KIERAN GILBERT: Is this a direct challenge to China’s One Belt, One Road initiative?

STEVEN CIOBO: Well, look, it absolutely is not a challenge. Of course not. This is part of an initiative that the Australian Government’s undertaking with the other governments and, of course, throughout the region we have a number of initiatives in place, including the AIIB, the work of the Asian Development Bank as well as, of course, China’s Belt and Road Initiative.

KIERAN GILBERT: Julie Bishop’s statement says that this trilateral partnership is in recognition that more support is needed to enhance peace and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific. What does that mean, you know, in the context of Mike Pompeo also saying that one country shouldn’t have domination. It seems that the subtext to all of this is China?

STEVEN CIOBO: Well, this initiative is about making sure that we play an active role, and when I say we, Australia plays an active role in the provision of infrastructure across the region. We want to ensure that Australia is very active in engaging with developing economies across the region, and others, to make sure we can meet some of the huge demand there is for infrastructure. And frankly, Australia has real experience and excellence in this area, we’re great at project design, we’re really good at project financing, building, construction, development. And, of course our aid program, especially in the Pacific, is one where we invest a lot of time and effort in making sure that we have a sustainable approach to the provision of infrastructure throughout the region.

KIERAN GILBERT: The question is though, why wouldn’t Australia just sign up and be a part of the Chinese-led One Belt, One Road? Is it because we want to have a different focus in terms of the provision of that infrastructure, I know there’ve been some concerns expressed by your colleagues about the way that the Chinese provision of debt is undertaken by smaller neighbours.

STEVEN CIOBO: Well, I think it’s wrong to view these things as either or. The fact is that we can participate in and be part of all of the initiatives in the region. That’s precisely why, historically of course, we’ve done a lot of work through the Asian Development Bank, it’s why we’re also working through the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, it’s why we are working with China, where we can identify opportunities for us to work together in third countries to promote sustainable infrastructure, and it’s also the reason why we’re now approaching this trilateral approach, in relation to the provision of infrastructure as well. So Kieran, all of this broad sweep of issues in the region, is all about addressing the huge unmet demand for the provision of infrastructure throughout the Indo-Pacific region.

KIERAN GILBERT: So you’re not worried about some backlash from the Chinese over this?

STEVEN CIOBO: Not at all. I mean why would there be any? The fact is that we demonstrate consistently that Australia is very focused on making sure that we can help the least developed economies in our region to get onto more economically sustainable footing, that’s what lay at the core of our aid for trade policy. It’s what lays at the core of our overseas development assistance policy. But in addition to that, this is also about opening a wealth of opportunities to Australian businesses, it’s about making sure Aussie businesses can be there providing project financing, project design, construction in relation to this infrastructure that, you know, is coming, the demand for this infrastructure that’s coming from the South Pacific, it’s coming from ASEAN nations, it’s coming more broadly across the region.

KIERAN GILBERT: So, while Australia’s working with the US on this front, we have a different approach when it comes to trade liberalisation, of course. And your speech today, gonna be talking about the need for Australia to be engaging in more trade agreements. I guess by that you mean bilateral trade agreements, potentially with giants in the region, like India. Can you explain to our viewers your thinking on this and how it might inoculate Australia from any ongoing trade war?

STEVEN CIOBO: Well, I’m pursuing Australia’s most ambitious trade agreement agenda. We’re looking at pursuing agreements bilaterally, as you said, but also pursuing agreements on a regional basis. Now as you know Kieran, we recently put in place Trans-Pacific Partnership 11, the TPP-11. That’s giving Australian businesses access to trillions and trillions of dollars of economic activity throughout the region, we’re also looking at regional agreements like what’s called the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership. You know, a lot of jargon, but basically that is the ASEAN nations plus six more, including Australia, New Zealand, Korea, Japan and India and China, and all of us working on trying to make sure that we can develop an approach that promotes trade, that promotes trade liberalisation that can help to drive investment because ultimately, all of this is about driving economic growth and creating jobs for Australians.

KIERAN GILBERT: One of the things that I know that you’ve been very strong on is your support for the company tax agenda. Some of your colleagues seem to be wavering on this. What’s your message to them because, as I know, we’ve discussed it many times, you advocate very strongly that the Government needs to maintain the full, ten year plan for those tax cuts?

