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Transcript of interview with Kiean Gilbert: Sky News AM Agenda: 26 march 2012: Obama's overheard remarks, Newspoll, Queensland election, Huawei

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The Hon Dr Craig Emerson MP Australian Minister for Trade and Competitiveness Sky News AM Agenda Subjects: Obama's overheard remarks, Newspoll, Queensland election, Huawei.

Transcript, E&OE

26 March 2012

KIERAN GILBERT: David Speers, thank you very much for that. Let's go to our panel now: the Trade Minister Craig

Emerson and the Deputy Opposition Leader in the Senate, Senator George Brandis. A bit of a lesson there for

politicians: remember when the [microphones] are around, and another example of that happening at one of those

international summits. Craig Emerson?

CRAIG EMERSON: Oh yeah, I guess so. And I agree with David's assessment: that this is not really an

embarrassment; he's probably more saying the obvious. And I do remember Bob Hawke - you've got to watch those

boom mikes - when we were walking through the shopping centre once and a pensioner had a go at Bob and Bob said

"silly old bugger", and it was picked up on the boom mike. But these things happen. It just proves that we're all human.

GILBERT: Senator Brandis, the Republicans don't see it as a run-of-the-mill statement. They've seized on - the front-runner Mitt Romney overnight.

GEORGE BRANDIS: Well, I haven't been following this story overnight, Kieran, but I know that it doesn't seem to me

to be a particularly big deal.

GILBERT: All right. Well, let's move on. Let's look at the Newspoll today - possibly a big deal. Craig Emerson, for

rattled Labor MPs this is going to be a bit more of a headache: the primary vote back below 30 per cent.

EMERSON: Yeah. I'd be a little bit interested in an analysis - I think you've got Martin on a little later - in terms of, you

know, conducting a poll during a state election. I stand by my statements earlier, and that is that the state election itself

was fought on state issues. I have also said consistently, from Saturday night onwards that yes, Federal Labor does

have real challenges in Queensland and in the rest of Australia. And we will now use the opportunity presented by

having passed two major pieces of legislation - the mining tax and also the carbon pricing mechanism - to explain the

benefits of that to the community. We need to do more of that. There's no doubt about it.

GILBERT: Senator Brandis, do you think there might be a bit of seepage from the Queensland result, given that the

election was held at the weekend? The poll was in the field at the same time.

BRANDIS: Well, look, as to the effect of the Queensland election on Newspoll's sampling of public opinion, I'll leave

that to the experts. That's a technical question, really. But can I just make this point, Kieran: I say this with all due

respect to my friend Craig Emerson- I think the Labor Party is in cloud cuckoo land if it doesn't think that there are

important lessons for it federally in the Queensland election result; and, in particular, that you just can't get away with

saying one thing before an election and doing the opposite after an election. As Newspoll also reveals - and I think

most commentators accept this - the point at which Anna Bligh's popularity fell off a cliff from which it never recovered,

even through the brief rally during the floods a year or so ago, was when shortly after the 2009 Queensland election

she broke her commitment not to sell the state assets.

EMERSON: Not correct.

BRANDIS: And people say, people say 'well, we can't trust Anna Bligh because she went to the 2009 election on one

platform and immediately after the election she did the opposite'. There is the most direct possible comparison between

what Julia Gillard did in going to the 2010 election and being re-elected on the basis of the promise 'there will be no

carbon tax under the Government I lead' and then a few months later introducing that very carbon tax. And when I hear

a Labor politician like Craig say 'well, you know, we've got to explain this carbon tax. Craig, make my day. Send Julia

Gillard and all your Shadow Cabinet Ministers up into Queensland and spend your time talking about the carbon tax.

Nothing would do the Liberal Party better service.

EMERSON: And we will, and we will.

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GILBERT: Senator Brandis, we've seen previously though … Julia Gillard and Anna Bligh aren't, well, they're not on

their own, are they, when it comes to politicians reversing previous commitments. We do know core and non-core

promises were introduced by the former …

BRANDIS: Come on; come on Kieran. I mean, John Howard years ago in order to demonstrate that a particular policy

- I forget which one it was - was at the very heart of the Liberal Party's program, used the unhappy phrase "this is a

core promise". And some clever Labor Party spin doctor said 'aha! If this is a core promise, then there must be non-core promises'. The real test of the way that John Howard conducted himself, the Liberal Party conducts itself, is when

it came to a really tough sell on a new tax: that is, the GST. He took it to an election in 1998. The very opposite of what

Julia Gillard did when she introduced a big new tax: the carbon tax. She only did it by deceiving the public about her


GILBERT: Well that is a valid comparison, absolutely. He did go to an election to get a mandate for that. Craig

Emerson, are you worried that this issue of trust - because that transcends, state or federal; that that's an issue about

the leader - that the Prime Minister will have that hanging around her neck all the way to the election, because that's

certainly what happened with the asset sales.

