VIRGINIA TRIOLI: Today Trade Minister Steve Ciobo will deliver a speech in Melbourne outlining what our future looks like and, of course, our involvement in the so-called One Road, One Belt initiative out of China. Mr. Ciobo joins us now in the studio. Minister, good morning, thanks for joining us.
STEVEN CIOBO: Good to be with you, Virginia.
VIRGINIA TRIOLI: With all of those elements in play and such extraordinary uncertainty, what's the one key way that Australia can punch through on a trade basis?
STEVEN CIOBO: Diversification. We need to make sure that we continue to engage not only with our region, but more broadly across the world. That's why right now we've got underway negotiations with the European Union, we've got negotiations underway with Latin American countries. We've already got, of course, the foundation stones of our trade relationship, the big bilateral relationships that we have with China, with Japan, with Korea, with the United States. All of that about maximizing opportunities for Australian businesses to export to the world.
VIRGINIA TRIOLI: That, of course, is how it plays out in an ideal world. But when you've got these fluxes in place and when we basically, to be honest here, used to get knocked to the sidelines a bit because they’re the bigger players. What actually is the power and influence that we have? Can you specifically define that for us this morning? About how we get through.
STEVEN CIOBO: Australia's very committed, of course, to the multilateral trading system. So in other words, the World Trade Organization. We don't wanna revert back to a world where might is right. We want to be in a world where there are rules that everyone can abide by, and know that that's going to be the best approach on trade.
VIRGINIA TRIOLI: I get that, but my question goes to something else.
STEVEN CIOBO: Sure.
VIRGINIA TRIOLI: Which is, when you've got these big players, in this huge Punch and Judy match, and we still want to be able to come in and trade at some level, what's the specific power and influence we have? Can you describe it for us?
STEVEN CIOBO: I don't think it's about power and influence, Virginia. I think what it's about-
VIRGINIA TRIOLI: Because you’re going to need to have some of that-
STEVEN CIOBO: What I'm saying is, what it's actually about is our ability to mobilise and to be able to secure trade deals, and that's what we've done. You know, what you're saying and highlighting with respect to, you know, the United States and China, absolutely is the case, but if you look at-
VIRGINIA TRIOLI: And also, also Britain and the European Union because they're so caught up in that, themselves.
STEVEN CIOBO: Sure. But if you look at the results, the run record, so to speak, over the past several years, it's been outstanding. And we've done trade deals now, the most significant one, making sure that we've maintained and kept in place the TPP-11, the Trans-Pacific Partnership 11, which gives us access to trillions and trillions of dollars of economic activity. But now we've been able to capitalise on Australia's standing globally, to put in place negotiations with huge markets, including the European Union, 500 million people; bilateral discussions with the UK, for when they formally exit. Indonesia, Hong Kong, Peru, Pacific Alliance countries; Mexico, Columbia, Chile, Peru, so it's a long list. But I'll go back to the point, which is it’s all about driving exports, because ultimately, if we can export more as a country, we earn more as a country, and we create more employment here in Australia.
VIRGINIA TRIOLI: And we know that a release has been a put out this morning, I think by the Foreign Minister, on the trilateral arrangement now, which takes in the Memorandum of Understanding, that's been signed between Australia and China, over their so-called One Belt, One Road infrastructure program. The Government is refusing to release the agreement that it's signed with China, the details of it-
STEVEN CIOBO: That's not strictly true, actually.
VIRGINIA TRIOLI: Let me ask my question, and you can clarify it for me.
STEVEN CIOBO: Sure.
VIRGINIA TRIOLI: Okay. As we understand it, you've been FOI'd over that MOU, and the reason we were given that the specific MOU won't be released is, and quote, “it could upset Beijing”. Explain to us this morning if you're not doing that, or better, you can tell us what you actually are doing. How, if that's the case, if that doesn't confirm everyone's suspicions about this arrangement being one of secrecy, a lack of transparency, and China's worrying power in the region. So, first of all tell us what you are doing, if that's wrong?
STEVEN CIOBO: Well, it's wrong because, the simple fact is that it requires both parties to agree, and China hasn't agreed to releasing it. So that’s the reason why. It's not that the Australian Government doesn't want it released, it's that China has not agreed to release it.
VIRGINIA TRIOLI: Let me ask you then, at the time of signing, did your Government, our Government, stipulate that the MOU should be made publicly available, and did China disagree?
STEVEN CIOBO: Look, I would need to find out about that, off the top of my head I can't answer that question, Virginia, but-
VIRGINIA TRIOLI: Well, as I understand from a report this morning in the Fairfax press, that question has been asked of the Government, but you guys haven't got back with an answer. So would you like to answer now?
STEVEN CIOBO: Well, I just said to you. I'm very happy to go back and find out what-
VIRGINIA TRIOLI: So, in the intervening time, you've not tried to find out an answer to that?
STEVEN CIOBO: Well, what, who the journalist spoke to at the Department of Foreign Affairs, I don't know if we can find that out-
VIRGINIA TRIOLI: But wouldn't that be a key understanding? You would know that, wouldn't you?
STEVEN CIOBO: Well, hang on Virginia. Hang on, hang on. Just let me answer some of your questions, rather than pepper me with 20 questions and don’t give me a chance to answer.
VIRGINIA TRIOLI: Well, you gave me your answer, you just said you don’t know and you haven’t found out.
