Interview with Janine Perrett – Sky News – Tuesday, 17 January 2017

SUBJECT/S: Dead TPP, Brexit, Trump, South China Sea, One Nation, Inequality, Refugees in Fairfield

JOURNALIST: Does Labor still believe in free trade?

JASON CLARE, SHADOW MINISTER FOR TRADE AND INVESTMENT, SHADOW MINISTER FOR RESOURCES AND NORTHERN AUSTRALIA: Labor’s got a strong record when it comes to trade, better than the Liberal Party. When you think about what’s made Australia the big open economy that we have in the 21st Century it’s the tariff cuts that were made by Whitlam, Hawke and Keating that have had a bigger impact of creating more jobs and more businesses, than the free trade agreements that have been signed in recent times. 

JOURNALIST: That’s the point though isn’t it? You have a history of supporting free trade. Why now do you seem to back away from it on the TPP?

CLARE: What we’re saying is we support good trade agreements that create jobs, we don’t support dead agreements that don’t. The important thing to understand with the TPP, it’s all pretty complicated, is the way the agreement works is unless America signs up, it doesn’t happen. It’s like a balloon that’s pricked.

JOURNALIST: Why kill it now? You talk about historically….

CLARE: That’s a question for Donald Trump isn’t it?

JOURNALIST: I’ve talked to trade experts who say it might be dead right at this moment but it might come back. Now I was in Punta del Este in 1986 when the Hawke Government led the world on free trade. The rest of the world wasn’t coming to the party, they were all protectionist. It was Ministers who stood firm and led the way. Surely with the rise of protectionism and Trump, this is exactly the time you don’t back track, you don’t go backwards on it.

CLARE: Well I’ve said that the agreement has merit, has modest economic benefits for Australia. Strategically it’s even more important because it helps to bring the countries of the Pacific rim together. One of its weaknesses is it doesn’t involve China. If we’re really going to get our act together in this region you need the United States and China in the one free trade agreement.

JOURNALIST: But that’s the point of the TPP it is a strategic one to keep China out. It was meant to boost the US wasn’t it?

CLARE: Well here’s my thinking. We need peace and security in this region if we’re all going to prosper. A key part of that is making sure that these two great powers, the emerging great power of China and the United States work well together. If they come to blows we’re all buggered. A key part of that is making sure the governments talk to each other, their militaries work with each other and a trade agreement that helps to further enmesh their economies together. Now we’re getting into the detail here but the TPP doesn’t include China. The other free trade agreement that’s being negotiated at the moment is called RCEP, it involves China but not the United States. I think best case scenario is an agreement that’s APEC wide, that it involves all of them.

JOURNALIST: So actually you’re shifting the goal posts. You’re not saying you’re against TPP because it’s dead, you’re saying you want an agreement that includes China?

CLARE: No

JOURNALIST: Because the TPP definitely did not include China.

CLARE: I know that. It’s not perfect, it’s not perfect by a long shot. The big problem with the TPP is it ain’t going to happen because it requires the Yanks to sign up to it and they’ve said no. What’s most likely to happen now is the other eleven countries might decide to develop their own TPP without the United States, or momentum might shift to this other agreement called RCEP or potentially what’s being talked about in the press today is that Australia might try and sign up to free trade agreements with three of the TPP countries that we don’t have agreements with at the moment and that’s Canada, Mexico and Peru. Now they’re all good worthwhile things to investigate but it’s a silly, lazy idea to introduce legislation into the Parliament to try and implement a dead agreement.

JOURNALIST: But isn’t it important for us to show strength on this? You’ve written articles saying how important trade is to Australia. Why at this crucial time, when you have the rise of Trumpism, when you’ve got One Nation gloating, saying you’re taking their policy, why wouldn’t you stand firm and stick with the policy you’ve always believed in?

CLARE: It’s important to argue the case but it’s a silly argument….

JOURNALIST: Well you’re not arguing the case if you’re saying but actually it’s dead we’re going to back off now, we’re going to give up, we’re going to put our hands up.

CLARE: Janine you know I’m not a fan of Tony Abbott but at least he introduced laws into the Parliament to implement real agreements that created real jobs. What’s being talked about here is effectively a distraction to introduce laws to implement a dead agreement that won’t create one job because…

JOURNALIST: I’m lost here. Are you against it because it’s dead? Because it doesn’t create jobs? Because it doesn’t have China?

CLARE: I’m against it Janine because nothing we do here is going to make the TPP exist. Unless America signs up to the TPP it doesn’t exist and Donald Trump has said step one, as soon as he becomes President of the United States, he’s going to pull out.

JOURNALIST: So Donald Trump is saying a lot of things that aren’t necessarily in our interest. Do we just throw our hands up on it or do we play the role we have always done which is that we speak to America as an ally?

CLARE: Sure you argue the case and we need to argue the case about why free trade in our region involving the United States, China, Australia and all of the Asia Pacific is in our national interest and the global interest.

