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Transcript of interview with Greg Jennett: ABC Capital Hill: 21 October 2015: China-Australia Free Trade Agreement; Joe Hockey; Malcolm Turnbull

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SUBJECT/S: China-Australia Free Trade Agreement; Joe Hockey; Malcolm Turnbull.

GREG JENNETT: There you go, Penny Wong being praised as a negotiator behind that deal as Labor's Trade spokeswoman and she joins us now. Are you comfortable with Malcolm Turnbull's adulation?

SENATOR PENNY WONG, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION IN THE SENATE: I don't think it's adulation, but I think bipartisanship in the national interest is always a good thing and what we have achieved is bipartisanship because Labor was able to achieve critical safeguards for Australian jobs, which has enabled a bipartisan agreement on this trade agreement.

JENNETT: It seemed a fairly smooth deal in the end, clinched in what are we saying, a week. Did you actually meet any resistance in the negotiating room at all?

WONG: Well, things always - I'm glad you think it looked calm from the outside-

JENNETT: -From the outside-

WONG: -It sometimes doesn't feel like that when you are negotiating, but full credit to Andrew Robb and his staff. We negotiated in good faith, He negotiated in good faith and I think we achieved a good outcome for the nation.

From Labor's perspective we achieved critical safeguard for jobs, in terms of labour market testing, for Australian wages and conditions and also the upholding of Australian safety and skills standards. So we got the outcomes we wanted and it's a good thing when you can get bipartisanship on something that’s as important as this.

JENNETT: Do you hold any suspicions about the ability to lock all this down? I think some people are making the point it's in regulation, not in legislation. I know that's

technical to most people, but does it make any material difference to your level of satisfaction?

WONG: Two things. First, legally binding, that’s what we wanted. We wanted legally binding obligations to ensure there was labour market testing to protect Australian jobs. We wanted legally binding obligations to uphold Australian wages and conditions and we got that. We wanted legally binding obligations to uphold skills and standards and we got that. Yes, it's by regulation, but they are still legally binding.

Now the broader issue about some abuses of temporary migration employees, which we have seen regrettably under this Government examples of, such as the 7-Eleven workforce and so forth, there is more to do. We've achieved some safeguards across the migration system, critical safeguards but there is more to do down the track and if Labor is elected to government, I’m sure you will see that.

JENNETT: I will ask you about that in a moment. Just on one thing you went into, which was asking for the 457 base pay, if you like. You didn't get that, technically you got a review. What confidence do you have that might deliver the outcome you originally sought?

WONG: Actually the outcome we got in relation to wages and conditions, I think was better because in addition to the review, what we got was regulation - so legally binding - obligation for what's called the market salary rate. So that an overseas worker has to be paid, to be referenced against the enterprise agreement that would be applicable. That is saying if there is an enterprise agreement rate, that’s obviously going to be a higher rate, that's the market rate an overseas workers should get. So actually that is a stronger protection of Australian wages and conditions than the existing system and that is a safeguard we are pleased the Government was prepared to agree to.

JENNETT: Okay, let's wind the clock forward and imagine that you are Trade Minister. I think when the deal, the China free trade deal, comes up for review, what about it might you seek to go back and renegotiate or otherwise alter?

WONG: Look, we made clear there are aspects of this agreement we wouldn't have negotiated. We wouldn't have negotiated the Chapter 10 conditions, which remove labour market testing to the trades level, which is why we have had the safeguard we wanted in relation to the enterprise bargaining agreement. We have a principled position, we don't believe in Investor State Dispute Settlement clauses and that’s our consistent position. We have adopted that in Government. It's in our platform. We would not negotiate an agreement that had an ISDS.

JENNETT: Looking at some other economic issues around today, we are hearing from the departing Joe Hockey some suggestions to the Turnbull Government. That it increase and broaden the GST, that negative gearing be redirected so its incentive goes only towards new housing stock and there is super tax concessions. Do you think the ground has shifted now since the Abbott era, where it is legitimate for all things to be, to use a Malcolm Turnbull expression, on the table?

WONG: It was very disappointing I think to many Australians that the Liberal Party and the Cabinet of which Mr Turnbull was a part refused to consider reform of our superannuation tax concession regime. I think that is a must-have reform. So I'm pleased Joe Hockey has on his way out seen fit to give the approach Labor has been advocating in relation to superannuation the tick.

JENNETT: But nothing about the Turnbull ascendency changes Labor thinking on GST. Let's take that individually.

WONG: The GST position Labor holds is not because of partisan politics or a dislike of Tony Abbott. We have a principled view about that. We think it is a regressive tax and we don't agree with making it harder, making it more expensive for Australian families to deal with the essentials of life, as being critical for tax reform. Now in relation to a whole range of other tax measures, we have been open to discussion and I think Chris Bowen has made that clear.

JENNETT: Your broader observation of politics under Malcolm Turnbull, what dynamic is changing? Because it appears to be changing, gone is the name calling, some of the bluster, he is decidedly not using the word racism in relation to where you stood on free trade. Has Labor got a fix on him yet?

WONG: I think Australians everywhere welcomed the departure of Tony Abbott from the prime ministership and in part it's because he brought an aggression and a brutality to his partisanship which really got in the way of the national interest. I think the issue for Mr Turnbull is twofold. One is, he has signed up to many of the things that were unpopular that Tony Abbott put in place, the values of the 2014 Budget, which were all about going after those who have little. He signed up to that.

JENNETT: He is going about dismantling some of that.

WONG: And I'm pleased that Labor has had another win there in standing against those cuts. But I think the other point about Malcolm Turnbull is, as we know, whatever his personal views on a whole range of social issues, he has had to agree with the hard right in the Liberal Party on these issues and whilst he might not agree with them, he is kowtowing to them on some of those social issues.

JENNETT: For those observations and your insights into the negotiation process, Penny Wong, thank you.

WONG: Good to be with you.