DAVID SPEERS: With me now is Trade Minister, Steve Ciobo, thanks very much for your time this afternoon.
STEVEN CIOBO: Good to be with you, David.
DAVID SPEERS: You've just come from China, you were there just a few days ago. Does China have any plans, as far as you're aware, to cut imports from Australia?
STEVEN CIOBO: No, quite to the contrary actually. The conversations I had I'd describe as friendly and positive, we both recognised, when I say both, I mean both China and Australia recognise that in our region, peace, prosperity, stability is driven by good trade, investment ties. We clearly have very strong people-to-people links and that was the focus of my discussions.
DAVID SPEERS: So no-one raised this, threatened this, suggested this?
STEVEN CIOBO: No. Absolutely not.
DAVID SPEERS: Alright. So warm and positive. You did say when you came back the other day, though, there are some irritants-
STEVEN CIOBO: Sure.
DAVID SPEERS: -in the relationship?
STEVEN CIOBO: Well, there are, David. I mean, but we have that with every country with whom we do trade. You know, there's always spot fires in the trade portfolio that you deal with and clearly, I was contacted around the middle of last week by the CEO of Treasury Wine Estates, who indicated that they were being asked for some additional paperwork in order to land their product in China. So, we're working through-
DAVID SPEERS: And they haven't have to before, haven't faced that hurdle before?
STEVEN CIOBO: Well, I can't speak historically about what they've done, just going to speak to what they've told me, which is they've been requested for some additional paperwork now. So, we're working through that and working together with Chinese authorities to make sure that we can get that Australian product into the market.
DAVID SPEERS: So, what do you make of this Global Times editorial? Is it just a bit of hyperbole? What do you say to that?
STEVEN CIOBO: You know, David, in an ideal world I'd get rid of the extremes, from Chinese media and Australian media. Never on Sky News, of course, but you know, look there's always-
DAVID SPEERS: Is that what this is, just an extreme media comment? You don't see the government's fingerprints on this?
STEVEN CIOBO: Well, no, it's a mouthpiece, in terms of a certain viewpoint in the Chinese community and that's the mouthpiece that that's provided for that segment of the community-
DAVID SPEERS: Not a mouthpiece for the Chinese Communist Party?
STEVEN CIOBO: No. No. And the fact is that conversations I had, including with the second more senior person in Shanghai, you know a region of tens of millions of people, was very positive. Warm and friendly, as I said. Both of us very focused on what we can do together to make sure we can drive stronger trade and I mean, I'm not even saying that it wasn't a conversation about things going backwards. I'm saying the conversation was about improving, driving stronger ties-
DAVID SPEERS: This was with, just remind me, who was the-
STEVEN CIOBO: The Mayor of Shanghai.
DAVID SPEERS: So, the most senior person is the Mayor?
STEVEN CIOBO: The most senior person is the Party Secretary.
DAVID SPEERS: Yep.
STEVEN CIOBO: The Party Secretary is the most senior person, the member of the China Politburo. The Mayor of Shanghai, of course a city of close to 30 million people, is the second most senior Party person in the place.
DAVID SPEERS: Let's put aside what the Global Times said, this media editorial. Let's look at what the Foreign Minister of China has said, Wang Yi, after his meeting with Julie Bishop in Argentina yesterday. He said, 'if Australia sincerely hopes that the relations between the two countries will return to the right track…they must break away from traditional thinking…and take off their coloured glasses, and look at China's development from a positive angle." Now he's the Minister, what does he mean do you think by, 'taking off our coloured glasses'?
STEVEN CIOBO: Well, I think a couple of things about that. As I understand, they actually were comments made before the meeting, released after, but comments made before the meeting-
DAVID SPEERS: Right.
STEVEN CIOBO: -which, look, is a technical thing, but Julie-
DAVID SPEERS: Would they have released them, had the meeting shifted his view, do you think?
STEVEN CIOBO: Well, I'm not going to get into that sort of tea leaf reading. What I will say though, is that Julie is our Foreign Minister, Wang Yi is China's Foreign Minister, had a very positive conversation, it was a meeting that went for an hour-
DAVID SPEERS: My question is what do you think he means by, Australia needs to 'break away from its traditional thinking and take off their coloured glasses'? What do you understand that to mean?
STEVEN CIOBO: Well, I think China has made the point on a number of occasions that, from their perspective, they view Australian policy, foreign policy as being too dependant on the United States. Now obviously I reject that, from an Australian Government's perspective, we make decisions about what's in Australia's national interest in an independent way, and consistent with what is in our national interest. You know, we have demonstrated time and time again, that we are pragmatic in terms of our desire to make sure that our region is stable, peaceful and prosperous. We have great relationships with Japan, with Korea, with China and with the United States. Now those four don't always see eye to eye but we work in a pragmatic way with all of them and we, of course, pursue our national interest on behalf of all Australians.
DAVID SPEERS: So, for example, the South China Sea, China has now landed a long-range bomber on one of the disputed islands. Do you regard that as de-stabilising?