JOURNALIST: How do you argue that when you’ve got the main opposition party saying we’re not even going to vote on it, it’s dead? Surely to argue for something you need to support it?

CLARE: Are you saying there that we should introduce legislation to implement a whole bunch, sign up to all these different organisations that don’t exist? We may as well introduce laws to sign up to the League of Nations. It doesn’t exist either. The simple way the TPP works is unless America and Japan both decide to ratify it, it doesn’t exist. 

JOURNALIST: Okay, you talked about tensions in the area. Now we all know that trade is one of the key things that helps ease tensions and keeps a region stable. The comments last week – well the comments by Donald Trump – but the comments by the Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, his potential Secretary of State saying he’s going to – he had questions about China gaining access to the islands in the South China Sea, that certainly ratcheted up tensions. How concerned are you in the broader sense – I know trade’s your area, but when you hear that kind of rhetoric and it’s very clear that Donald Trump is taking on China, not just in trade. This is a risk for our region isn’t it, more than just for trade?

CLARE: They’re all interconnected, as I said in order for us all to prosper we need peace. Back in the Cold War days Americans used to talk about ‘Mutually Assured Destruction’, well you could talk in the modern era here about ‘Mutually Assured Economic Destruction’. There was no economic relationship between the United States and the Soviets, they didn’t trade a lot. But certainly the economies of China and the United States are very closely connected and if we get into a situation where there’s conflict breaking out in the South China Sea or a trade war like the one that’s being talked about – Donald Trump’s threatened to impose tariffs on Chinese goods coming into the country in the order of 45 per cent, that’d encourage retaliation by China – all of that is bad not just for the United States and China but for Australia as well, Warwick McKibbin said that that could throw us into recession, and for the whole global economy.

JOURNALIST: So if you’re concerned about that risk what message is Labor sending, what are you going to do to try and keep the free trade message alive?

CLARE: I think APEC is key to this, rewind back to comments I made earlier. It’s key to get China and the United States at the same table, enmeshed in the same free trade agreement to build trust, bring those economies even closer together. It helps to reduce that tension and reduce that mistrust. China always worries that the United States is trying to contain it. The United States feels like they’re being ripped off by China. Agreements which exclude one or the other don’t help that cause, that’s why APEC is the perfect vehicle to bring those two big powers, big economies together, as well as Australia and the rest of the region.

JOURNALIST: You say the trade deal is dead because Donald Trump said it is, there are many Republicans who support it. Do you believe everything else Donald Trump says, or do you think he like some that he might change his view and it’s worth trying on some things?

CLARE: Do you really think he’s going to change his view on this?

JOURNALIST: I have no idea what’s going on inside that man’s mind.

CLARE: I hesitate to use the words, because they’re awful words, but during the course of the campaign he described the TPP as effectively the rape of his country. Awful words, don’t bear repeating, but it gives you an idea of the strong way he feels about the TPP. In his first YouTube video after he won the election he said his first order of business is to withdraw from this. It’s not going to happen. We should be focusing, Government and the Opposition, on ‘what’s the alternative?’ Is that going to be the 11 other countries working alone and what’s the benefit of that for Australia? Should we be looking at alternate FTA’s with Canada, Mexico as well as Peru?

JOURNALIST: Mexico would be open to trade agreements I think if [Trump] rips up NAFTA, wouldn’t they?

CLARE: Let’s head to where the real opportunities are; put the pedal to the metal on free trade agreements with countries like Indonesia, our next door neighbour, 250 million people, potentially one of the five biggest economies in the world by the middle of this century, trade’s massively underdone. We need to build a strong close trade relationship with Indonesia.

JOURNALIST: For somebody who says they believe in free trade, how concerned are you to see One Nation tweet today or comment that you, by not supporting the TPP, that you’re following their policies. We do have looking locally – forget Trump – locally we’ve seen a rise in protectionism; Nick Xenophon has some very protectionist ideas. How do you maintain the belief, the Party of Hawke and Keating with these other pressures if you’re ceding to side with them?

CLARE: All I’m explaining is it’s common sense, if the deal is dead it’s not worth pushing legislation through.

JOURNALIST: Well what about the general rise in protectionism here? We’re seeing it in many things.

CLARE: This is a bigger discussion. We’ve seen this with Brexit in the UK, with the rise of Trump and in some respects with the success of One Nation at the last election. Over the last ten years since the GFC you’ve seen people’s real incomes go backwards, people feel like they’re worse off today than they were ten years ago. In America for example there are a lot of people whose average income is less than it was when Lehman Brothers collapsed. That’s why people are angry. They’re frustrated they feel like politicians don’t get it. That the policies that we talk about in Parliament don’t make their lives better. I think that explains why you’ve seen these parties rise up.

JOURNALIST: But that’s also a communication problem isn’t it? That you’re not getting the message out there?

CLARE: Look part of it is communication, part of it is what people feel when they open their wallet or when they look at their bank account and they say my salary hasn’t gone up, I can’t afford to pay to take the kids to the movies or on a holiday.

