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(generated from captions) Michael Edwards, Lateline. new regional man. Back now to the National's cloth to his landed predecessors. Mark Vaille is cut from different he's never owned a farm. To start with became a jackeroo, He went to a public high school, then a stock and station agent then a farm machinery salesman and with his own business. with both town and country. The hope is he'll connect National Party vote But when it comes to delivering the he's got his work cut out for him. on some critical issues, has been trade His passion in recent years a succession of free trade deals. and his fingerprints are all over China where there are expectations The most challenging will be with with politics, that big trade deals are bound up and other sensitive issues. especially on human rights defecting diplomat Chen Yonglin. Issues like the fate of the would-be I spoke to the National's new leader to announce his succession. straight after the press conference and congratulations. Mark Vaille, thanks for joining us Thank you very much, Tony. Pleasure.

for politics Now, do you have the passion he never had? that John Anderson says for politics Oh, I've got a lot of passion results for our core constituency and a lot of passion for delivering in rural and regional Australia of Australia and all Australians. and of course that goes for all this process of change this week It is important we've been through and I say to my fellow Australians the high level of confidence that they can continue to have in our government they have always had in government, and in our party in coalition on moving the nation ahead that we continue to focus all-important decisions and making a lot of those in the national interest. statement, It's a good party political was saying but I guess what John Anderson about being a politician. was he was rather diffident How do you feel about it? the very nature of politics? Does it excite you, The different aspects do that John has made and I recognise the comments the parliament, and of course I do enjoy but I enjoy the people. an opportunity to engage with people What this job does is gives you of backgrounds, from a very wide variety right across Australia, right across the communities, the honour but fundamentally it gives us the interests of all Australians of being able to represent and I do have that passion Minister over the last six years, and of course in my role as Trade representing our national interest, I've been greatly honoured in in the international arena. representing Australia in style and/or substance? How will you be different, we're all different in style Well, I think that and if I can make one comment, of its substance and its focus, you know our party in terms we'll remain the same, with similar objectives. we'll keep moving ahead different in style. Obviously, I'll be a little bit to John I come from a different background and the strength and that's part of the quality and the vitality of our party. It is true, isn't it, patrician mode at all, are you? you're not in the landed gentry

You're somewhat different. No, but I've lived in regional Australia all of my life, on the mid-north coast of NSW and that's our constituency. There's 7 million people that live outside the metropolitan areas and it's our challenge and our job to represent those interests and the hard-working families in regional Australia and that's from where I come. Now, John Anderson clearly had a special relationship with John Howard and a very close friendship as well with Peter Costello. In fact, it's reported

that when leadership tensions were in the air, he sometimes acted as a go-between between those two men. Can you see yourself playing a similar role? The role I want to play is exercising in discharging my responsibilities as a senior member of this very, very successful Coalition Government. I can say that I have a very good working relationship and a high level of trust, respect and understanding with the PM and that's what I say to the people of Australia, that harmonious leadership team will continue with this new generation coming through in the National Party, as I do with Peter Costello. He's a very good friend of mine and all the other senior ministers within the Liberal Party.

You'd be comfortable serving under either man as PM, would you? I'm going to be very comfortable discharging my responsibilities as the National Party leader in a Coalition Government that continues to deliver for Australia, whoever is leading the government. Fair enough. I notice you made the point about generational change just then. You don't think generational change is necessary in the Liberal Party as well? It's not up to me to express that view. Others can express that view and that's a matter for the Liberal Party. The Prime Minister is the Prime Minister. I'm very much looking forward to working with him and continuing my role in his team. No matter who the Prime Minister is? Regardless of who the Prime Minister, and the Prime Minister at the moment is currently the member for Bennelong and I'm very much looking forward to continuing to work with the member for Bennelong.

TONY JONES: Alright. To take this job you obviously have the stomach for the coming Telstra fight that John Anderson has left behind him? Of course it's a critical and important debate that's taking place right across Australia now and of course it's been going for a number of years, as you would recognise, Tony, because it's very significant in terms of the services aspect of this debate and we've continued to say that it's the services that are provided and the level of services we expect in the future in rural and regional Australia that's important in this debate and, as John Anderson outlined in our State conference in Gunnedah last weekend, that remains our focus and will continue to remain our focus as we move forward in this debate. There's a big expectation from shareholders in all of this. Do you reckon the Government will get Senate approval to take Telstra to full privatisation by the end of this year? That remains to be seen, Tony. We're going to maintain our focus on the key elements in this process and at the very moment that's how we manage a structure in terms of future proofing those services in rural and regional Australia, how we develop and agree on a structure that will deliver the technology, for example, in the area of broadband that is needed in rural and regional Australia

as we move towards that ultimate decision. You've got no timetable in mind at all then? No, and I think the Prime Minister has made a few comments this week that we need to knuckle down and focus on these issues

