PATRICIA KARVELAS: Steve Ciobo is the Minister for Trade, he's in our Gold Coast studio. Welcome to RN Drive.

STEVEN CIOBO: Good to be with you, Patricia.

PATRICIA KARVELAS: I love saying Gold Coast like that. I know I want to be on the Gold Coast right now. This seems to be a catch-22; improvements need to be made to animal welfare, but exporters say those changes will make the industry unprofitable. How is the Government going to solve this problem?

STEVEN CIOBO: Well, clearly animal welfare is one of the foremost concerns, but industry also needs to be sustainable. Now, clearly you cannot have a situation where it is neither sustainable, nor can you have a situation where there isn't animal welfare, but I do believe actually that you can achieve an outcome that provides a win-win situation there. Minister David Littleproud, of course, the Minister for Agriculture, is very focused on this. He's made a number of announcements over the past week or so, including commissioning a review which will hand back results in the next three weeks. So we'll have a good, proper assessment of that and make further determinations.

PATRICIA KARVELAS: Western Australia accounts for 88% of the country's live exports, they are considering using the state's animal welfare act to force changes in the way sheep are exported. Could that end up being a de facto live sheep ban?

STEVEN CIOBO: Well, there's a whole bunch of assumptions built into your question, and I'm not sure what powers there are under the West Australian Act, so I don't feel that I can properly answer your question, but I mean to go I think what is the broader issue about animal welfare, clearly what took place was distressing. Clearly there has been a response from Minister Littleproud and the industry. Look, nobody, well, very few people I should say, I shouldn't be so blanket, very few people would tolerate the situation that took place being allowed to continue to exist. Government is not focused on that. We want to make sure that animal welfare standards are maintained and improved, we want to ensure that we also have an industry that is sustainable and viable, and so we're going to focus policy outcomes on achieving those results.

PATRICIA KARVELAS: Liberal backbencher Sussan Ley said today that she wants to ban live exports altogether and she's going to introduce a private members bill and work with the Parliament. What do you make of her move there? Because clearly she's trying to build momentum towards this.

STEVEN CIOBO: Sussan Ley is someone I've known in parliament for a long time, she actually entered the parliament the same year that I did. I have the utmost respect and regard for Sussan. She also, of course, has a background in regional Australia and I absolutely take that into account. I'll tell you what my concern is with a ban on live exports, Patricia, and it comes down to this. The simple fact of the matter is that there is global demand for live exports. Now, we can pretend otherwise, we can cross our fingers and our toes and hope that something else was the situation, but the fact is there is global demand for live exports. Now Australia can either be at the front of the pack, we can either be at the front, setting the best rules, maintaining animal welfare standards, importantly also applying that pressure with respect to supply chains. In other words, making sure that the abattoirs in the third countries are enhancing and looking after animal welfare standards and the like, or we can vacate the field. Now, if we vacate the field, make no mistake, other countries will fill that void. Other countries that are not anywhere near as focused on animal welfare standards as Australia is, other countries that will not bring pressure on supply chain management, on abattoir standards, and truthfully I do not believe that that is a good outcome for animals either. The suggestion that because Australia vacates the field, that the other countries around the world in this trade will walk away as well, I just don't think stacks up.

PATRICIA KARVELAS: The Australian Live Export Council wants to introduce an independent Inspector General of animal welfare to oversee live exports. Is that a good idea in that case?

STEVEN CIOBO: Look, I think it is, but ultimately what matters is an outcome that, as I said, enhances animal welfare standards, is also sustainable and ensures the long term viability of the industry. All of these components must ultimately be present for a solution to be long-lasting, and for a solution to be effective. What's taking place, the circumstances that have been outlined, what we witnessed is unacceptable. That should not be allowed, nor should it be tolerated. We need to develop a system that ensures that doesn't take place, but as I said, vacating the field in the misguided notion that in some way that's going to improve animal welfare standards, I'm sorry, it is not. It will mean that other countries will fill that void and those other countries will not maintain, nor will they even attempt to uphold the kinds of standards that Australia has been among the foremost in the world of pursuing.

PATRICIA KARVELAS: If you're just tuning in, my guest tonight is the Trade Minister Steve Ciobo, and our number is -if you want to text in on this or anything else. The Prime Minister has met with the leaders of Pacific nations on the wings of CHOGM. What Australia's message to them about Chinese influence in the region?

STEVEN CIOBO: I don't think we have a message for them on Chinese influence in the region. We have a message about Australia's partnership with the region, we have a message about what Australia is focused on doing together with them. We obviously have a long history of working together and focusing on our-,

PATRICIA KARVELAS: We kind of have a message on China though, don't we?

