Interview with Greg Jennett – ABC News 24 – Wednesday, 21 September 2016


SUBJECT/S: Trans-Pacific Partnership; Refugee intake; Marriage equality

GREG JENNET: Jason Clare, Malcolm Turnbull’s been using his trip to the United States to try and apply some more pressure for America to ratify this Trans-Pacific Partnership. What’s your reading of the likelihood of that happening?

JASON CLARE, SHADOW MINISTER FOR TRADE AND INVESTMENT, SHADOW MINISTER FOR RESOURCES AND DNORTHERN AUSTRALIA: Greg, we are all watching that very carefully. What the Obama Administration has said is that they’re hoping that the TPP would be ratified by the US Congress between the US election and the inauguration of the new President in early January.

JENNET: Why would that happen, by the way? Why is that window likely?

CLARE: I think that is because both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump have said they’re opposed to the TPP and the Administration thinks the best chance they have of success is to have that vote in the Congress after the election rather than during the election campaign. That doesn’t mean it will get up, though. Some people have said they’re optimistic that it will happen but I still think that it’s fair to say it’s unlikely that the TPP would be ratified by the Congress in that time. That then begs the question, if the TPP is not ratified by the US Congress what happens next? 

JENNET: That is the question. So is some sort of refashioning of the agreement possible? Or possible in a way that could satisfy the US Congress in your view?

CLARE: It’s a good question. The ‘pivot’ or the ‘rebalance’ of US focus to the Asia-Pacific is more than just about more warships in the Pacific, it’s more than just the dispute in the South China Sea. The Obama Administration has been focused on building soft power or economic influence in Asia, and that makes sense given the rise of Asia and it’s importance to the global economy. If the TPP doesn’t happen that creates a real vacuum in the region. That could be replaced by another economic agreement called RCEP, where the Chinese are involved but the United States is not. Or potentially it could involve a repechage or a renegotiation of the TPP by all 12 countries to come to a different form of agreement that the US Congress passes.

JENNET: This sounds like an argument by an Australian for America to do things which, quite possibly, its own voting public might decide they’re just not interested in.

CLARE: We have to wait and see. It’s a fair point to say that people around the world, particularly in the US and in the UK – we have seen that recently with Brexit and the rise of Trump – feel frustrated, feel like they’re not better off as a result of some of the big economic reforms that have happened around the world, the big trade deals. We’re seeing a response to that with a rejection of the TPP by the major political candidates in the United States, Brexit in the UK and even here, closer to home, the rise of parties like One Nation. I don’t think that trade reforms and trade deals are the reason for that but they’re an easy or a simple lightning rod for that frustration.

JENNET: Is it your aim as you gather speed in this trade portfolio for Labor, to tackle some of that rhetoric and in effect change some of the things Labor had to say in the last Parliament about the Chinese free trade agreement, for instance, with one Labor figure calling it pre-amendment, a bad agreement?

CLARE: I don’t think trade deals or trade reform have ever been very popular. Thinking back about the big tariff cuts that the Hawke Government, the Keating Government, and even the Whitlam government did. They weren’t popular then but they were very, very important in raising the living standards of all Australians. We need to focus on the things that are going to improve the living standards of people in Australia, in the US and in the UK if we’re going to build more support for these types of trade deals.

JENNET: That’s the challenge ahead.Can I take you to another area of regional cooperation that is in the news right now. That is the refugee intake, with the Prime Minister confirming a permanent level just under 19,000 a year, with some central American component. Is that acceptable broadly do you think to the Labor Party?

CLARE: I think we can do more. What Malcolm Turnbull’s announced in the US is effectively what they announced in the election campaign. Labor believes we can double our refugee intake, taking it from about 13,500 to 27,000 by 2025. So I think the Prime Minister can be more ambitious and do more.

JENNET: Just finally on the plebiscite, the same-sex marriage plebiscite, George Brandis has really opened an invitation I suppose for negotiation on this. What elements of it do you think Labor would engage in negotiation upon, because there are limited elements, there’s the public funding and the date. What is negotiable?

CLARE: I think it’s unlikely that we support a plebiscite in any form. Bill Shorten has made the point that at the next Caucus meeting he will make the argument that we shouldn’t support it. To understand why Greg, I think we need to think about what is the purpose of this change to the Marriage Act. Who benefits most? It’s gay and lesbian people.

All of the opinion polling I have seen shows that the majority of gay and lesbian people don’t want this change in the law via a plebiscite. In fact I saw one poll that said 85 percent of gay and lesbian people don’t want this change to happen via a plebiscite, they want the Parliament to act, the Parliament to vote.

Remember Greg there are two types of people in the Coalition that are arguing the case for a plebiscite. They are the people who don’t want the law to change and they see this as a way of potentially frustrating that and there are other people in the Liberal and the National Party who do want the law to change but don’t have the courage to vote their conscience in the Parliament. My message to them is just grow a backbone, do your job, let’s have a vote in the Parliament and get this done.

JENNET: It doesn’t sound like much room for negotiation there. Jason Clare we will leave it at that point. Thank you.

CLARE: Thanks very much.