Interview with Kieran Gilbert – Sky News AM Agenda – Tuesday 28 January 2014






SUBJECT / S: Peter Cosgrove as incoming Governor-General, Free Trade Agreement with Japan

KIERAN GILBERT: Hello and welcome to the program. Prime Minister Tony Abbott will later today announce General Peter Cosgrove will be Australia’s 26th Governor General, I’m told that news conference expected here in Canberra early afternoon. On another matter, a free trade agreement set to be signed with Japan mid-year, so a lot to discuss on a range of various issues this morning. Coming up, Liberal frontbencher Senator Scott Ryan also Labor frontbencher Matt Thistlethwaite. First though to the Shadow Communications Minister, Jason Clare, who joins me live from Sydney. Peter Cosgrove to be the next Governor-General, Jason Clare, your thoughts?

JASON CLARE: Good morning Kieran. Well if it is true, I think its great news. Peter Cosgrove is a great Australian; I think he will be a first class Governor-General. It must be said, following the footsteps of another first class Governor-General, Quentin Bryce. It shouldn’t go unremarked that in this year, the Centenary of WWI, that Peter Cosgrove, if he becomes Governor-General, will play a very important role amongst others in helping us to remember those important events, that baptism of fire, that helped in many respects form the modern Australia that we have today, and in this year I think it’s a great decision if the Prime Minister makes that announcement today.

GILBERT: That expected at one o’clock this afternoon, here in Canberra. Onto various other issues, Japan Free Trade Agreement, reports today in The Australian, suggesting that is set to be signed to coincide with the visit by Shinzo Abe, the Japanese Prime Minister, in July of this year, follows on from a free trade agreement secured with Korea. They’re making a fair bit of progress, the Coalition, on these bilateral ree trade deals, aren’t they?

CLARE: Well again, Kieran, this is good if this news is correct. Good for Australia, good for trade. We’ll see during the course of this year whether that agreement can be struck. It’s the culmination of work of both political parties over a number of years. Japan, obviously, will want to see even more access to Australia’s car market. The key test here, the key barometer will be beef exports and how we can continue to expand our exports of beef into Japan.

It’s a business that’s worth more than a billion dollars to Australian farmers already, and the key test here is does this Free Trade Agreement, if it’s struck, mean greater access for Australian farmers to that large Japanese beef market.

GILBERT: Julie Bishop has said over the last couple of days, the Foreign Minister, that the United States is Australia’s most important economic relationship, greater than that of China, even though the trade relationship with China is larger. One of your colleagues, Sam Dastiyari, the Labor Senator from New South Wales, has written in the Financial Review this morning calling this a foreign policy stumble, and says that he’s worried about this pivot in foreign policy wholly towards the United States. Do you agree with him?

CLARE: Well, Kieran, you’ll be hard pressed to find a stronger supporter of our relationship with the US than me, but I think what Julie Bishop has impressed upon her friends in the US in this speech is a false argument. Our strongest trade relationship, our biggest trade relationship is with China. The biggest foreign investment relationship is with the EU. It is true to say that our biggest trade and foreign relationship is with the US. The point of all of this is that all of those relationships are important, and it’s a false argument to try and pick one above the other. We need to work very hard to continue to grow all of those relationships, and if we’re successful there, it means success for all Australians.

GILBERT: Is it a foreign policy stumble as Sam Dastiyari put it?

CLARE: Well, this idea that one relationship is more important than another in building a strong Australian economy I think is wrong. We know how important all of those relationships are, and given the fact that over the course of the next 20 years we’re going to see three billion middle class consumers in Asia, not just China but Japan, South Korea, all through South East Asia, we need to make sure that we’re focused not just in the Northern Hemisphere, but with our Southern Hemisphere neighbours, and our near North Asian neighbours and continue to grow Australian investment and Australian trade with that part of the world as well.

GILBERT: I want to get back to the US focus in just a moment. First, though, to some domestic issues, Fairfax reports allegations of kickbacks and bribes being paid by companies to union officials in order to win multi-million dollar contracts. This has got to be a worry not just to the labour movement but to the Labor Party that receives funds from these unions.