STEVEN CIOBO: David, I think, you know, what I think matters is to, I just wish there was as much focus and attention on all the areas where Australia and China are doing so much together-
DAVID SPEERS: Yes, but I'm just asking-
STEVEN CIOBO: But hang on, I am answering your question-
DAVID SPEERS: - this is the issue that's causing some tension in the relationship, I'm just asking, do you believe that move to land a long-range bomber was de-stabilising?
STEVEN CIOBO: I'm simply not going to get into it because-
DAVID SPEERS: Well, your colleague, your colleague the Defence Minister has, she says it's de-stabilising-
STEVEN CIOBO: Sure, well-
DAVID SPEERS: 'We urge all claimants to refrain from de-stabilising actions, including the deployment of advanced military equipment to disputed features', you're not willing to say that?
STEVEN CIOBO: I'm not going to get engaged in a commentary-
DAVID SPEERS: Why not?
STEVEN CIOBO: -lecturing other countries about what they can and cannot do. My-
DAVID SPEERS: It's okay for the Defence Minister, but not the Trade Minister, to say-
STEVEN CIOBO: You're asking me my perspective, I'm giving you my perspective. And it comes down to two clear points. The first is that I wish we spent as much time talking about all of the terrific areas, where we're cooperating and achieving great results, driving economic growth and driving jobs, because frankly, it's off-the-charts good. But we never talk about that, unfortunately, that hardly ever gets raised with me by Australian media. What is constantly raised are small points like this, now we recognise-
DAVID SPEERS: With respect, this isn't the media-
STEVEN CIOBO: Let me come back to that in the second point-
DAVID SPEERS: -This is your colleague-
STEVEN CIOBO: Let me come back to that in the second point.Yep.
DAVID SPEERS: Defence Minister, Marise Payne, you know her well. You with in Cabinet with her, you're part of the same team-
STEVEN CIOBO: Sure.
DAVID SPEERS: She is the one saying this is a destabilising move by China.
STEVEN CIOBO: Okay.
DAVID SPEERS: Are you saying you disagree with her?
STEVEN CIOBO: So, let me come to the second point, which is that when it comes to the South China Sea, clearly Australia and China have different points of view, and I'm not going to paper over that. You know, I have said consistently-
DAVID SPEERS: With respect, you're not willing to actually echo the language of your colleague?
STEVEN CIOBO: What I have said consistently is that Australia's been, holds a different point of view in relation to the South China Sea. We are not supportive, where there are multiple claims on territory, that there would be militarisation of those geographical features-
DAVID SPEERS: You're reluctant to call out China specifically.
STEVEN CIOBO: No. No, I could not be more clear, David. What I have said is that I'm not going to engage in megaphone diplomacy with China, to talk about whether or not they should or should not land a particular type of aircraft on disputed territory, so my-
DAVID SPEERS: Well, it's a pretty simple question. It's a pretty simple question, should China be landing long-range bombers on a disputed island in the South China Sea?
STEVEN CIOBO: Well, that's a decision for China. I mean, you might as well ask me, 'should Russia do something with one of their submarines?', 'should the United States do something with one of their-
DAVID SPEERS: So, Australia has no problem with it?
STEVEN CIOBO: I'm giving you the answer from my perspective. I'm not the Defence Minister, I'm the Trade Investment Minister-
DAVID SPEERS: This is very confusing. When the Trade Minister says one thing, and the Defence Minister says-
STEVEN CIOBO: I'm not saying-
DAVID SPEERS: What is the Australian Government's view? Is China, should China be landing long-range bombers there?
STEVEN CIOBO: Well, the Defence Minster's given you her perspective and that obviously-
DAVID SPEERS: But you disagree with it or?
STEVEN CIOBO: No, I don't disagree with it-
DAVID SPEERS: You do agree with it, you agree with it?
STEVEN CIOBO: See, this is the kinds of games-
DAVID SPEERS: It's not a game-
STEVEN CIOBO: -that you're getting into, David.
DAVID SPEERS: -it's whether you agree or disagree with your colleague, the Defence Minister.
STEVEN CIOBO: So, what I'm saying to you, is I am not going to engage in megaphone diplomacy with China on disputed territory. It is not my portfolio, nor do I think is it in Australia's national interest, for me as Trade and Investment Minister, to do that. Now you can sit here all afternoon if you want, and keep trying to pin me down and saying 'do I agree with Marise', or 'don't I agree with Marise'-
DAVID SPEERS: I'm just trying to better understand-
STEVEN CIOBO: What I'm making very-
DAVID SPEERS: -your position.
STEVEN CIOBO: Yeah, and so this is my position-
DAVID SPEERS: -and is it fair to say you are reluctant to use the same language-
STEVEN CIOBO: No. What is fair to say is that I-
DAVID SPEERS: -as Marise Payne? That's what it sounds like.
STEVEN CIOBO: What I, what is fair to say is that as Trade and Investment Minister, my focus is upon the trade and investment ties between and countries and the great success-
DAVID SPEERS: And does that mean not criticising China for, for-
STEVEN CIOBO: That means I am not going to wade out of my portfolio-
DAVID SPEERS: Okay.
