Interview on ABC Radio Adelaide Breakfast with Matthew Abraham
Politicians’ summer beards; Trans-Pacific Partnership and Australian trade deals; Labor and Greens protectionism; Manufacturing in Australia; Penalty rates and Labor undermining the Fair Work Commission; Teaching standards

Matthew Abraham: And we welcome to ABC Adelaide the first Super Wednesday of 2017. We welcome Sarah Hanson-Young, Greens Senator for South Australia who speaks for the Greens on finance and trade and education. Sarah Hanson-Young, welcome.

Sarah Hanson-Young: Good morning.

Matthew Abraham: Simon Birmingham, Education Minister, South Australian Liberal Senator.

Simon Birmingham: Good morning Matthew.

Matthew Abraham: You wimped it with the beard?

Simon Birmingham: Well Matthew look I did, because I know you were hoping for it.

Matthew Abraham: That's excellent.

Simon Birmingham: This doesn't really work for radio, but …

Matthew Abraham: Great prop for radio.

Simon Birmingham: Great prop for radio, exactly.

Matthew Abraham: Thanks to Barry [indistinct] in the studio we're streaming it live on Facebook, so do that again.

[Cross talk]

Matthew Abraham: It's a little mask with a beard.

Simon Birmingham: We'll do a photo with Mark's real beard and my former beard afterwards.

Matthew Abraham: Ah, his is a little bit more urban, I think it's fair to say. Have you got a clean-shaven mask you can hold up?

Mark Butler: No I don't, no I don't, but I think it tells you everything you need to know about the Turnbull Government. There's just no commitment, no follow through.


This sort of commitment to fads, which they … you know, dropped on a day in and day out basis.

Matthew Abraham: I thought you'd say that. So this sounds like a commitment from Mark that the beard is here to stay.

Mark Butler: Well, we'll see.


It’s not really my choice, I don't think.

Matthew Abraham: What a great opportunity you missed, the faceless man you could have said to the Liberal Party. The – somebody who would be very happy with the scrapping of the TPP is Sarah Hanson-Young. Is that right, Sarah Hanson-Young, Greens Senator?

Sarah Hanson-Young: Yes, look, the TPP was always going to be a bad deal for a variety of reasons, but one of the biggest concerns of course is that it was going to give big corporations the power, through these what are called ISDS clauses to sue governments if governments change laws or introduce regulations, that the companies would then say affected their profits. So for example, tobacco companies suing the government because of plain packaging or big food companies in the US wanting to sue because we start introducing laws that say we're going to label Australian products better. These types of clauses …

Matthew Abraham: [Interrupts] That's very alarmist though- though …

Sarah Hanson-Young: Look, it's one of those things that …

Matthew Abraham: Is it not?

Sarah Hanson-Young: No, it's actually genuinely the biggest problem that most people who have concerns about the TPP raised, that these big corporations were going to have so much power to really restrict the will of the government, even if they were doing things that was implementing the will of the Australian people.

Matthew Abraham: Simon Birmingham, Liberal Senator – Malcolm Turnbull, your Prime Minister is pushing ahead with some form of trying to salvage it; why?

Simon Birmingham: Because open markets and international trade are good things for Australia. We see many Australian businesses, South Australian businesses like Golden North Ice Cream, Seppeltsfield wines, international seafood exporters benefiting from things like our free trade agreement with China. There are increased opportunities, increased exports already happening, and there was the opportunity …

Matthew Abraham: [Talks over] But in this particular free trade agreement – just the TPP, the Trans-Pacific one, did that, because of the nature of the parties involved, did that pose a particular threat, as Sarah Hanson-Young says to our sovereignty?

Simon Birmingham: Well, no. I mean, if the scare tactics from the Greens were to be believed, then why on earth would Donald Trump and America want to back out of it? Because clearly, if all of those things Sarah says were true, wouldn't that be good news for the American corporations, but …

Sarah Hanson-Young: [Talks over] I'm actually just quoting the …

Simon Birmingham: … we have the Greens on the same page as Donald Trump, and indeed Bill Shorten on the same page as Donald Trump, because apparently they all want to look inward rather than outward, be protectionist rather than actually believe that we can continue to get more jobs and economic growth by exporting more goods to the world.

