8 July 2014
Transcript - #2014019, 2014

Interview with Lyndal Curtis, Capital Hill, ABC 24

PRESENTER, LYNDAL CURTIS:

The government is within sight of getting the carbon tax repealed. It's also got a free trade deal with Japan that will be signed this afternoon. Prime Minister Tony Abbott will also hold talks with his Japanese counterpart, Shinzo Abe, who will also talk to the opposition. But the government still has big problems getting its budget through the Senate. To discuss these issues, I was joined a short time ago by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasurer, Steve Ciobo.

Steve Ciobo, welcome to Capital Hill. If I could start with the free trade agreement, it is a significant deal and Australia's on the way to concluding one with China.

CIOBO:

Yes.

CURTIS:

Are there any mechanisms there though to make sure that the economic benefits that are promised from these free trade deals are actually delivered?

CIOBO:

Obviously we look at each of these initiatives as being a step in the right direction economically for the country. We're very focused on creating jobs and creating employment in Australia, and we know that by opening up more Australian exports into Japan, one of our most significant trading partners, that's going to add a real boost in terms of employment within Australia.

In terms of delivering on that and the actual process, we of course have the Joint Standing Committees on Treaties, which will take up to 20 sitting days to table their report. They'll have the ability to actually look into the detail, what the actual impacts are going to be, but we know that free trade is a positive for each of the countries concerned and this will be too.

CURTIS:

But a Productivity Commission report, I think in 2010, suggested the economic benefits of these agreements are oversold. They found little evidence that they provided substantial commercial benefits. Isn't it the case that free trade deals are trumpeted and much is promised from them at the time of signing, but the economic benefits down the track maybe don't stand up?

CIOBO:

No, I don't agree Lyndal. If you look at Australia's history, if you look at global history, what you see is, as trade has become freer, it has improved the living standard of peoples all around the world. I mean, the Prime Minister in his speech today...

CURTIS:

Couldn't that also be the result of multi-lateral agreements, not necessarily these bilateral ones?

CIOBO:

I don't think they're mutually exclusive. We've been able to do carve-outs, competitive advantage for Australia in this free trade agreement, or what will become a free trade agreement in time. I think that's a big positive. If we're in a market, a substantial market like Japan, and we're in there with lower tariff barriers before our competitor nations are, that's a good thing for Australia.

CURTIS:

If we could move on to the carbon tax, you will get your carbon tax repeal bill through this week at some stage. As part of that, you've agreed to guarantee that savings from energy prices will be passed on. You can't though make the same guarantee that savings from other goods that have a carbon price component will necessarily be passed on if they're, say, groceries that may be a few cents an item, they might necessarily not all be passed on, will they?

CIOBO:

You know, Lyndal, this is about providing lower imposts on Australian businesses so they can compete more effectively and efficiently. It's about reducing the cost of living for Australian households. Now, we live in a competitive marketplace. Economics 101 tells you that, in a competitive marketplace, if you lower your business costs, those costs will flow through to consumers.

In addition to that, to prevent price gouging of any sort, we're also providing additional funding to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission for the ACCC to have oversight over anybody who might be engaging in conduct that's deliberately artificially keeping prices inflated. Between the ACCC, and the fact that we've got a competitive marketplace, we're going to lower business overheads, we're going to lower costs for consumers, we're going to lower costs for households.

CURTIS:

You have to put a figure on it. $550 is the figure most often used. You say most households will be see the benefit…

CIOBO:

Sure.

CURTIS:

Will they actually see $550 at the end of the year?

CIOBO:

That 550 figure is the figure that the Labor Party used in relation to their estimated impact of the introduction of the world's biggest carbon tax. They did it of course without a mandate. We, in contrast to Labor, have a mandate to get rid of it. We're going to get rid of it. The 550 figure was Labor's figure. That's how much they said it was adding on to the cost of family budgets. We're making it $550 cheaper for Australian households, but importantly, Lyndal, we've kept the compensation and we've kept the tax cuts in place.

CURTIS:

You won't be able though to get rid of all the things you want to get rid of, both in the carbon tax repeal but more importantly in the mining tax repeal. Clive Palmer yesterday said he wanted to block about 8 to 9 billion dollars worth of your measures, mostly those associated with the mining tax. What's your plan to try and convince him not to do that?

CIOBO:

Look, Lyndal, we can, as members of the Coalition, look straight in the eye the Labor Party, the Greens, the crossbench, and say: we are the only party in Australia today that has a credible plan to get Australia to live within its means. Now we know...

CURTIS:

But you cannot, at the moment, get large slabs of that plan through the Senate. Do you have a plan to change their minds or do you have a Plan B?

CIOBO:

I think that they will have to change their minds, Lyndal. The reason I believe that the Labor Party, the Greens and others, will have to change their minds is because the current pathway that Australia is on is unsustainable. We simply cannot continue to be spending as much as we're spending, and then suddenly believe that magically our nation's finances are going to take care of themselves.

CURTIS:

But you've made those arguments already in the sales pitch and they don't seem to be agreeing with you.

CIOBO:

Well, look, I don't deny that the Labor Party's very stubborn. I don't deny that the Labor Party is addicted to debt…

CURTIS:

It's not all the Labor Party because the Labor Party alone can't block them.

CIOBO:

Well, the Labor Party could certainly pass them. If Bill Shorten manned up frankly, and stepped up and recognized that after running the six biggest budget deficits, that the Labor Party needs to make the right decision for future generations of Australians, so Aussie kids aren't in more debt, then the Labor Party could help pass these through and I'd call on them to do it.

CURTIS:

Have you given any thought at all to what you might do if these measures are blocked in the Senate?

CIOBO:

Lyndal, I say we just keep pressing ahead with it. I say to all Australians, they know. Australians know that governments like households must live within their means. It's well and good for the Labor Party, the Greens and the Palmer Party and others to run around saying, "don't worry, we're going to block all restraint. We're going to block any tax increases." But you know what? That's the reason why this nation racked up so much debt in six  years.

CURTIS:

Does keep pressing ahead mean you could just keep putting it back to the Parliament, putting it back to the Parliament?

CIOBO:

I believe that we need to keep running the argument very strongly about why these changes are necessary, and it is incumbent upon the Labor Party, the Greens, and the crossbench. If they don't like what we're proposing, what's their alternative so that Aussie kids aren't in debt to the tune of hundreds of billions of dollars for future generations?

CURTIS:

Steve Ciobo, thank you very much for your time.

CIOBO:

Pleasure. Thank you.