CLARE: Well, this is pretty simple; if the law has been broken then people should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law. There are serious allegations that are in the newspapers today by serious journalists, people like Nick McKenzie and Richard Baker, people I have enormous respect for, Walkley Award winning journalists. If people have broken the law, they should be referred to the police and the Fair Work Commission. I understand that has already happened, and if people have broken the law, they should have the book thrown at them, prosecuted to the full extent of the law.

GILBERT: Nick McKenzie has also said this morning, incidentally, that there’s a risk here of Labor receiving tainted funds and flagged further reports along those lines over coming days.

CLARE: Well, I haven’t seen what Nick has said in that regard, so it’s difficult for me to comment on that.

GILBERT: Are you worried about that though, given millions have gone from the CFMEU to the Labor party?

CLARE: Well, Kieran, it’s difficult for me to comment on that given that I haven’t seen what Nick has said or those reports, I’ll defer comments on that until I see those reports.

GILBERT: Let’s turn back to the US. I know you have been to the US Leadership Dialogue in the last couple of weeks. Can we expect more of the same in the United States, i.e. gridlock in Washington, what would you anticipate President Obama’s goal will be this week with his State of the Union?

CLARE: Well, it’s the start of the American political year as well as the start of the Australian political year. The State of the Union is an opportunity for President Obama to set out his agenda for the year. It’s one of the great ironies of American politics that the Commander-in-Chief has more power outside of the United States than he does inside. That’s best demonstrated by the gridlock seen in Congress, Government being shut down last year. This time last year when the President gave his State of the Union address, you’ll remember his plea to the Congress and to the American people for legislation to tackle guns and what we saw at Sandy Hook, and he’s been frustrated in that attempt just as he’d been frustrated over the course of the year with immigration reform and increasing the minimum wage. I think the President, I expect, will reach out across the aisle and try to get more of his legislative agenda passed by this Congress but I also expect him to implement other things that he can do without needing legislation from the Congress through Presidential Executive action. It’s one of those frustrating things about politics where you can’t get the two parties to work together. We’ve seen examples of that in the US and we’ve got to avoid that in Australia.

GILBERT: Do you think that Australia is avoiding that at the moment, that there is enough consensus politics because certainly Bill Shorten seems to be, well he says he’s going to be constructive; he’s been fairly obstructionist thus far?

CLARE: Well, I think it’s very important in opposition that we support the things that we think are good, and oppose the things that we think are bad. My view is Tony Abbott lost a lot of credibility in opposition by just saying ‘no’ to everything, so as I have given you an example on this program, where good appointments are made like Peter Cosgrove, it’s important to back them, if free trade agreements that help Australian business get across the line, it’s important that we back them. But where governments make big mistakes, like they did with Holden, like they did with breaking the promise to build the NBN by the end of 2016, or by going back on commitments to fund Gonski and money for our schools, that it’s also important that in opposition we hold the Government to account.

GILBERT: And today the first day after the Australia Day holiday, traditionally marks the start of the political year in Australia, really, Jason Clare. A few litmus tests looming for the Government and the new Labor leadership as well, with the Griffith by-election, a couple of state elections, a likely re-run in WA Senate as well.

CLARE: Yeah, if you don’t like politics turn the TV off for the next 12 months because we’ve got elections in Tassie, in South Australia, there’s a by-election in Queensland, an election in Victoria, the prospect of a Senate election in WA, so a lot of politics, a lot of elections, and first of those is the Griffith by-election in two weeks’ time as you rightly say.

GILBERT: And do you accept that that will be a litmus test of Bill Shorten and how he’s travelling?

CLARE: I think that that election will be tight, it will be a tough one because there’s a big personal vote for Kevin Rudd up there, but Tony Abbott is also unpopular, as I’ve said he’s made a number of mistakes, and Queenslanders aren’t stupid, they know what Campbell Newman did after he was elected, he had a Commission of Audit then he cut all of these services to Queenslanders. And Queenslanders, when they go to the polls in two weeks will have that in the back of their mind thinking about Tony Abbott’s Commission of Audit and the cuts that might mean for their community as well as the prospect of having to pay $6 every time you get sick and have to go to the doctor.

GILBERT: Jason Clare thanks for your time this morning.

CLARE: Thanks very much, Kieran.