Sarah Hanson-Young: The crazy thing about all of this is actually that the overall growth that was predicted to, or projected to come from having the TPP, we wouldn't even get a bang for our buck in terms of exports versus imports. We were going to have a deficit when it came to our trade, and that's …

Matthew Abraham: [Interrupts] Well we've got that at the moment, haven't we?

Sarah Hanson-Young: We do, and it's getting bigger and bigger, and the TPP was only going to make that worse.

Simon Birmingham: The TPP was also projected to show increased economic growth. Now, it was a small level of increased growth, but …

Sarah Hanson-Young: [Talks over] Point seven per cent over 15 years [indistinct] …

Simon Birmingham: … but- but I'd rather have point seven per cent growth than not have point seven per cent growth.

Sarah Hanson-Young: You know what …

Simon Birmingham: I'd rather actually seize every opportunity available to grow our economy and create more jobs, rather than say oh that one doesn't matter because it's only point seven per cent.

Matthew Abraham: Mark Butler, as president of the party that really started to dismantle our protection barriers under the Hawke-Keating Government, are you now winding back that clock?

Mark Butler: Well, can I – the bizarre thing about the debate over this is that the only debate really that Malcolm Turnbull has sought to lead about economic policy over the course of this year – and we're almost at the end of January – is around an agreement that's dead. I mean, the TPP is dead, and as much as Malcolm Turnbull and his Trade Minister Steve Ciobo try to find new ways of seeking to breathe live into this agreement, the simple fact of the matter is the agreement is not going to happen. So let's get on with the rest of the world and let's talk about trade agreements that might be able to be reached with our own region. For example the …

Matthew Abraham: [Interrupts] So what, a TPP light, you're saying?

Mark Butler: Well this is what I also don't understand about Turnbull's approach here. He wants to try and resurrect an agreement that at its heart had the United States. I mean, the United States was a critical player in the TPP, a very significant reason why countries like Vietnam were going to sign …

Matthew Abraham: [Talks over] Or Japan!

Mark Butler: … up for it, because it gave access- well, Vietnam for example. The only reason they made concessions in the TPP was that they were going to get access to the enormous American market. There is another process in our region …

Matthew Abraham: [Talks over] Canada.

Mark Butler: … ASEAN Plus Six …

Matthew Abraham: [Talks over] Canada.

Mark Butler: … ASEAN Plus Six, there's another process that has China, has Korea, has Japan, has India, Australia, New Zealand, all the ASEAN countries. We've been undertaking this process for a number of years. Why would you try to reconstruct the TPP around China, which I don't think the Chinese were ever going to agree to. Why wouldn't you instead say well the TPP, for better or for worse is now dead; let's think about other arrangements that we might be able to reach in our own region that would give different sectors of our economy other export opportunities.

What this really is is a distraction from the fact Malcolm Turnbull has no other economic policy to talk about. It's just extraordinary that he's spent the last several days seeking to breathe life into this corpse of a trade agreement.

Sarah Hanson-Young: Well it's a zombie, isn't it, I mean it's- and the idea that they can kind of try and unscramble the omelette is just ludicrous. It's crazy talk. The fact is …

Matthew Abraham: [Interrupts] So you don't support for instance a [indistinct] partnership that would include China, because of their big corporations and the fact that they might oppose our laws, is that correct?

Sarah Hanson-Young: No, I think the issue here is that we need to make sure that trade agreements are about trade. The TPP, including this – the clause around companies being able to sue governments, that's in addition. I think we should be going ahead and saying alright, let's get back on the front foot, go back to the drawing board, have negotiations around actual trade that expands the ability for Australia to export without having these stupid clauses that are effectively undemocratic. We don't need them in order to boost exports.

Matthew Abraham: Simon Birmingham.

Simon Birmingham: Well let's – just very quickly on Sarah's point, these types of protections are largely protections for businesses like Australian businesses, doing business in countries that have less developed regulatory structures and laws than a country like Australia does.

Sarah Hanson-Young: [Talks over] That's why they begged for …

Simon Birmingham: There is very little risk to Australia out of these sorts of situations …

Sarah Hanson-Young: … by the big multinational companies.

