17 November 2014
Transcript - #2014043, 2014

Interview with Helen Dalley, Sky News, The Dalley Edition

DALLEY:

Welcome back. The government wanted to tightly control the agenda for the world leaders who gathered in Brisbane on the weekend. Jobs, infrastructure, and economic growth were to take centre stage. Last week's breakthrough climate change deal between China and the US threatened to overshadow the entire G20 meeting, and it wasn't just those two superpowers, which forced climate change to the fore, but the leaders of Germany and Great Britain also wanted to make reducing carbon emissions a central issue, and all urged Australia to do more, making it just a little embarrassing for the Prime Minister.

But if there was some discordant notes in the G20 for Tony Abbott, today's free trade agreements signed with China and the historic speech by China's President Xi in the Parliament warmly embracing Australia had all the optics, as they say, of a triumph of Tony Abbott economically, politically, and geopolitically.

Steve Ciobo, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasurer, joined me a little earlier. Steve Ciobo, thanks very much for joining me.

CIOBO:

Pleasure, Helen.

DALLEY:

It's been a big few days for the government. Let's talk the FTA with China first, an historic agreement.

CIOBO:

Sure.

DALLEY:

In your view, is Australia getting a better deal out of this access than China? Or might this still be a kicker in the tail? More Chinese investment in Australia that will worry Australians and greater access for Chinese workers to Australian jobs.

CIOBO:

I think they're two separate things. One is whether or not as a nation our national interest has been served here, and I can unequivocally say that yes, it has. We're going to have more access to China than we've ever had. In fact, this is the best free trade agreement than any other country's been able to achieve with China. In fact, the only two who arguably had better access to the Chinese market is Hong Kong and Macau, and they're effectively Chinese territories.

This is a great outcome for Australia and in particular, Helen, in relation to services. A lot of people forget that services is about 70% of the Australian economy. We've really ramped up access by Australia service providers into China. The second thing you asked about what is likely to be Australia's feelings about inbound Chinese investment. I'm acutely aware that there's sensitivity around that. I understand a lot of Australians are concerned about inbound investment, but the fact is as a nation, we've been importing capital into Australia ever since we were settled.

So yes, we'll continue to do that but ultimately that inbound investment is good for Australia. We're a richer nation than we've ever been and in large part it's exactly because of that inbound capital investment.

DALLEY:

What about allowing Chinese workers in to potentially take Australian jobs?

CIOBO:

Well I don't think that's a fair summation. The fact is that they'll only be allowed to come in when there aren't adequate skills in Australia and on projects of more than 150 million, so it's going to be quite narrowly confident and there are tests in place about whether or not workers are allowed in, but the flip side of that coin, though, too, Helen, is it's also going to allow Australian executives and certain Australian workers to go into China.

We know that there's huge demand in China for Australian talent, Australian skills. Like all these things, there's swings and roundabouts but ultimately we've maintained the safeguards in place. No Australian's going to lose their job as a consequence of this. In fact, many more Australians are going to be able to secure jobs as a consequence of this agreement.

DALLEY:

Well radio's Alan Jones absolutely hammered the Prime Minister this morning about this free trade agreement ...

CIOBO:

Sure.

DALLEY:

... Not benefiting Australians and he asked can Australians or can the Prime Minister buy a farm or a factory in China, and Jones told the PM the answer is no, and that worries a lot of people. Was he wrong?

CIOBO:

If you're an Australian services business, just say for example, Helen, you're an aged care business or you're an education business or you're a legal services business, all these businesses can now go into China and set up shop. We know, for example, that in China or India, there's about 600 million people that are effectively considered to be middle class.

This now means that Australian services exports businesses can go into these countries, in this particular case into China, and set up a model that supplies age care services or education services or legal services or construction services, all these types of things in China, a market of 1.3 billion people. So look, this is good news, this is fundamentally really good news for Australia.

DALLEY:

Food security is obviously a huge concern for China. Do you think this either at the heart of or partly explains why they appear to have given us pretty good access to their markets with most tariffs gone within a dozen years?

CIOBO:

I think that food security is part of it but I also think that China ultimately recognizes that they want to have a win-win outcome here. The President went to great lengths today in our nation's parliament to talk about how China's view of the world is that the best outcome of all, is when it's a win-win outcome. We know that we produce some of the cleanest, greenest food in the world, so why not make the most of our ability to export that into a very large market like China?

Why not take the opportunity to export brilliant Australian skills through our services business? Why not take the opportunity to have access to a market of 1.3 billion people? This really is a great opportunity for Australia. I recognize some of the concerns that Alan Jones has. I understand that he speaks on behalf of a sector …

DALLEY:

You don't think we're giving up too much in return?

CIOBO:

I absolutely do not, no. I think that Australia has got a very good outcome here. The fact is that we are allowing our exporters, be they services exporters or manufacturing exporters or agricultural, mining, to have access to arguably the biggest market on the planet and I think that's a great outcome for our businesses.

DALLEY:

Who are the losers out of this FTA? Is it, for instance, even more the nail in the coffin for less advanced manufacturing in this country? That we could be flooded with cheaper imports and we lose jobs in manufacturing and in some other sectors?

CIOBO:

Well you know Helen, we've seen for example that textiles, clothing, and footwear industries, they've been doing it tough for some time, I'm not going to pretend that they haven't. The simple fact is that countries have different competitive advantages. If you are in a business in Australia where you basically had a high labour force cost and you are competing against a low labour force cost business out of China, you're going to continue to be under pressure.

