KIERAN GILBERT: Let me begin by asking about this statement from Barnaby Joyce and does he need to clear up staffing arrangements?
STEVEN CIOBO: At the core of this issue, Kieran, the public, justifiably, want to know were taxpayers' funds used inappropriately? Now Barnaby's gone into great detail about that historically, as he himself has confirmed it's been the National Party that has responsibility for staffing arrangements and he's made comments about that. Frankly, the balance of what we're seeing, today's front page about other allegations, it's nothing but salacious gossip. That's all it actually is. I mean, today's front page, we don't even have a complainant. There's not a complainant. All there are allegations that are made from a political enemy of Mr Joyce's and that's it. So I think we need to start to cleave off, some of, frankly, some of the noise around this, and there's a lot of noise around this, and questions, justifiably, are asked about are taxpayers' funds being used appropriately. That's the base upon which he's provided a justification and outlined his views up to this point.
KIERAN GILBERT: Labor is saying that Mr. Turnbull also needs to explain what he knew and when, given reports today that he conceded that he was aware of an affair in August of last year. Would it be better for Malcolm Turnbull as well, if Barnaby Joyce gives a complete timeline of all of this stuff?
STEVEN CIOBO: Kieran, again, what is the central issue here? It's about have taxpayers' funds been used appropriately? That is the central issue that people are looking at and are concerned with. Labor's job in all this as an Opposition is to throw as much mud as possible. They deliberately want to stir up the water, make it as murky as possible, because that suits their political agenda. Because, frankly, all Labor wants to do try to throw mud and hope some of it sticks. The oldest cliché in politics. But if you get back to the brass tacks of this issue, as I said, it's very clear. Barnaby Joyce himself has confirmed, it's the Nationals who took decisions around staffing arrangements. It is the Nationals who made determinations about where staff members should go. And it's not the Liberal Party or the Prime Minister's decision. So, as much as the Labor Party wants to run-around and try to weld those two things together, the fact is they're separate.
KIERAN GILBERT: Well, when it comes to taxpayer dollars, though, reports today by Sarah Martin in the West Australian that Barnaby Joyce used $10,000 dollars between January and September last year, during the affair with his staffer, $10,000 dollars for family travel, and questioning the legitimacy of that. That's a fair enough question.
STEVEN CIOBO: Well, again, I'm sure he’ll make comments in relation to that. This goes back to the point I was making earlier, Kieran, which is there's a lot of noise around this, including, you know, big splashes on front pages today, where there's no complainant, and all there is, is an accusation from a political enemy of Mr Joyce's from years ago. Now, I mean, this is my point. I do think it's important, and I understand these things generate a lot of heat. But I do think it's important to actually look at what are the facts, and work out what is actually central to this issue and what matters here is the use of taxpayers’ funds.
KIERAN GILBERT: Is the problem, as well, that a lot of it doesn't pass the pub test that in relation to, well first of all, the Ministerial guidelines suggest you can't employ a partner in your office, and yet even though this staffer was, he was having an affair with her, under the rules, apparently she's not a staffer. Not a partner, I should say, so therefore is okay to be employed. Do you accept that doesn't pass the pub test?
STEVEN CIOBO: You know, Kieran, I've seen a lot of packages on TV and other media over the past 48 to 72 hours talking to what must be hundreds of people on the street. And opinion is mixed. But I'm not going to wade into whose opinion's right and whose opinion's wrong. I'm not gonna provide a commentary about who's right and who's wrong. What I'm gonna go to is what I think is the test that falls on all of us, which is that, first of all, we have to expend taxpayers' money prudently. The other issue about moral turpitude or any of these types of things, the great thing about a democracy is people have their say. They get to make the determinations about what they think is appropriate and what they think is inappropriate. We had the Labor Party running wild about allegations around citizenship for quite a while there. Those matters were put to bed on our side, of course, still big question marks remain on Labor's side. Ultimately, in democracies, people have their say.
KIERAN GILBERT: Is this risking it an all-out war between the two sides of politics? I'm already getting proposed questions privately from government sources about Labor figures and about alleged similar liaisons that they've had with staffers. This is all pretty dangerous right now, isn't it? If we're erupting into an all-out war.
STEVEN CIOBO: Well, look, this building, as you know, is a building that is completely filled with rumour and innuendo. This building, there's rumours about everyone, all the time. And it's sort of a bit of a tragic building, in that respect. You'd call it a pretty toxic work environment. But that's the nature of politics and you know what, there's nothing new about that. It's been like that for hundreds, if not thousands of years. So let's not pretend that that's new. But ultimately, what I think, and that's why I come back to the central issue that I raised with you. I'm not gonna get distracted by a lot of the noise around this. I know people hyperventilate about it. That's not what my focus is.
KIERAN GILBERT: You’re focused on a portfolio front is a major delegation. One of the biggest, most senior delegations to the United States, next week. What do you hope to achieve by taking, what is it, 20 very senior executives as part of that trade delegation?
STEVEN CIOBO: You know, and Kieran, this is actually the bread and butter stuff that matters to people's lives, because this is about boosting trade, it's about boosting investments, it's about creating jobs and creating economic growth. And this is actually the stuff that we should be focused on. So I'm glad you asked. We are taking next year, sorry, not next year,
next week, the most senior delegation that we've ever taken from Australia to the United States. We've got all the state premiers except for South Australia and Tasmania. We've got senior business leaders like Kerry Stokes, like Anthony Pratt, the head of Rio Tinto. There's a whole raft. The focus of this is to continue building on those trade investment ties. The US is the biggest investor in Australia, people-
KIERAN GILBERT: Is it important to remind Australians that the alliance is bigger than the military component?
STEVEN CIOBO: Sure. Look, absolutely. I mean, those trade and investment ties that we've had in place under the previous Coalition Government, of course, the Australia-US Free Trade Agreement, this is what's driving economic growth in this country. Part of the reason as a government we've been able to create the right conditions to see 403,000 people employed, three-quarters of which are full-time, 1,100 a day, is because we're boosting trade ties, we're boosting investment links, which is driving economic growth and driving jobs.
KIERAN GILBERT: Steve Ciobo, the Trade Minister.
- Trade Minister's Office: (02) 6277 7420
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