EMERSON: Well, I just need to correct that. Anna Bligh did not make a statement before the state election last time

that there would be no asset sales.

GILBERT: That's history, though, isn't it? That's history now. Let's move on and look at the issues.

EMERSON: Hold on, hold on. George made that statement. I think I have a right to correct it and say that is false. I will

now move on. I will now move on. And in terms of trust - and you talk about politicians changing their positions - who

said that he would not tamper with the Medicare safety net, that it was a rock solid iron clad promise? Tony Abbott.

Who said in an opinion piece in The Australian newspaper that 'Oppositions tend to be permanent debating societies,

and any position arrived at in Opposition can be revisited in Government'?. Who made the distinction between the

gospel truth if it's written down and just winging it and not being held to account on any statement that wasn't previously

written down? Tony Abbott. So, yes, let's have a debate about trust.

BRANDIS: Well, I think we're both agreed on that Kieran, because we would love the next election to be a debate

about who do you trust. And I don't have any doubt which way the Australian people will vote…

GILBERT: The Prime Minister's certainly trying to confront that perceived weakness with those statements yesterday:

who do you trust on economy and whatever else. But we'll get to that at another point. I want to ask you Senator

Brandis about Clive Palmer. Now, fascinating statement yesterday seemed to be implying that his CIA suggestion was

a diversion. Is that appropriate during an election campaign, do you think? What do you make of all that?

BRANDIS: Well, to be honest, Kieran, I'm not quite sure what I make of it. I mean, Clive Palmer is a private citizen. He

is … I know …

EMERSON: A big donor.

BRANDIS: I know Clive Palmer. I've known him since we were in the Young Liberals together. And I like him

enormously. I think he's a larger-than-life character. He sometimes says some surprising things. He's a reasonably

quirky person but, nevertheless, I find Clive Palmer endlessly entertaining.

GILBERT: Beyond that, as a private citizen, Craig Emerson is there anything else that you see untoward here? He's

made some comments. He's allowed to, isn't he?

EMERSON: Oh look, this is Liberal Party spin. That's fine. Clive Palmer's entitled to his point of view. I'm more

interested in policy. And Clive Palmer has been a big donor, a big donor to the Liberal Party. I will also point out that

Clive Palmer's against the mining tax. The Liberal Party's against the mining tax. It thinks that Clive Palmer already

pays too much tax. That's what Tony Abbott said: that the mining industry already pays too much tax. On the mining

tax, we believe that the benefits of the mining boom should be fairly spread. And that means providing tax breaks for

small businesses - not just those that are incorporated but all small businesses - through an instant assets write-off;

an increase in superannuation for working Australians; and a reduction in the company tax rate - which are opposed,

which are opposed, by the Coalition, which says it's the low-taxing Party but in fact the Budget papers will reveal is the

highest-taxing Government in Australia's history.

GILBERT: We saw the …Senator Brandis, yep if you want to respond to that feel free, but I want to ask you about this

other story around the traps today: James McGrath, the LNP campaign manager in Queensland, did obviously

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extraordinarily well there. And there's some suggestion - front page of The Australian today - that he should be

recruited to Canberra to run Tony Abbott's campaign. What do you think of that?

BRANDIS: Well, first of all let me take up your invitation to respond to what Craig just said …

EMERSON: It's in the Budget papers, George.

BRANDIS: In relation to the mining tax, the problem for the Government is the sums don't add up, because all the

other programs and savings that this mining tax is said to support leaves the Government with, in fact, a $4 billion

shortfall over the forward estimates. So, it takes the rare genius that only Labor politicians are capable of to introduce a

new tax and yet leave the Budget in a worse position than it was before.

EMERSON: This is fantastic. What George is saying is that the mining tax won't collect much revenue; the same

mining tax that he says is going to lay waste to the Australian economy.

BRANDIS: In fact it's a lose-lose proposition, because it will …

EMERSON: It's not going to collect new revenue but it's going to destroy the Australian economy.

BRANDIS: It's a lose-lose proposition because…

EMERSON: That's a losing proposition, George. That's right.