But the flip side of that coin is that in Australian businesses, be they manufacturers or be they services, where you have specialist skill sets, where you've got the ability for Australians to provide world-class expertise in a range of areas, we are now going to be tapping into one of the biggest markets in the world, and I think that's a really good outcome because Australia have brilliant innovators. Some of the best inventions in the world come from Australia and now we're going to have the opportunity to be able to export those into other nations and to sell them, into, as I said, one of the biggest nations in the world.

DALLEY:

Well MP Bob Katter, who represents a big area of primary producing parts of Australia, he's called it more billows of bulldust from Canberra. He reckons the vast bulk of the food exports into China will be produced, quote "on Australian land owned by Chinese, produced by the Chinese, and manned by Section 457 Chinese workers." Now is he overblowing this or is he right?

CIOBO:

Typical for Bob Katter is complete and utter rubbish. Bob Katter does his electorate a great injustice, a tremendously great injustice because he goes around whipping up fear that simply is not anchored in fact. The notion that the majority of Australian land or anything even close to the majority of Australian land, I'm talking here about agricultural land or farming land or mining land, the notion that that's even remotely close to being owned by the Chinese is complete and utter rubbish.

Let's not lose sight of the fact, Helen. The way you do occasionally from time to time get an Australian who chooses to sell out and say, "I want to sell my business and I've got a potential Chinese purchaser here." If we adopted the kind of policies that Bob Katter's talking about, then we as a government would be saying to an Australian, we don't care how much you can get for the sale of your property off a Chinese buyer, you're not allowed to sell it to them for the highest price because we're going to limit you to only selling to an Australian who's not prepared to pay as much.

DALLEY:

Ok so you’ve poo-pooed what Bob Katter's had to say but I do want to ask you, do you interpret the very warm speech by President Xi this afternoon, as well as the trade deal, really as a way to try and draw Australia very much closer in towards China as Professor Hugh White sees it, and perhaps even draw us away a little from our close ties to the United States?

CIOBO:

I think the Prime Minister best encapsulated this when he said you don't make new friends at the expense of old friends. The simple fact here Helen, is that we've secured a great deal under this FTA for Australia, and we have done this even though we've taken some tough decisions in the last little while in relation to, for example, whether or not we got involved in the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, even though we strongly support the American position in relation to the US pivot into ...

DALLEY:

Well you did exactly of what the Americans asked of you on that. Perhaps to our detriment?

CIOBO:

No but this is my point. Is that what I'm saying is that we've still secured a very good deal for Australia, a deal that serves their national interest very strongly, even though we've stood steadfast beside the Americans on some other issues. So that's precisely my point. This is where the depth of the relationship and the strength of the relationship between Australia and the United States, as well as Australia and China, really is one of the strongest positions it's ever been.

DALLEY:

All right. Would you agree, though, at the G20. How miffed was your government about President Barack Obama firstly stealing your thunder and sealing the climate deal with China just days before the Brisbane Summit, and then making an impassioned speech urging young Australians to get their government to make a stand on climate change?

CIOBO:

Well the good news, Helen, is that we already are making a stand on climate change.

DALLEY:

No. How miffed were you was my question?

CIOBO:

Well I wasn't particularly miffed because President Obama and the Chinese announcement was talking about something that's going to happen from the year 2030 onwards. Anybody who takes the time to look at the facts around this issue knows that we're already acting as a government. By the way, this is a bipartisan position with the Labor Party. We are reducing our CO2 emissions by 5% on the year 2000 levels by 2020.

DALLEY:

But Steve Ciobo, your government did want to try and keep climate change as an issue off the G20 agenda. You didn't want, as we understand it, to put the green climate fund into the communiqué. In a sense, climate change overshadowed what your government would like to say was a very successful G20 on jobs and growth.

CIOBO:

With the greatest respect, I simply don't agree with your assertion. I think that this was a very good G20. We've got a great outcome on jobs and growth, we've got a great outcome on having the global infrastructure hub based in Sydney, a great outcome in terms of driving infrastructure investment. The fact that it talks about climate change is not of concern to the government. I think that's a good thing. I embrace the fact that it talks about climate change.

In fact, what it says, as it appropriately ought to say, is that governments around the world should look at the Paris Conference next year as being the stage upon which further climate change commitments can be made. I know elements of the media have hyperventilated about climate change being mentioned, but from a government perspective, we were never opposed to climate change being mentioned.

Our point always, though, was, that we wanted the focus to be on the terrific outcomes we secured in terms of jobs and economic growth.

DALLEY:

You say that was your position but do you also embrace the fact that several of the world leaders who came here on the weekend actually sort of was urging Australia to do more on climate change?

CIOBO:

But we're already doing more, Helen. This is my point.

DALLEY:

Why did the leaders need to point to Australia as having to do more?

DALLEY:

David Cameron.

CIOBO:

You need to ask ...

DALLEY:

The German Chancellor.

CIOBO:

You need to ask them. Sure.

DALLEY:

I'm asking you.

CIOBO:

Sure. You need to ask them that question. I'm telling you the answer, and the answer is that we are providing a cut of 5% on year 2000 levels by the year 2020, and that is equal to anything that the United States has announced in relation to climate change. Here's an important difference. Barack Obama as President of the United States made this announcement, but he's actually got zero ability to actually drive the reform required through his Congress. That stands in stark contrast to our actual action here in Australia, where we are reducing CO2 emissions and in fact we've reduced CO2 emissions in Australia by more than the United States has, and we will continue to reduce them by more than the United States has committed to, but we've actually done it through law in the Parliament. Whereas President Obama can't even get it through his Congress.

I think it's important to split and to cleave off the rhetoric from the actual action, and what we as a government are about is taking action, whereas what we've been hearing a lot about is simply rhetoric.

DALLEY:

All right. Steve Ciobo, I appreciate your time tonight. Thanks for joining us.

CIOBO:

It's a pleasure. Thank you.