Interview on ABC AM with Sabra Lane
Topics: TPP-11; China; Wentworth by-election
Sabra Lane: Minister, good morning and welcome to the program.
Simon Birmingham: Good morning Sabra.
Sabra Lane: In a nutshell if this deal passes, what will it mean for ordinary Australians?
Simon Birmingham: Well for ordinary Australians, it means that the farmer they know, the small business person that they know, the exporter that they know will have better access into key export markets and what that means in terms of our total impact on our economy is estimated under independent modelling by 2030 to be a $15.6 billion lift to Australia’s annual income, but it means that our wool producers, our wine producers, our steel makers are able to export their goods at a more competitive rate into other countries. But it also means the opposite, if the deal didn’t pass and wasn’t ratified this year, it means that many of our competitor nations would be able to export their goods at lower rates than Australia, putting our exporters at a disadvantage.
Sabra Lane: We’ll get to that. Labor says it’s on side but if it wins government it wants impose to tougher curbs on foreign workers, and it’s not happy with the ISDS clause which basically allows companies to sue Australia if the Federal Government makes a change that affects their business. Are those things reasonable propositions?
Simon Birmingham: Well that’s a matter for the Labor party and if they were to firm government some time down the track they could seek with other nations to enter into side letters or arrangements, that would be their right. We believe, it’s a good deal, we believe that Australian investors engaging in activity in other nations ought to have the types of protections that these ISDS provisions allow. Those provisions have never been used successfully against Australia despite being in our investment and trade agreements for more than 30 years and indeed Labor’s stance on those sorts of provisions is a demonstration of why they would be, were they to be elected to government, a danger in terms of economic management because they would be incapable in many places of potentially finalising new trade deals and they would possibly leave Australian exporters at a disadvantage. In fact, the previous Labor government in six years didn’t manage to finalise any new trade deals.
We, in our time in office, have done multiple deals that have seen Australian goods that have been exported grow in terms of getting preferential access to overseas markets from around 20 odd per cent to more than 70 per cent of cases, and that’s a big boon for our exporters.
Sabra Lane: By playing politics on this, punching Labor over these differences, are you risking getting a deal done this week and there is haste in wanting a deal done?
Simon Birmingham: Well no, I have publicly welcomed and do so again the fact that Labor have indicated they will support this. I point to the fact that when it comes to the next election there will be different propositions it seems from the Labor party and the Liberal National parties when it comes to trade and if people care about the rights of our farmers and businesses to successfully export well then the Liberal and National parties have a far greater track record of backing those rights and ensuring that we can get our goods and services into world markets than does the Labor party.
Sabra Lane: Senate crossbenchers say that this isn’t a good agreement and according to the Peterson Institute, a private non-partisan group, that this would boost Australia’s economy by only $12 billion to 2030 and spread over 12 years that’s something like 0.04 per cent a year, in context that’s not huge?
Simon Birmingham: It’s still growth to our economy, some $15.6 billion as I said before lift to our economic income by 2030 on an annualised basis, but of course you have to also balance not just the upside of implementing this agreement but also the downside if it’s not ratified as I said before, and that downside would be that our wool exporters, our winemakers, our steel or aluminium producers would then be at a competitive disadvantage to other nations who are part of this agreement.
Sabra Lane: Ok, you could be packing your bags for Beijing next month ending a freeze of Ministerial visits. Are you able to confirm details on that?
Simon Birmingham: I am hopeful of attending the China International Import Expo. This is a key event that President Xi has put significant priority around and it rightly celebrates and acknowledges the significant economic contribution China has made and continues to make not just in our region but globally.
Sabra Lane: But it would also signal an end to the freeze of high level Ministerial visits.
Simon Birmingham: We’ve been working very hard to make sure that we build on what is a very strong economic relationship and diplomatic relationship with China and we will continue to do that. As I say, I hope to be there leading a substantial delegation of Australian businesses who are involved in export activities into China. Those businesses see the importance of the relationship, so do we as a government and we’re determined to make sure that it continues to be a successful and positive one.
Sabra Lane: The China daily has editorialised in recent days that Australia shouldn’t be led by the nose by the United States in increasing naval cooperation in the South China Sea, and that the fragile peace could be shattered by the slightest misstep. How worried are you by that? That seems to be a shot across the bows.
Simon Birmingham: Australia works always to Australia’s national interest. That’s what certainly Scott Morrison’s approach is and what our approach as a Liberal-National government always is. That means backing our exporters as we’ve been talking about. It means recognising the importance of freedom of navigation rights in terms of the South China Sea, continuing to urge all parties to show restraint in their dealings there. We believe that those are important trading routes, not just for Australia but for many other nations.
Sabra Lane: You’re not worried by that messaging from the paper? I mean that is sometimes viewed as a mouthpiece for Beijing.
Simon Birmingham: And we speak on behalf of Australia. Other nations can speak on behalf of themselves. We speak on behalf of Australia. We back Australian business, Australian industry, Australian exporters, their rights and economic rights of all nations to be able to get their goods to market through important sea channels and we urge restraint from all parties in terms of the operation of those channels.
Sabra Lane: How worried are you that Kerryn Phelps could be the new member for Wentworth on Sunday?
Simon Birmingham: Well we are a government that has a one seat majority, that’s just basic arithmetic and of course it would inject instability into the Parliament were there to be then a minority government in place. We, however, will keep working very hard with an outstanding candidate in Dave Sharma, who was the youngest ever Ambassador appointed by a Labor government, to ensure that people understand we have a great quality candidate there. But also for the people of Wentworth who are entrepreneurial, business-minded people that they ought to be backing a Liberal government, who’s done the types of things people expect Liberal governments to do – bring the budget back to balance, grow the economy and jobs.
Sabra Lane: But Liberals have given Australia three Prime Ministers in two terms. How can voters trust you anymore?
Simon Birmingham: Well I hope they can trust us on the outcomes that matter to them. If they are small or medium sized businesses in Wentworth we have been driving down their taxes. Indeed if they are working people in Wentworth we have been driving down income tax rates. As I say, these are the things that people I believe expect Liberal-National governments to do – balance the books, grow the economy, create more jobs, tax relief for individuals, tax relief for small and medium size businesses. We have delivered on all of those fronts. Political instability, a minority Parliament, Bill Shorten with more power would be a risk to all of those things.
Sabra Lane: Minister thanks for joining us this morning.
Simon Birmingham: Thank you, Sabra.