What I can do is pursue Australia's national interests. Now if New Zealand wants to say, well, it's their way or the highway on different issues, well, that's New Zealand's call to make.
MATT WORDSWORTH: Would you consider the option of cutting New Zealand loose to have a TPP-10?
STEVEN CIOBO: Well, it's not that, it's not that. It's a decision that they make as to whether they choose to sign up to an agreement or not. It's not a case of anyone cutting anyone loose.
MATT WORDSWORTH: So, the Chinese are pursuing their own multilateral trade deal known as RCEP. Earlier this week we spoke with Frederic Neumann, co-head of Asian Economics at HSBC, and asked if there was any sense that the Chinese now also wanted a seat at the TPP table. Let’s take a listen.
FREDERIC NEUMANN: That it’s probably what some members are hoping for because it really would beef up the TPP. It would make it a much larger economy. But it is difficult for the mainland to commit at this stage. TPP, remember, is a very high end agreement. It puts a lot of stipulations on, not just on goods trade, but also services trade and here, China, it probably gonna take its time for them to join such an ambitious agreement any time soon.
MATT WORDSWORTH: Frederic Neumann from HSBC there. Steve Ciobo, is he right? Is China potentially a TPP player?
STEVEN CIOBO: Well, again, that's a decision for China, not for Australia. Ultimately, my focus here and now, is on trying to conclude this deal between the 11 countries that are at the table having these discussions. That's what I know is good for Australia. That's why I pursued this in the face of opposition from the Australian Labor Party, who haven't wanted to pursue this deal. Now, whether in time, other countries might choose to be part of this deal if we can get it struck, well, again, that's decisions that they will have to look at, but we'll have the agreement in place. They'll make determinations about whether they can meet the hurdles, so to speak, that the deal has, and obviously, for economies that choose to sign up down the track, they would all be adding value by expanding the remit of the agreement.
MATT WORDSWORTH: Trade Minister Steve Ciobo as my guest this morning, Minister, you left Australia for the summit yesterday, I’m not sure if you have kept across it, but just in the short period of time you have been away, two more MPs have fallen into the citizenship saga, Jacqui Lambie and Rebekha Sharkie under a cloud now. Does that surprise you that this is keeping on happening?
STEVEN CIOBO: I think this is a complex factor. The fact is that the interpretation that the High Court has made on the operation of Section 44 was considered to be a curve ball. There are many, many Australians, there'll be millions of Australians, who, on face value, would be ineligible to stand for Parliament unless they actively sought out their ancestry and renounced dual citizenship. Now, it's not surprising in that context, given the very strict interpretation the High Court has adopted, that now we see a number of Members of Parliament just saying, "Well, actually, it looks like there could be complications."
MATT WORDSWORTH: Barnaby Joyce reckons there’s going to be more. Richard Di Natale reckons they’ll be an election. This is a fiasco isn’t?
STEVEN CIOBO: Well, this is a consequence of a situation where a number of people, and obviously a large number of the Australian population and, no surprises, when you have millions of people potentially affected in the Australian population, and given that the Parliament is representative of the broader Australian population, no surprises that there are a number of MPs who have discovered that, due to parents or other family members or something, that there is some type of, for lack of a better term, latent citizenship there. Look, ultimately, though, every Member of Parliament has an obligation to make sure that they comply with the Constitution. I, of course, with my surname, I must have had a thousand journalists call me, asking am I an Italian citizen? Is there an issue there? And so many months ago, I made sure I had got a copy of the letter indicating I wasn't an Italian citizen and had not been an Italian citizen. So, it's understandable that people ask these questions.
MATT WORDSWORTH: So you’re happy to provide that documentary evidence just to anybody who asks?
STEVEN CIOBO: Well, you won't be surprised to know I've had many journalists asking to have a look at that.
MATT WORDSWORTH: Have you shown them the letter?
STEVEN CIOBO: Of course.
MATT WORDSWORTH: Well you’ve got people like John Alexander, Jacqui Lambie, refusing to disclose this evidence until Parliament requires them too. What do you say to them?
STEVEN CIOBO: Well, the Prime Minister has put forward a very clear plan now that will remove any uncertainty about where people stand, in so far as are they citizens, whether they've renounced dual citizenship, and so on and so forth. That will provide and be the catalyst for any referrals that may need to happen as a consequence of that. That in turn will get to the bottom of this matter, but this is also, as I said, a function of what has been a very strict interpretation of the operation of Section 44, and that very strict interpretation, together with the fact that frankly, people have had citizenship passed down to them through the generations, so to speak, which no one reasonably, in my view, could have foreseen in many respects.
MATT WORDSWORTH: Minister, Cory Bernardi was on the program earlier in the week saying the option here is to prorogue the Parliament. Do you agree with him? And if not, why not?
STEVEN CIOBO: I think that we've got a process ahead of us, and that is for Members of Parliament to make sure that they declare their citizenship status, they declare renunciations, and then, if need be, if there is any uncertainty surrounding a Member or more than one Member, so, for example, in this case Rebekha Sharkie, the High Court can look at those sitting as the Court of Disputed Returns. They'll be in a position to provide potentially further clarification around the operation and interpretation of Section 44 of the Constitution. Alternatively, they will reinforce existing announcements and existing decisions. That is going to be the basis upon which decisions are made, and I'm very confident that the government, in particular under this Prime Minister, that we've got now a pathway to resolve this matter.
MATT WORDSWORTH: And just quickly on same sex marriage, conservative Coalition MPs are drafting their own Bill. Should the Yes vote get up next week ‘cause they don’t like the Dean Smith Bill? Are you a part of that group?
STEVEN CIOBO: I've made it clear from the beginning that there's no point having a plebiscite if I don't respect the wishes of my electorate. I've made it clear that my support will reflect absolutely the seat that I represent and the decision of the seat that I represent, because that's the whole point of having a plebiscite.
MATT WORDSWORTH: But both of them will enable same sex marriage. So you’ve got the Ian Goodenough-led Bill, you’ve got the Dean Smith-led Bill. Which one should go forward for a vote?
STEVEN CIOBO: Well, to be honest with you, I'm aware of issues in relation to religious freedom that are important to me. But we'll see, ultimately, what's brought before the Parliament because, at this stage, there are different backbenchers putting forward different points of view. I will make an assessment based upon the legislation that's in front of me.
MATT WORDSWORTH: Alright Steve Ciobo, thank you for your time.
STEVEN CIOBO: Good to speak with you.
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