and they are the issues that are still, if you like, unresolved and the Government will work through those maturely and professionally as we have done on all of these sensitive issues over the last nine or so years. But - well, does it make any real difference to you You would want it resolved in this term of government, very briefly? we do need to resolve it in this term of the Government. In fact, we may want to resolve it in the shorter term, but that's the process we'll embark upon in the shorter term in terms of what we need to do and if that reasonably fits into a pattern that will deliver us into a position of making that final decision. Your real challenge is with some of your National Party members in the Senate, including some of the new ones. How are you going to get Barnaby Joyce into harness when his stated loyalty is to the State Nationals and not the Federal Nationals? I don't see that as a challenge at all. I see this as an exciting period that we're moving into as a government where we are moving into a position of having a majority in the Senate and particularly where we are moving to as a National Party where we increased our numbers at the last election and our two new senators, Barnaby Joyce and Fiona Nash, coming down here on 1st July, I'm very much looking forward to that. Very briefly, Barnaby Joyce appears to be an independent-minded fellow. Are you going to sit down with him before he makes it to the Senate and have a chat with him about what you expect? Look, I've already had a number of conversations with Barnaby. There's a great focus on his activities when he comes into the Senate. For good reason. For good reason. (Laughs). Important vote. Barnaby is coming down here representing primarily, yes, the interests of Queenslanders, as a Queensland senator, but importantly the interests of 7 million Australians that live outside the metropolitan cities and areas of Australia and importantly those hard-working families in rural and regional Australia. He will fit into our team very, very well and we are all looking forward to working with him. Alright, Mark Vaille.

You are keeping the trade portfolio so let me ask you a question you probably haven't heard yet on the China trade. Do you accept the fact that a 250,000 Chinese are being held in gulags

that they euphemistically refer to as re-education through labour camps? We have seen a lot of reporting in terms of some of the aspects of governance in China and obviously some of those things we take with a grain of salt, but we're not blind to any of these things. What I do say, Tony, and where you are leading with this conversation, and I continue to make this point, that we do have an ongoing dialogue with China on human rights issues and we will continue to be candid and frank on that front, but at the same time we maintain an ability to continue to enhance our economic relationship with China which is going to be so critically important for the future development of the Australian economy and we intend to keep it that way.

250,000 people is a pretty big slave labour force. Have you ever relayed any protest to China about that? That is - I mean, you make that assertion and others may have reported that... I'll tell you who makes the assertion... ..I haven't assessed that and if I could answer the second part of your question... First of all, can I tell you where it comes from so that we have that straight? The US State Department's country report on China which says according to 2003 Chinese Government statistics more than 250,000 persons were serving sentences in re-education through labour camps and other forms of detention not subject to judicial review. So I'm asking: have you ever made protests about that specifically? I have not seen those reports and what I was about to say in answer to the second part of your question is that as Australia's Trade Minister and an economic minister, my interaction with my counterparts in China is on the economic front. The responsibilities in terms of human rights and our position and our candid views on that are the responsibility of the Minister for Foreign Affairs, and I'm sure that he does regularly make contact and comment to his counterparts in China on those issues. My important responsibility is to ensure that our nation, our economy takes advantage of what is taking place in the growth and growth of China, its industrialisation, the way that is affecting the global economy and particularly how we can take great advantage of that for the future of our economy in Australia.

But you appreciate how trade and human rights issues are all bound up together now. Is the case of the defecting Chinese diplomat Chen Yonglin creating tensions between Australia and China? It certainly hasn't become apparent to me at all on that front. I had in the margins of the APEC ministerial meeting in Korea in recent weeks a number of conversations with my counterpart Minister Borshi Li.

That certainly wasn't raised either way. We have a very, very important challenge in front of us and that is negotiating a free trade agreement between our two countries. In answer to your question at that point, that hasn't been raised and I go to China again in two weeks' time to a very important ministerial meeting of the WTO where I'll see a number of our Chinese counterparts there again. We spoke on this program last night to a former senior Pentagon official Dan Blumenthal and he was Defense's senior country director for China until late last year and he told us that Washington is closely watching this Chen case and if Mr Chen was sent back to China

it would be interpreted by the US as China calling in its chips on trade, that is. Does that US perception worry you? We have - our government has made our position very clear on this case. The Foreign Minister initially made a decision on the original request. You would be well aware now

that an application is being processed by the Department of Immigration and Multicultural Affairs. That process must continue

without commentary from the government or opposition on its merits and that's what is to happen and we've indicated quite clearly we will not run a commentary on this nor are we going to comment on aspects surrounding this case while that assessment is under way. Alright. But he said there's a larger picture here of China using trade to build leverage with countries like Australia and if you send Chen back it will be viewed by the US in Washington as Australia caving in to Chinese political pressure. I say again, Tony, the Chen case, the Chen application will be dealt with on its merits in the normal way we process these applications in Australia.

It's not a normal case, though, is it? It's a Chinese diplomat who - under other circumstances, this would have been seen as a walk-in, would have been given over to our intelligence services. This is not a normal immigration case. No, that is not the case and I said this will be subject to the normal process and assessed on its merits. Let me ask you one last question: as Deputy Prime Minister, would you be prepared under any circumstances to see that man sent back to face a potentially very cruel fate, possibly execution, in China? The government will take the advice of the department in terms of the way this application is processed, as I say, under the normal processing circumstances on its merits. We will await that advice from the department. Alright, Mark Vaile. We'll have to leave you there.

Thank you very much for taking the time to come and talk to us To finance now. And the Australian Tax Office is headed for a legal showdown with BHP Billiton after issuing an assessment notice for almost $1 billion in unpaid taxes. The Tax Office claims BHP owes $935.5 million in taxes,