STEVEN CIOBO: So, again, I'll answer the question, rather than. You ask them, and I'm happy to answer them. So my point is simply this, that when I signed the MOU with China on the BRI, Belt and Road Initiative, of course Australia remains absolutely committed to making sure we can be part of regional movements to improve the lot of Asia. Now, China's got a vision about how to do that, that’s through BRI. The MOU that I signed with China, and bear in mind it is a Memorandum of Understanding. It's not a commitment to do something, it's a memorandum, a fundamental issue around principles. And that was for cooperation between Australia and China in third countries, where we think that there's benefit for both of us to be able to work together.
VIRGINIA TRIOLI: Sure.
STEVEN CIOBO: Now, I actually signed the document, of course, I've had the chance to read it and peruse it, and there's nothing in there that causes me particular concern. But to go back to the mechanics of what you were asking-
VIRGINIA TRIOLI: So, I will jump in there, because I say what you're saying then, actually makes less and less and less of a case for not making it absolutely public.
STEVEN CIOBO: And you know what, and take that up with the Chinese Government. But from Australia's perspective, I'm very happy for that to be out there. But it requires the agreement of both parties, and so China needs to agree to release it as well.
VIRGINIA TRIOLI: But you see the problem. So this is actually what is in the minds of so many Australians, and indeed in the minds of our intelligence agencies, that there is so much secrecy from the Chinese end that the Australian Government would even agree to go ahead, and say okay, no, let me finish-
STEVEN CIOBO: Sure.
VIRGINIA TRIOLI: We would like to have this released, it's important to us, we agree with transparency, it matters to the private sector here in Australia. Oh, you won't agree to release it, oh well, fine. That's bothersome. Do you see that?
STEVEN CIOBO: Look, I mean the Australian Government, of course, operates on very different principles to the Chinese Government-
VIRGINIA TRIOLI: So how can we have faith in the process in that way if we can't even see the MOU?
STEVEN CIOBO: I'm not going to lecture the Chinese Government about how they should conduct their internal affairs. That's up to China. I could bring an approach of transparency from the Australian Government perspective and I'm very happy to do that. But ultimately, Virginia, if you’re saying, well ‘why doesn't Australia tell China how to act’? Well look, ultimately that's up to the Chinese Government.
VIRGINIA TRIOLI: In relation to deals with us, yes. In relation to do with Australia, yes.
STEVEN CIOBO: Well, in relation to the MOU, I think what matters most to Australian businesses is, and what I genuinely think matters most to Australian businesses, is that they have the opportunity to participate in infrastructure provisioning across the region. That's what I'm focused on. If we can get more Australian businesses involved in that side of being involved in infrastructure for the region, that's going to be good for Australian business and good for Australian workers.
VIRGINIA TRIOLI: I can imagine many people are thinking, only if it is transparent and corruption free and I guess, we’ll-
STEVEN CIOBO: But those principles, of course. Virginia, if you're suggesting that the Australian Government would sign up to something that promotes corruption or promotes principles that run against those principles the Australian Government operates, well, of course, that's not the case. That's completely false. And I just made specific reference to that just before.
VIRGINIA TRIOLI: Let me ask you about the aftermath of the Super Saturday. You know better than others that you have to have a, you know, big vote in South East Queensland in order to you know, take the election and to win. Why are those voters in that part of the world so enamored of One Nation, and not you?
STEVEN CIOBO: Well, I don't think that's the case. We, of course-
VIRGINIA TRIOLI: A good 17 per cent for One Nation.
STEVEN CIOBO: -and you know what, and we see a fair chunk of that was flying back to Labor. So it's not about being more than the Coalition or more than Labor. But the fact is that we all need to demonstrate that ultimately, government in Australia is either going to be a high taxing Labor Government, or a Coalition that has a lower tax profile. That's the fundamental choice.
VIRGINIA TRIOLI: That's not what I asked, that’s not what I asked you. Why are they not enamored of you?
STEVEN CIOBO: Well, you could easily say why are they not enamored of the Labor Party as well?
VIRGINIA TRIOLI: I’ll ask that of them. Of you, I'll ask, why are they not enamored with you?
STEVEN CIOBO: Obviously, I disagree with the assertion in your question. I mean, I do think that the Coalition-
VIRGINIA TRIOLI: But you didn’t pick up a seat so they mustn’t be.
STEVEN CIOBO: Well, it was a by-election. A Government hasn't won a by-election for 98 years.
VIRGINIA TRIOLI: But you were there campaigning, hoping that you wouldn’t; didn’t you-
STEVEN CIOBO: Let’s not pretend. Of course. We're always going to campaign, hoping to pick up a seat-
VIRGINIA TRIOLI: But you can't have it both ways, you can't say oh you know, history will never let us win.
STEVEN CIOBO: Virginia that's ridiculous. The fact is, the Government is always-
VIRGINIA TRIOLI: I guess you should never campaign in by-elections then?
STEVEN CIOBO: -gonna put its best foot forward. Always. But to suggest that because we didn't pick up a seat, as indeed no government has for 98 years, that that in some way, you know, is an upset of the apple cart, I mean that's preposterous.
VIRGINIA TRIOLI: Steve Ciobo, would you like to see this final bit of the company tax cuts policy ditched?
STEVEN CIOBO: No, I absolutely think the Coalition will always be lower taxing than Labor. We have got to make sure that we are competitive globally, because if we are not competitive globally, that money will go to other counties around the world, and Australia will suffer the consequences.
VIRGINIA TRIOLI: Steve Ciobo, good to talk to you, thank you.
STEVEN CIOBO: Good to speak with you.
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