STEVEN CIOBO: No, I think the media has an interest in trying to pretend there's a message on China, Patricia, but I can assure you that we don't go round lecturing other countries about what they do. That's up to them. What we speak to, and look, I was previously Minister for International Development in the Pacific, I know a number of the Pacific leaders reasonably well, I've spent time in many of their countries, what I know is what they're focused on is what Australia and the respective country can do together in the best interests of Australia and that country.

PATRICIA KARVELAS: Free trade agreements with the EU and UK will be discussed during the PM's trip, how far can these agreements be progressed when the Brexit process prevents formal negotiations?

STEVEN CIOBO: Well, the Brexit process prevents formal negotiations with the UK, certainly not with the European Union. I'm hopeful that the European Union will be in a position to commence formal negotiations on an EU-Australia FTA in the near future. Australia is ready, I've obtained my mandate for negotiations, but obviously the European Union is complex, there are a large number of countries that comprise the European Union, they need to work through their internal processes. As soon as they have completed that, we'll be ready to commence formal negotiations on an EU-Australia FTA.

PATRICIA KARVELAS: How is the outcome of the Brexit negotiations going to affect any free trade agreements we might strike with the EU or the UK?

STEVEN CIOBO: I suspect it won't have an impact in terms of the EU. Where there is potential for impact is with respect to the UK. Now, I've just recently returned from being in London, where I had discussions with my counterpart, Secretary Liam Fox. We've got a really strong relationship, it's a good relationship, we see each other regularly and we're both very committed in terms of our ambition and timeframes with respect to a post-Brexit Australia-UK FTA. We want to make sure that we can put in place a high quality comprehensive agreement that best represents opportunities for the UK and Australia going forward. That will work around the timing of the UK's formal exit. You may be aware, Patricia, that the UK will move into what they're calling the interim period, so that interim period will take effect essentially from the end of March next year through until New Year's Eve, December 2020. That interim period, we will commence negotiations and hopefully conclude negotiations with the intention of having a formal bilateral FTA between the UK and Australia ready to take effect from, ideally, 1 January 2021.

PATRICIA KARVELAS: Just before I let you go, in a moment I'm going to be speaking with Barnaby Joyce, of course a former Deputy Prime Minister, former Nationals leader, obviously now back-bencher with some views occasionally. One of these views today which he shared via Twitter was that he was wrong on the Royal Commission and he regrets, essentially he's sorry, that he fought it. Are you also sorry that you were one of the people who fought it?

STEVEN CIOBO: No. What this was about, Patricia, was whether or not the government would allocate a very large chunk of money and effectively suspend action to try to address behavioural concerns in the banking and finance industry. The reason why I say suspend is because obviously with a Royal Commission underway, not only does it chew up tens of millions of dollars of taxpayer's money, but obviously government taking action is largely thwarted because people will say, "Well, why don't we wait for the Royal Commission to make their recommendations?" So it was never about saying that there is no conduct in the industry that didn't require closer scrutiny, it was never about pretending that the industry-

PATRICIA KARVELAS: Sure but we only know these things, these alarming, outrageous things, these things that have happened to Australians that are so outrageous, because of this Royal Commission. Isn't that right?

STEVEN CIOBO: Well, I can't answer that. The reason I can't answer that is because clearly there's opportunity for complaints to be made to the regulators on a regular basis.

PATRICIA KARVELAS: They weren't doing anything about any of this.

STEVEN CIOBO: That's not true. No, hang on, let me pull you up on that because that is untrue.


STEVEN CIOBO: The fact is that the regulators were taking action-,

PATRICIA KARVELAS: AMP had lied to ASIC a couple of times, and that's it, that’s what had happened.

STEVEN CIOBO: And you know what?

PATRICIA KARVELAS: What's going to happen now? They might face jail.

STEVEN CIOBO: Well, you know what, Patricia? That's an offense. It's an offense under legislation for that to happen, it was an offense before, it continues to be an offense now. Look, I'm not pretending that there haven't been some new revelations so far in the Royal Commission, but let's also not create a false construct that says that the only two choices here, that it was a binary choice between condoning and allowing ongoing activity or having a Royal Commission.

PATRICIA KARVELAS: Alright. So you have no regrets?

STEVEN CIOBO: No, what I'm saying to you is that we were taking action, there was funds that instead of going to Royal Commission were going to be spent on enforcement of standards, and everything comes with an opportunity cost. So yes, now we have a Royal Commission that will highlight, and we're seeing evidence of it, some practices that are, it would appear, seeing the light for the first time, but we don't know what regulators have previously been given information on. And so my point is that we need to make sure we clean the industry up, this is a different way of cleaning the industry up, this will be effective, but let's not pretend that there weren't other effective mechanisms at the disposal of regulators previously.

PATRICIA KARVELAS: Steve Ciobo, thank you so much for joining us tonight.

STEVEN CIOBO: Good to speak with you.


Media enquiries

  • Trade Minister's Office: (02) 6277 7420
  • DFAT Media Liaison: (02) 6261 1555