Kieran Gilbert: Let’s turn our attention back to politics and the politics of the day. Simon Birmingham the Trade Minister joins us, Laura, this morning, and the Minister, welcome. Your warning about the impact on some industries if the TPP, as it’s known, a controversial trade deal, which of course Donald Trump pulled out of, if it doesn’t get through the Parliament this week. But it doesn’t look like you’re going to have to have any concern about that because Labor’s going to back it anyway.
Simon Birmingham: Well good morning Kieran and Laura. Yes, look, I welcome the indications from the Labor party in that regard and that is a very positive thing because the TPP itself will deliver strong positive benefits to Australian exporters, to our wool growers, our wine makers, our steel producers — who will all receive, well, preferential access into key export markets under the TPP. But there is also the opposite — that, were it not to be ratified this year, then some of our key competitors, other nations, would instead get that preferential access ahead of us, putting our exporters at the back of the queue and that would be a very bad thing. Which is why the Government wants to see this ratified, wants to see it through the Parliament this week and is working hard to make sure it does.
Kieran Gilbert: Well Bill Shorten is going to back it despite some concerns from within his party and within the union movement about labour market testing. Has enough been done to protect Australian jobs? Because at the moment employers with the countries within the TPP can bring in employees without appropriate labour market testing. That’s a concern to Labor.
Simon Birmingham: These provisions are, very much, similar identity of provisions to those that exist in a number of Australian Government trade agreements. They are not being misused in those senses elsewhere and the same standards, the very high standards in terms of ensuring that if an electrical worker comes to Australia they have to meet all of the same high criteria in terms of being a qualified electrician to be able to do the jobs. So standards are absolutely maintained. What we have here is a deal that’s been assessed independently and shown that it will lift Australia’s national income by around $15 billion annually by 2030. That’s a significant boost, but of course most directly that comes from the fact that our exporters, our farmers, our businesses are able to get better access to key international markets.
Laura Jayes: This comes at an interesting time, doesn’t it Minister, at a time where Donald Trump has been protectionist, he’s been like that for quite some time. But it comes as we’re seeing a trade war between the US and China. There have been warnings out of China about how Australia pushes back and which side of the fence we’re on. What is your message to China?
Simon Birmingham: Well our message to China, to the United States, to indeed to all nations is that we ought to respect trade rules, that we ought to encourage the free flow of trade where ever possible, that Australia condemns trade distorting subsidies or unilateral tariff measures that undermine that and that ultimately make goods, services more expensive for people in the nations who apply them, but that also create the risk in potential of slowing global economic growth and having negative consequences elsewhere. That’s why we will keep working hard as a government to do what we’ve been so successful at, which is to give our exporters better access into international markets as a buffer for many of these global head winds. That’s critical because what happened previously was a lack of action in terms of the trade agenda. When we came to office only 20 odd per cent of Australia’s exported goods and services had preferential access into key export markets. That’s now in excess of 70 per cent thanks to the work that our government has done.
Laura Jayes: There’s been some successes, a lot of successes, from your government in negotiating successive trade deals with a number of countries. Is a trade deal the best weapon against this heightening trade war between China and the US? Is there anything more you can do to stop Australia from becoming collateral damage?
Simon Birmingham: Well we have to do everything we can in terms of continuing strong economic management that Scott Morrison’s been so central to — as Treasurer under Malcolm Turnbull and now as Prime Minister. That means we keep working to provide the buffers that come from improved market export access that we’ve delivered as I was talking about before. But also continuing to balance the budget, which we’ve achieved. Continuing to lower taxes where we can to create competitive economic conditions here in Australia. All of those factors are important to giving our business, our economy the best chance of succeeding, notwithstanding some of those global pressures in trade disputes.
Kieran Gilbert: So let’s look at a couple of other issues now. The survey out today, Fairfax survey, that shows more than 70 per cent of people surveyed don’t think that schools should be able to discriminate against gay students and teachers in terms of rejecting them or kicking them out of their particular institutions. Do you think the Government will legislate this week or next in relation to stopping this from being a prospect?
Simon Birmingham: Well the Prime Minister’s indicated that we will legislate quickly, and that’s in the next few weeks, to make sure that the provisions as they relate to students are removed from law. They’re not provisions that are actively used by schools at present. In fact they’ve essentially been dormant provisions ever since they were put in place by the previous Labor government. But the Prime Minister’s shown leadership there in saying discrimination against school children has no place and those provisions get removed in accordance with…
Kieran Gilbert: It’s important that the Government honour the aim of the Ruddock review as well and that is to respect religious rights as well. Do you support a religious discrimination act?
Simon Birmingham: We will look at all aspects of the Ruddock review and carefully examine the other recommendations. It is important to respect the rights of individuals to practice their faith freely. The rights of religious institutions to be able to operate in ways that are consistent with their faith and tenancy document of their belief. So these are important issues to balance and that’s what we’ll work through carefully.
Laura Jayes: Two quick things Simon Birmingham. Snowy Hydro 2.0 — is it the end?
Simon Birmingham: No, not at all. It will stand or fall on the economic merits of the business case that’s been developed there. The Government wants to see investment in new, reliable, dispatchable energy sources around the country. That is indeed a reliable and dispatchable option. Business case work is being done quite rightly by Snowy Hydro and that will determine what happens.
Laura Jayes: And what’s your take out of today’s Newspoll?
Simon Birmingham: Well there’s always work to be done and we will continue to work hard as a Government. Scott Morrison has done an incredible job the last couple of months connecting with voters across Australia. He’s seen as authentic. He’s getting on with the job in terms of delivering faster tax relief for small Australian businesses, in terms of pursuing new policy options such as increased investment into mental health services by Headspace. But we have to keep working day in day out as a Government to make sure that come the next election people understand that our Liberal National Government has delivered the things that matter to them and they expect from a Liberal National Government — jobs growth, economic growth, balancing the budget, and of course ensuring that tax relief flows through for Australian workers and Australian small businesses.
Laura Jayes: Trade Minister thanks so much for your time.
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