Simon Birmingham: … but the bigger issue here, the bigger issue here is that you do have other nations who are part of the TPP negotiations willing to discuss about how we go forward, even without the United States. And so why should we junk years of work, years of work under governments of both persuasions rather than actually saying let's see if we can work with those other nations, including Japan, whom Prime Minister Turnbull, who's spoken with Prime Minister Abe on a couple of occasions over the last couple of weeks about possible steps forward here, and whether that is just the remaining TPP partners or whether it’s [indistinct] China …

Matthew Abraham: [Talks over] Well without the … it looks a bit sick without the US, doesn’t it?

Sarah Hanson-Young: I just don’t understand this obsession of not just accepting that it’s dead and yes we do need to get our trade agreements in our region. Go back to the drawing board, start from the beginning and do it properly and do you know what? Stop hiding what is going on to the Australian people. The biggest concern that people had as the TPP was rolling out was how secretive the negotiations were.

Matthew Abraham: I don’t think – do you think the Australian people had any concerns about the TPP?

Sarah Hanson-Young: Well …

Matthew Abraham: [Talks over] I didn’t hear anyone mention it when I was down lining up at the Yankalilla Bakery.

Sarah Hanson-Young: I think there is genuinely concern out there, particularly amongst …

Matthew Abraham: I’m worried about the TPP; they just said I’ll have tomato on my pasta thanks.

Simon Birmingham: Well when the Greens tell you the world will come to an end because of it then the people they’re talking to are concerned in return, Matt, but yes …

Matthew Abraham: Well that may be a significant constituency.

Simon Birmingham: [Indistinct].

Matthew Abraham: … as you’re finding with Pauline Hanson, isn’t it?

Simon Birmingham: I agree that I don’t think people were exactly agitated and losing sleep over the TPP over the last couple of years but the point is …

Sarah Hanson-Young: [Talks over] Well partly because it was kept so secret and the public don’t like that.

Simon Birmingham: … the point is we should not just junk years of work if there’s good things we can still salvage from it with the other partners to the TPP, even without the United States.

Mark Butler: Well we don’t know that, because I mean the Trade Minister was asked whether …

Simon Birmingham: [Interrupts] But you’re saying we should give up and shouldn’t try. That’s your response, Mark.

Mark Butler: The Trade Minister was asked whether the Government had done any modelling about what benefit there would be from a TPP…

Sarah Hanson-Young: [Talks over] And they haven’t done that.

Mark Butler: … without the US. Even leaving aside the probability that the existing nations won’t sign up, the remaining nations won’t sign up to the conditions of the TPP without access to the American market. Leaving aside that very significant problem, the Government hasn’t even worked out whether it would be a good thing for Australia. They’ve done no modelling about whether it would be a good thing for Australia to have …

Sarah Hanson-Young: [Talks over] Well they did no modelling of the TPP, let alone a revised version.

Matthew Abraham: [Talks over] Is this like a … is this like our version of Brexit? Simon Birmingham, Liberal Senator and Education Minister, and that is there isn’t, you know, this happened and then there’s no fall-back plan? There’s no plan B?

Simon Birmingham: Well there is a plan B which is to work through with other trading partners, both within the TPP and other options like China, as to what might be possible from here. Now, of course we already have great trade access as a result of a number of deals the Coalition Government has done over the last few years, with China, with Japan, with South Korea that have increased access and been very good for a number of South Australian companies as I said at the outset. But we should absolutely seek to actually do what we can and salvage what we can out of this, rather than just give up and walk away because Bill Shorten or the Greens want to sound like Donald Trump, rather than do what is in Australia’s best interests for Australian jobs.

Matthew Abraham: This is Super Wednesday. That’s the voice of Education Minister, South Australian Liberal Senator, Simon Birmingham. Mark Butler’s Labor MP for Port Adelaide and he speaks for the Opposition on climate change and energy. He’s President of the ALP. Sarah Hanson-Young is Greens Senator for South Australia, spokesperson for finance, trade and education. On Super Wednesday we bring together local politicians who have big roles to play on the national stage. 

This was on AM, this is Donald Trump, to the three of you, this may resonate with the voters who perhaps have abandoned all three of your parties. Have a listen to this.


Donald Trump: We will build our own pipeline. We will build our own pipes. That’s what it has to do with – like we used to, in the old days.

[End of excerpt]

Matthew Abraham: That’s Donald Trump, talking to the people who put him in, isn’t it? And that is, we’re talking about the US sort of withdrawing back behind the walls of the castle, are we not? And haven’t we started, you know, in just a much more subtler way doing that with sort of our steel and other industries here? Should we be doing more of it, Mark Butler?