STEVEN CIOBO: Well, frankly, the Coalition will always stand for lower taxes and Labor will stand for higher taxes. Reducing the burden on our companies, reducing their tax rate, is about making sure that we can see more money flowing back to mum and dad Australians, and the reason that happens, Kieran, and we should never forget this, every single ordinary Australian, every average Australian that’s working, that’s got a superannuation account, they are owners of all of these businesses, and they own them through their superannuation funds. Now, if we can increase the profitability of these businesses, they can do two things. One; provide a higher return to the everyday mum and dads out there who own these businesses in their superannuation, and that provides for their retirement; but the second thing that it does is it means that these businesses have more money to pay their workers, more money to invest in making their businesses bigger. So this is all a critical driver of economic growth and economic growth drives jobs, and that’s why the Coalition has been successful in creating a record number of news jobs in Australia. And that’s why Labor’s approach will see less investment, less growth and less money for everyday mum and dads to be able to provide for their retirements in the future.

KIERAN GILBERT: So you want to see it, go to the election, regardless, and remain on the books as Coalition policy, even if it doesn’t get through the Senate in August?

STEVEN CIOBO: Well, the Coalition should always approach an election having a lower tax profile than Labor. Labor is about more taxes, the Coalition is about fewer taxes and less tax overall. That is the fundamental difference between the Coalition and Labor. Labor wants to tax its way to prosperity, the Coalition knows that it’s only by making sure we remain competitive that we are going to ensure that we have stronger growth in Australia and more jobs for Australians. Now, ultimately though, whether the Senate agrees or disagrees, time will tell. We’ll have to deal with those issues as they resolve themselves over the months and weeks ahead.

KIERAN GILBERT: Couple of other issues before we wrap up, there looks like there might be a deal with the Catholic Schools sector, that was another issue, there were many issues at play in the by-election in Longman but those letters to parents wouldn’t have helped, so a deal with the Catholic sector would be a welcome one.

STEVEN CIOBO: We, of course, are putting record funding into Australia’s education system. We’ve been able to do that because we’ve got debt under control, we’ve got deficit under control, and that’s why we can put more money into schools, and put more money into hospitals. Labor, of course, wouldn’t do that. They would actually increase Australia’s debt profile. Ultimately, we want to ensure that we have all sectors of Australia’s education community pleased with the outcome, and that work continues.

KIERAN GILBERT: And finally, there’s a view among some of your colleagues that Malcolm Turnbull has a challenge to connect to Queensland voters. We saw a primary vote of less than, just less than 30 percent, but a big swing to One Nation. How does he go about doing that ahead of the election next year?

STEVEN CIOBO: The Coalition has got a concrete plan to make sure that our economy continues to get stronger, Kieran. We’re investing in infrastructure, of course, we’ve seen billions of dollars committed to infrastructure throughout South East Queensland. Also the Coalition is going to ensure that we have a lower tax burden on Australians. We don’t want Australians to be paying record amounts of tax. We’re providing record funding for health, record funding for schools. This is all part of the Coalition delivering on its commitment to Queenslanders, and more broadly across Australia, to making sure that Australia is set up for a prosperous future. Now, all of that is at risk if Bill Shorten and Labor get elected because they are going to up-end the situation. They’re going to up-end it by making sure that, in fact, Australians have to pay more tax than they’ve paid ever before and by paying more tax, they’re going to be ensuring that Australia has a less prosperous future and fewer opportunities for job growth.

KIERAN GILBERT: But Malcolm Turnbull connecting to Queenslanders, how do you deal with that challenge?

STEVEN CIOBO: Well, absolutely, I do. The fact is that Malcolm is someone who gets Queensland, he understands the growth pressures in South East Queensland, and that’s why the Coalition’s providing record funding for infrastructure. But most importantly, Malcolm Turnbull also understands business, and in particular, small and medium sized businesses. And let’s never forget, Kieran, small and medium sized businesses, these are what drive the Australian economy and small and medium sized businesses are what create millions and millions of jobs across the Australian community. Now Labor just doesn’t get business. They don’t get small business. You’ve heard Anthony Albanese himself, make comments about Labor’s war on business. Labor wants a big taxing agenda, a war on Australian business and make no mistake about it, the consequence of Labor’s approach will be fewer jobs for Australians in the future and lower economic growth.

KIERAN GILBERT: Trade Minister Steve Ciobo, as always appreciate your time. Thanks for that.

STEVEN CIOBO: Good to speak with you.

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