STEVEN CIOBO: -into the defence portfolio, or into the foreign affairs portfolio, and start lecturing other countries about what they can and cannot do. Now you can package that up however you want to, David-
DAVID SPEERS: Alright.
STEVEN CIOBO: But it's actually a high degree of discipline by me to focus on my portfolio-
DAVID SPEERS: You're the Minister for good news-
STEVEN CIOBO: I'm the Minister for Trade and Investment.
DAVID SPEERS: Right, let me ask you though, about another thing, the foreign interference laws.
STEVEN CIOBO: Sure.
DAVID SPEERS: I assume you're on board with what the Turnbull Government's trying to do-
STEVEN CIOBO: Of course.
DAVID SPEERS: - with foreign interference laws? You don't make any apology for those proposed laws?
STEVEN CIOBO: Why would we apologise for laws that are about Australia's sovereignty? And let me go one step further. These are not laws about China, these are not laws about the United States, these are not laws about Russia. This is a suite of provisions in a law for Australia to safeguard Australia's sovereignty. That's what this is about and I'm again going to be very explicit and say well, this is not about a commentary on China, or Japan or Korea or any other country. This is a set of laws about Australia's sovereignty.
DAVID SPEERS: Alright. And were they raised with you at all when you were there, in Shanghai?
STEVEN CIOBO: Not at all.
DAVID SPEERS: No one mentioned it?
STEVEN CIOBO: No. Not at all.
DAVID SPEERS: Alright, just before we leave the issue of China, Chau Chak Wing - do you think donations should be accepted from this man by any party?
STEVEN CIOBO: Well, look, that ultimately is a decision for the Parties themselves, obviously. I mean I'm clearly a member of the Liberal Party but both the Federal Executive of the Liberal Party and the equivalent in the Australian Labor Party would look at that and, as I understand, I don't think the Coalition has taken donations from Dr. Chau in the past couple of years or since the federal election but -
DAVID SPEERS: Have you met him?
STEVEN CIOBO: Yes.
DAVID SPEERS: And has he ever, I don't know, given you a free flight or a gift or a-
STEVEN CIOBO: No. I mean David, I, well actually, I think a tie which I've disclosed but -
DAVID SPEERS: A nice tie?
STEVEN CIOBO: To be honest I can't recall, but in terms of Dr. Chau I mean this is someone who is, one, an Australian citizen, so let's be clear about that. Dr. Chau is an Australian citizen. But also someone who has been on the political scene now for many, many years so people in the Coalition's side, people in the Labor side, they know Dr. Chau, he's been around for a long time. You know, so, it's not exactly a scandal that I or Indeed any member of the Labor Party or the Coalition has met him.
DAVID SPEERS: Yeah, you're right, I mean he's had a lot to do with both sides, I think he's donated $4 million over the years to all sides of politics, he's funded trips for Kevin Rudd, Wayne Swan, Steven Smith to China, he's has John Howard, Bob Hawke, Kevin Rudd, Wayne Swan all as guests at his lavish estate in China. You've only got a tie by the sounds of it. But given the allegations that have been made by your colleague Andrew Hastie, do you have concerns about this man?
STEVEN CIOBO: Look, I haven't seen the information that Andrew Hastie has seen. What I would say is that there's obviously a high degree of responsibility that goes along with Parliamentary Privilege. In all of the dealings that I've had with Dr. Chau, I've never been concerned about any aspect of the dealings that I've had. If there was anything untoward or if there was anything improper about it, had I been, I would have raised it with authorities. So never once has that been my experience and I would also note that Dr. Chau has brought action against those that have suggested otherwise. So, you know, in our system we operate under the presumption of innocence until proven guilty and I think that that's an important principle to bear in mind in these sorts of circumstances.
DAVID SPEERS: Final one. The EU trade negotiations are now going to get underway for a free trade agreement between Australia and the European Union, as the Prime Minister warned this could take quite some time. Would it be a good idea to put any some sort of timeframe on the negotiations?
STEVEN CIOBO: Oh sure.
DAVID SPEERS: Your predecessor Andrew Robb used to do that?
STEVEN CIOBO: Yeah, look, I think it's important to have aspirations about trying to complete within a certain time period because if you don't have a goal that you're striving towards, I think it is easy for trade negotiations to linger-
DAVID SPEERS: So what's your aspiration with this one?
STEVEN CIOBO: Well, you know President Juncker and the Prime Minister indicated that they were going to work towards a deadline next year so I, we haven't even had the formal kick off of negotiations yet so I'm certainly not going to get ahead of myself. But, you know, I don't oppose to having something, a notion or goal that we can work towards. Now if we meet it, terrific, if we don't meet it, well that's fine too because I say consistently, I will never sacrifice the quality of the deal for the speed of a deal, so we've got to make sure that we do a good-quality, comprehensive trade agreement between Australia and the European Union, do it as efficiently as we possibly can but ultimately the core objective here is a good quality trade deal.
DAVID SPEERS: Trade Minister Steve Ciobo I do appreciate you coming on.
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