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Transcript of interview with Ashleigh Gillon: Sky News: 6 March 2018: US Steel Tariffs; Adani

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SUBJECT/S: US Steel Tariffs, Adani

ASHLEIGH GILLON: Joining us live now from Adelaide is Nick Champion. He's the Shadow Assistant Minister for Manufacturing. Nick, I am going to get your thoughts on that Adani story in a moment, but first I invited you here to talk about the trade issue that is dominating debate here in Australia right around the world. Do you expect that these tariffs are just a negotiating tool from Donald Trump and that in the end Australia will be able to achieve some kind of exemption?

NICK CHAMPION: I'm afraid things are not very clear at the moment. The United States seems to have a very fixed position. The President's obviously announced these tariffs, and while there does seem to be some domestic opposition to them, it would seem that they apply across the board. It would seem that they threaten a tit for tat tariff war across the globe. That would be a very bad thing for global growth, it would be a very bad thing for all concerned, because everybody would lose in that situation.

It would seem from press reports that the Government put all its eggs in one basket. That is that we would get a country exclusion. It seems that is off the table now and we might be able to get company based exclusions. So I guess we hope that the Government's got a plan b and perhaps a plan c to deal with this situation. It seems to me that we have to work very hard to get company exemptions, because we have got a lot of skin in this game. In particular BlueScope exports to the United States and it's a very high figure, over $200 million of exports. Secondly we have to have a plan to deal with what might happen when Chinese steel makers who can't get into the United States start dumping their steel into secondary markets. That might mean that Australia faces artificially low steel prices, generated by steel exports being dumped onto the Australian market from China. So we are going to have to have the Anti-Dumping Commission and the Government looking very carefully at this. These decisions have very large ramifications for our local industry and so we hope that the Government are actually doing their job on this front.

GILLON: Is it really fair for you to be targeting the Government over this? Saying that they've got all their eggs in one basket. There were reports yesterday that Donald Trump had emphatically promised to exempt Australian steel and aluminium products from any tariffs when he met with Mr Turnbull mid last year. It was a promise witnessed by top ministers and officials. Is it really the Coalition Governments fault here or does it tell us more about the trust we should or shouldn't have in the US Presidents word.

CHAMPION: Well, maybe it tells us that both those things are true. That we have to be cautious when dealing with friends and allies around the world, and our rivals around the world, perhaps we shouldn't always take them at face value and perhaps we should have alternative plans ready to go. Because it would seem to me the situation the Government thought it was in has changed very dramatically in the space of 48 hours. They seem to have believed, whether it was justified or not, that they have this country exclusion. It now becomes clear that not only is the country exclusion off the table, but we will be applying on a company by company to the United States. Even that's not really consistent with the President's rhetoric at the moment. So we can all give some consideration for the situation the Government finds itself in, they still should have some plan for going forward. That is some plan for getting explicit company based exemptions to protect Australia exports and producers, but they are also going to have to have a separate plan to deal with this prospect of cheap Chinese steel that once would have gone to the US market now finding its way into secondary markets. And you can imagine that will artificially lower the price of Chinese steel exported to Australia via a very large multiple. That in itself could cause problems for our domestic steel makers for the domestic markets. They're really going to have to think very hard about this. They will have the oppositions support for whatever measures they see fit, but they have got to actually have those measures in place well before these tariffs start to hit.

GILLON: I understand that several Government ministers are working quite frantically on this issue at the moment, as I am sure we can all imagine. Just on that other story that I mentioned, the story from my colleague Kieran Gilbert this morning. He was reporting that a Labor frontbencher told him Bill Shorten has lost the plot when it comes to the Adani coal mine. The quote is "Bill Shorten is on a frolic of his own, against the party position". Are those sentiments that you've heard colleagues express, are those sentiments that you agree with?

CHAMPION: You have a statement from Bill's office and you would expect me to repeat the basic rhetoric of that statement. That is that our position on Adani has not changed. We have always been sceptical about it, sceptical about its ability to stack up economically, that is to get finance either from Australian or international financiers, or from super funds or banks around the world. And secondly that it has to stack up environmentally, because of course while jobs in Queensland in mining and other areas, are important, tourism is a massive export and domestic industry for Queensland and we don't want to see anything that threatens that. Our position has not changed, it has been remarkably consistent for a long time in my mind. I haven't heard anybody dissent in the caucus room or elsewhere about that and I find that the prospect of responding to anonymous comments a little difficult to do. Because of course with the cloak of anonymity people can perhaps indulge in the sort of rhetorically flourishes that they just wouldn't had they had to put their name to it. So I guess it's always a bit difficult dealing

with these sorts of criticisms when they are made. We would rather they not be made, and if people have got something to say they should say it within the party room or within the Shadow Cabinet, or wherever this person might be, and get it off their chest there.

GILLON: Kieran's source also saying "if he thinks he can outflank the greens, he's kidding" and this person also pointed out you can't win an election without a number of seats like Herbert in Queensland. This source said, the electorate of Herbert loves Adani. Is the strongest answer on Adani all about winning the Batman election, and how is Labor meant to deal with that quandary of winning votes in Queensland as well as an inner city seat in Melbourne, like Batman.

CHAMPION: I think you are confusing the prospects of a mine, the economic and environmental cases of a particular mine. We've put in place our position pretty clearly over a long period of time, and Mark Butler has given some very meaty speeches to the Sydney Institute and others about the energy transformation that is going on around the world, and the decline of demand for thermal coal, and the increase across the world on renewables. And South Australia is the epicentre of those sorts of shifts. We know they are not easy shifts they are difficult shifts to make, but they are shifts that are being made all across the world, it doesn't matter which market you are talking about. The second thing is the electoral implications of by-elections and federal elections. Labor has always had an ability to appeal to people across this continent, no matter whether they live in far north Queensland or country South Australia, or inner city Melbourne or anywhere else. There have always been people who believe in Labor because we have the best policies on health and education, on jobs and on industrial relations and our appeal has been around for a century and I expect that this next election, like the last election, we will go in with everybody talking about our difficulties and we will emerge having won seats and won government and we will commence a program to govern this country in a united and sensible way.

GILLON: Very optimistic not to end on for you Nick Champion. I appreciate you joining us live from Adelaide.

CHAMPION: Thanks so much Ashleigh.