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Transcript of interview with Greg Jennett: ABC News 24: 10 November 2016: US Presidential Election; APEC; Coalition's National Economic Plan

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THE HON STEVEN CIOBO MP Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment


Subjects: US Presidential Election; APEC; Coalition’s National Economic Plan


ROS CHILDS: Australia's ambassador to Washington Joe Hockey is leading a government-wide charm offensive to senior Republicans in an effort to forge closer ties with the incoming Trump administration. Australian ministers will also be told to join the campaign. One of them is the Trade Minister, Steve Ciobo, who's outlining the Government’s strategy to our national affairs correspondent, Greg Jennett.

GREG JENNETT: Steve Ciobo, I'm not sure what your Republican contact book looks like, but when the time arises, how does the Australian Government take steps to make sure that it gets off on the right foot with the Trump team?

STEVEN CIOBO: Well we've had of course great advocacy from our ambassador over there, Joe Hockey. Joe’s been in tight with both the Clinton campaign team and of course the Trump campaign team-

GREG JENNETT: Didn't fall into that trap of backing in or favouring one side, which was the establishment view, wasn't it, around the Democrats?

STEVEN CIOBO: Not at all. Well look I mean Joe was meticulous about making sure that we maintain good relations, as you would expect of our ambassador in the United States to do. His relationship with Chris Christie, one of the key people driving President-elect Trump's campaign team is I think going to place Australia very well. What we'll see over the weeks and months ahead of course though so is an opportunity to engage. We'll start to see who some of the key personnel are going to be, and from that, we'll be able to ascertain who we can engage with on a meaningful basis going forward.

GREG JENNETT: And you yourself will be going to an important regional trade meeting in Peru, I think the APEC gathering. Have you any fears that it might wither or the US might disengage from that process which Australia started under a Trump presidency?

STEVEN CIOBO: Look, I just don't see the United States withdrawing from the world. I know some paint that ‘Doomsday’ picture; I don't think that's going to come to pass. What we'll see and what we will be able to do is calibrate, going forward, what it is that a Trump administration is going to have as their key foreign policy pillars. We'll of course continue to engage. The fact is that Australia and the United States has got a really good relationship. We've got a relationship built on common values and a common approach.

GREG JENNETT: Yes he does seem to have singled out the Australia alliance in all its forms as something that he doesn't object to, compared to other regional relationships. But on our free trade agreement, might there be retaliatory triggers in there that jeopardise that agreement if he just unilaterally puts tariffs up?

STEVEN CIOBO: Greg, I think it's important that people don't start hyperventilating. The fact is that we have a great trading relationship with the United States. We have a great relationship, full stop, with the United States. I'm very confident that we'll continue to engage fulsomely. I don't believe that a Trump presidency is going to mean, as I said, that the United States withdraws from the world. That won't be the case. If you look closely, what President-elect Trump said during the campaign, he made the point that he wanted trade deals that were good for America, good for American wages, good for American workers. You know what? We share that in terms of Australia's values. We want trade deals that are good for Australian workers, good for Australian wages. So it's not a case of withdrawing from the playing field, it's a case of making sure they get a good outcome.

GREG JENNETT: And relative to other trade deals like NAFTA, which he really abhors, is it your view that there's not much about our trade relationship that threatens America? We're junior in the overall scheme of things when it comes to trade.

STEVEN CIOBO: Well, our relationship with the United States is producing and yielding win/win outcomes. That's what's good about Australia and the United States trade relationship. It's good for America, it's good for Australia. We're both beneficiaries from that trading relationship.

GREG JENNETT: Now, let's go to domestic politics and the implications if any here. You said after Brexit and you're saying after this result that politics has to listen and understand the disaffected. If that's the case, why would an unemployed person in Gladstone or Townsville be attracted to politics when you're offering multi-billion dollar tax cuts to business, 10 year enterprise tax cuts, centrepiece of your Government's economic policy?

STEVEN CIOBO: Because fundamentally Australians know, and this is I believe the reason why they elected us at the last election, they elected us because they know that we need to be competitive. They know that our businesses - and it's not just big business here - it's small and medium sized businesses, small and medium enterprises, Greg, are what drive the Australian economy, so as much as ...

GREG JENNETT: Do you think that message is getting through, though?

STEVEN CIOBO: Well, I'm delivering the message again now. I mean, as much as people want to say, “Oh, is this just about multinationals?” Of course it's not. In fact, the bulk of it is about small to medium sized businesses, and you know what? That's where Australians work. That's where they get the money to pay their mortgage down, so what does it mean for someone in Gladstone? What does it mean for someone in Townsville? It means that they have, if they've got a job, the chance to stay in their job, and if they don't have a job, it gives them the prospect to get a job in the future.

GREG JENNETT: But for that to become real and for you to reap political benefit from that, they have to start hiring. There's not a lot of evidence that one flows from the other, tax cuts lead to higher employment in recent times.

STEVEN CIOBO: No, but this is about creating the right economic conditions, and the fact is that when we're losing competitiveness because we're taxing too much, then that sees people go somewhere else. They say, "I'm not going to do that because I'm going to get taxed too much." We see it globally. That's the reason why we're putting a focus on making us more tax competitive, but at the same time, Greg, we've put a lot of focus on making sure that the really big businesses, the multinationals, have to pay their fair share of tax and we've done that through, of course, our focus on what's called ‘base erosion and profit shifting’, but in other words, we say, “You can't just shift money offshore”. In fact, we've put in under Treasurer Scott Morrison, an extra penalty for businesses that try to do that.

GREG JENNETT: So no hitting the brakes, no wholesale policy changes in Australia in light of these events that we're seeing around the -?

STEVEN CIOBO: We will always listen to the feedback from the Australian population, but we have a clear national economic plan to drive jobs and growth and that's what we're focused on delivering.

GREG JENNETT: Alright. Steve Ciobo, thank you.