Mark Butler: Well the challenge for a country like Australia, for as long as really we’ve been a nation since 1901, has been that balance between seeking the opportunities from trade, because we are a great trading nation, always have been, a much bigger trading nation as a share of our economy than the US – much, much bigger – while at the same time nurturing our own industry, our own capabilities to have a good industrial ecosystem, but also good well-paying jobs in Australia. And that’s, that’s been a challenge really for the last 40 years, since the economies around the world have started opening up.

Matthew Abraham: [Talks over] Yeah and we’ve seen a lot of those well-paying jobs go, haven’t we, particularly in South Australia?

Mark Butler: Well, particularly we’re seeing that at the moment with the automotive industry. I think the greatest act of vandalism to our industrial system really in living memory, was the Government’s decision to walk away from automotive manufacturing but …

Matthew Abraham: Well General Motors Holden walked away from automotive manufacturing, didn’t it?

Mark Butler: Well no it didn’t, no, no, that’s not right, Matthew. We can spend a long time debating that.

Matthew Abraham: I know that.

Mark Butler: That’s simply not right; with a bit of support from the Government you’ve seen some good support from the Government along with Victoria for Alcoa, the aluminium operations over in Victoria. I wish there’d been a bit more consistency around some of the other parts of our industrial ecosystem, frankly. But look, this is a challenge. And Trump’s having a debate in America about the balance in America. We shouldn’t just simply follow what Donald Trump and the Americans are talking about …

Matthew Abraham: And this is on the TPP?

Mark Butler: Well, no the TPP is not a question of following Trump; it’s a question of recognising reality. The fact is without Trump, there is no TPP.

Matthew Abraham: Okay. Simon Birmingham.

Simon Birmingham: We definitely shouldn’t be following American-style protectionism if that’s what we’re about to see a wave of because Australia’s economy has benefited from being outward looking, from exporting many different products to the rest of the world …

Matthew Abraham: [Interrupts] Well there’d be a lot of people in South Australia who’ve lost their jobs who wouldn’t agree with that.

Simon Birmingham: Well, and yes there’s been transition. There’s been transition in some industries, but overall we have record numbers of jobs across Australia today. You see in Victoria, where Ford closed its door last year, jobs growth of I think it was around 100,000 jobs last year. Around 100,000 extra jobs in Victoria last year, even as Ford ceased manufacturing activities. 

So you can actually successfully transition economies with the right types of settings in place and we have seen enormous growth in wealth across Australia over the decades. Including the decades where a lot of protectionist policies have been dismantled. But of course, you’ve always got to put Australia’s interest first. 

So we won’t do trade deals that don’t increase Australia’s economic activity, increased jobs for Australia. We want to make sure that everything we’re doing is about Australian interests and Australian jobs coming first. And so Donald Trump’s rhetoric about putting American jobs first, I understand, but of course it’s in Australia’s interests to remain a champion of being outward and engaging with the world, as a country that can produce lots of food, provide lots of minerals, provide lots of services. As Education Minister we provide $19 billion worth of education-related services to the region. It’s become a huge growth export opportunity for us that we’ve seized and we’re succeeding in and we should absolutely continue to embrace.

Matthew Abraham: Okay. Sarah Hanson-Young, end of that speech …

Sarah Hanson-Young: Unless our political leaders start to recognise that there is a massive problem with a growth in inequality in this country, they’re not going to able to deal with the kind of Trumpism coming to our shores.

Matthew Abraham: But you’ve got a lot in common with Donald Trump, I mean you …

Sarah Hanson-Young: Look, a lot of things I don’t have in common at all, actually. I think the idea of blaming foreigner for everything is wrong. I don’t think the idea of simply pulling down the shudders is the right way to go. But I do agree with this: that people for far too long have been feeling as though the gap between the rich and everybody else is getting bigger. It’s getting bigger here in Australia. And if the only options we have being put forward for growth in this country are some crappy view of trickle-down economics from a $50 billion tax cut to big business, the Australian people know that is a fraud and they want us to focus on bridging that gap between rich and poor, investing in social services and ensuring that when we talk about jobs, we don’t just try and gloss over the figures. We know that people overwhelmingly are feeling the pinch of being underemployed as well as just unemployed.