JOURNALIST: So what do you say to people who say this comment this week on TPP is just a sop to Queensland voters? That like the Coalition you’re worried about the rise of One Nation too?

CLARE: All we’re saying is why are we debating legislation to implement a dead agreement? It’s a waste of time.

JOURNALIST: Are you worried about the rise of One Nation?

CLARE: We’ve got to be focused on making sure we meet the needs and concerns of the people who have decided to put their vote in the One Nation box, rather than the Liberal Party or the Labor Party. They’ve given up on major parties, they don’t think we get it. They’re hurting. They are upset. It’s no good to just say they’re a bunch of racists because they’re not.

And the policy answers aren’t easy. Part of it’s these free trade agreements that we talk about. Part of it is raising minimum wages, so people have got a bit more money in their pocket but part of it is also this complicated debate about how do we make our economy more productive to create more jobs and more businesses. A big part of that is what we do in our schools, what we do with apprenticeships, what we do with our universities. What are we doing to create more science, and tech and engineering and mathematics jobs doesn’t happen quickly but it will be the things that sets us up for the future.

JOURNALIST: You mentioned Brexit before, Theresa May, the British Prime Minister is giving a major speech tonight to outline what kind of Brexit they’re going to have. A hard Brexit means they’re going to crash out and there will be problems, trade is one of the issues. The EU is still a major trading bloc, this is important to us. The government has looked at already doing a trade deal with a Britain outside the EU.

CLARE: As well as the EU, they’re looking at both.

JOURNALIST: As well as the EU. What do you want to see? Or what’s your concern tonight with a lot of people focusing now on Brexit and in the light of Donald Trump tending to back away from Europe last night? What are the dangers there for us and what’s happening with the breakup of Europe?

CLARE: Well there’s a lot of things happening in Europe this year. Remember we’ve got an election coming in Germany, as well as an election in France and an election in the Netherlands. Now the outcome of those elections could mean anything for the EU. So we have to wait and see what happens there.

Brexit presents opportunities for the UK to branch out on their own and sign up to free trade agreements with other countries. You’ve seen the new New Zealand Prime Minister out there campaigning to get their name in the rack as one of the countries that they sign up to an agreement with. The Australian Government has done that as well. The United States I suspect will do exactly the same thing. But that’s some time away. It will take two years.

JOURNALIST: Also it’s a move back to bi-lateral agreements. That whole multilateral trade, which the Hawke/ Keating Government did back then in 1986, that seems to be going.

CLARE: Two things. With the Hawke and the Keating Governments you saw that big multilateral effort but also unilateral effort. Don’t forget that those big tariff cuts by Hawke and Keating, that’s unilateral action. Making the decision to cut tariffs, to force Australian businesses to change the way they act, to make them more competitive, more productive. They had a bigger impact on the Australian economy than multilateral agreements or bilateral agreements.

JOURNALIST: You talked about One Nation, now your electorate covers an area that has a lot of Muslim people in it. Last night on Sky, Pauline Hanson said she wants to ban the burqa. She’s going to push for it in Queensland to ban it in government buildings, for car drivers. What did you think of that call?

CLARE: Well I think the PM got it right today. He said people should be able to wear what they want. He made the very valid point that where identification is important, and we had a recent example of that in a court case here in Sydney then certainly people shouldn’t be able to cover their face. But by and large we shouldn’t be telling people what they can and can’t wear.

JOURNALIST: Do you see a problem with having this discussion?

CLARE: Look it’s going to happen. I think you’re naive if you think you can say what you can and what you can’t talk about but you should just respond to it with facts.

JOURNALIST: Final question. There’s a story, and again it’s been raised yesterday in a number of media outlets that Fairfield Council, which again is in your electorate, is going to be taking half of those 12,000 Syrian refugees that Tony Abbott agreed to. There are concerns I think by the Mayor on the resources. That’s right in your electorate. Do you think that it’s fair that you get half the refugees in one place?

CLARE: It’s on the edge.

JOURNALIST: On the edge but it’s nearby. It’s going to affect you.

CLARE: My initial expectation when the 12,000 was announced was that we would see a large number of these refugees coming into places like Liverpool, Auburn and Bankstown which is in the heart of my electorate. I’ve seen this data which shows almost all of them are going into the Fairfield area which surprises me. Chris Bowen, who is the local member of that area, will tell you that there is a big Iraqi and Syrian population there. That partly explains it. Fairfield and Cabramatta, where I grew up, is a place that is very very good at settlement services and helping refugees get off the ground.

JOURNALIST: But still half of the whole intake in one area? It’s a concern isn’t it?

CLARE: Absolutely. I’m surprised at how big it is and I’ve worked in a very bi-partisan way with the government in trying to settle and implement this policy. I’d like to see them have a good hard look at this and see whether they are putting too many people in one place. I think we’d be better served by spreading people out a bit more.

JOURNALIST: Ok. Jason Clare thank you for your time tonight.

CLARE: Good on you thanks Janine.

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