BRANDIS: What it will do is at the same time subject Australia to an international competitive disadvantage by

ensuring our mining industry is subject to the highest tax regime in the world.

GILBERT: James McGrath ….

BRANDIS: In relation to James McGrath: James is a friend of mine. I'm a huge admirer of James McGrath. I think he

ran a superb campaign in Queensland, and he is one of the Liberal Party's very bright stars. Now, what he chooses to

do in the future, I don't know, but I hope there is a big role for him in Australian politics.

EMERSON: And Brian Loughnane will be hoping he doesn't go to Canberra.

GILBERT: Yeah, well there might be a bit of a stumbling block there with the Opposition Leader's Chief of Staff being

Brian Loughnane's wife. I think that that might see James McGrath being prevented.

BRANDIS: I don't think so. I know them all; they're all friends of mine and I think these stories that have been fostered

in the media on occasions that there's some bad will between Mr Loughnane and Mr McGrath are simply not true. I

mean, I have been in meetings with them. I know them very, very well. I am close to them, and I can tell you that that is

a lot of nonsense.

GILBERT: Okay. And it's hard to see them making any change at the moment, given the dominant position in the polls

and Senator Loughnane … not Senator, Mr Loughnane obviously playing a part in that. Let's take a break and we will

come back in just a moment. Stay with us.

[ad break]

GILBERT: This is AM Agenda, thanks for your company. With me, the Trade Minister Craig Emerson and the Deputy

Opposition Leader in the Senate, Senator Brandis. Minister, I want to ask you first of all … if we could move to another

area of discussion. The Chinese Telco Huawei has been blocked from involvement or tenders within the National

Broadband Network. The Government hasn't said exactly why. It's presumed on security concerns. Is that true?

EMERSON: Well I'm heavily constrained as a Minister in what I can say about this. I'll limit it to this, Kieran: this has got

nothing to do with the fact that the NBN is laid out as a monopoly system in terms of the cable. It's not an attempt to

protect, that is, on an industry protection basis. It is being done for sensible reasons, and we don't take these decisions


GILBERT: Well, is it related to security, though? Is that inside the concerns?

EMERSON: I would rather not go into that, Kieran. And I think you'd understand, and I ask for your viewers to

understand the fact that I'm constrained about this. We're not doing it for fun. We're not doing it for the heck of it.

GILBERT: What about the message it sends to our biggest partner, though? What about the message it sends to our

biggest trading partner?

EMERSON: Kieran, Kieran. I'm just saying that I would be quite sure, quite sure, that a Coalition Government - if it

formed, or if this issue had come up in the previous period - would make the same decision.

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GILBERT: Well the Coalition's been a bit critical of it; says it's been a bit sloppy. Senator Brandis?

BRANDIS: Well, look, I don't know a great deal about this. Can I just make this observation: obviously tender

processes should be fair and transparent. But if it's the case, as has been reported in some of the media, that the

Government is acting on the footing of an ASIO security assessment - if that's the case -then I think any government

would be very slow to act at variance from the advice of the national security agencies.

GILBERT: I am interested, though, about the message it sends. Trade Minister; you're the Minister for Trade; you deal

with your Chinese counterparts a lot. And this is such an important partner of ours. Obviously, you're making efforts to

try and minimise any angst in Beijing over this?

EMERSON: Well, we do have a great trading relationship with China. That's why we've launched the Asian Century

White Paper project. I think two-way trade is past the 100 billion mark, and it's very healthy and vigorous. We

sometimes have to make decisions that ordinarily you would prefer not to have to make. But we do that because we

have Australia's interests at heart. Other people, like Andrew Robb, may disagree with that; may say it's flippant or

reckless or whatever. Andrew's entitled to his opinion; we disagree with his opinion. We are doing this because we

think it is the right decision to make. Now, if that means that people have heartburn or anxiety about that, I'm sorry

about that. I'm sorry about that. But we will always do what, on the basis of an objective assessment, is in the interests

of Australia.

GILBERT: Okay. All right. The Trade Minister Craig Emerson and the Deputy Opposition Leader in the Senator,

Senator George Brandis. Gentlemen, thank you very much for that.

EMERSON: Righto. Thank you.

GILBERT: We'll chat to you again, both of you soon. Thanks for that.

Media enquiries

Minister Emerson's Office: (02) 6277 7420 ■

DFAT Media Liaison: (02) 6261 1555 ■

Page 4 of 4 Sky News AM Agenda, transcript, 27 March 2012, Australia...