Matthew Abraham: Mark Butler, the Sydney Morning Herald’s reporting this morning that your leader, Bill Shorten, will tonight, will tonight promise that if the Fair Work Commission cuts Sunday penalty rates and reduces Sunday overtime, Labor will move to change the law to protect workers’ take-home pay. That’s a significant shift, can you confirm he’s going to do that and why?

Mark Butler: Yeah well, when Bill Shorten was Work Place Relations Minister in the last Labor Government, he put in place some changes to the Act to require the Industrial Commission, the independent umpire, if you like, on wages and conditions to pay regard to the working of unsociable hours when setting things like penalty rates.

Matthew Abraham: But this goes a step further doesn’t it?

Mark Butler: Well it’s really, it’s really a further safety net if you like and it’s indicating that if those principles were not sufficient to protect what we think is important, which is weekend penalty rates, then we would look at making further changes to the Act to send a clearer direction, if that’s needed, to the Commission that penalty rates are a very important part of our wages.

Matthew Abraham: So you make those changes so you can’t take away Sunday penalty rates?

Mark Butler: Well, you’ll see in the speech tonight the detail …

Matthew Abraham: [Talks over] Oh, no. You obviously told the Sydney Morning Herald.

Mark Butler: But- but …

Matthew Abraham: [Talks over] Yes?

Mark Butler: But what we don’t think should happen is the act shouldn’t be changed to set out every single percentage point of penalty rate whether it’s a weekend evening or a week evening, but we do think that the commission must, when it’s making these decisions, have very, very clear regard to the fact that people working unsociable hours deserved to be paid a penalty rate.

Matthew Abraham: Simon Birmingham, just quickly.

Simon Birmingham: I think what Mark Butler just said … 

Matthew Abraham: [Talks over] [Indistinct]. You seem bemused.

Simon Birmingham: I think what Mark Butler just said was when Bill Shorten was Industrial Relations Minister, they wanted to make sure the independent umpire had regard to unsociable hours, which is something we back, but now tonight Bill Shorten’s going to say if the Industrial Relations Commission comes down with a finding that Bill Shorten disagrees with, he will disregard what the independent umpire said.

Matthew Abraham: That’d be probably quite popular, won’t it?

Simon Birmingham: Well, I’m not sure it’ll be very popular with people who aren’t opening their cafés or restaurants on Sundays. We see a story just, I think, in The Advertiser today or yesterday about people out for the Tour Down Under finding many restaurants, many café doors closed. We have said for a long time now, we should back the finding of the independent umpire, but of course, Labor, whether it’s energy policy, wages policy, seems hell-bent on of course actually pricing Australia out of creating jobs and doing business. 

Matthew Abraham: In a moment we’re going off to Henley Beach Road on totally another matter, to do with trams. I just want to ask you as Education Minister, if the two of you will cut him some slack here, this report that the physics curriculum is being dumbed down, shifting from … formulas to essays. Would have been a boon for me someone who’s maths-illiterate. Do you share those concerns, Education Minister?

Simon Birmingham: I am worried about these types of stories and analysis. I’ve welcomed the fact that over the last couple of years, WA and New South Wales have moved to put some minimum literacy and numeracy standards around their High School Certificates, their Year 12 Certificates. I think Year 12 needs to mean something, and for those going on to university, it needs to prepare them for university, and these stories from an esteemed and well-regarded physics lecturer and researcher suggesting that students doing Year 12 physics are not equipped to then actually follow on into university are a real concern. It is something that the states who control curriculum for Year 12 and High School Certificates need to look long and hard at. They’re why we’ve encouraged and have put on the table as funding negotiations the adoption of types of minimum standards and maintaining maths at Year 12 for those going on to uni.

Matthew Abraham: Thank you very much, Education Minister, South Australian Liberal Senator Simon Birmingham. Sarah Hanson-Young, Greens Senator, thank you for coming in …

Sarah Hanson-Young: Thanks for having us.

Matthew Abraham: … and Mark Butler, Federal President of the ALP, Labor MP for Port Adelaide, thank you. That’s on Facebook as well. We’re streaming that so you’ll be able to revisit that. The vision stays up. You’ll be able to see the fake beard going up, and the real ones as well.