Interview ABC Weekend Breakfast Sunday, 22 January 2017



SUBJECT/S: Dead TPP, Baird resignation, Acland mine expansion, NDIS Review

JOURNALIST: Jason Clare is the Shadow Minister for Trade and Investment and he joins us now in the studio. Jason Clare, welcome.


JOURNALIST: What does the Trump Presidency mean for Australia particularly given your portfolio areas of trade?

CLARE: Well the first thing is it means the TPP is dead. That big trade agreement of 12 countries in the Asia Pacific includes a clause that says if America doesn’t sign up then the whole agreement doesn’t exist.

Donald Trump’s made it clear from day one that he’s not going to sign that agreement. The White House website a few moments after he was sworn in as President issued a statement saying that the US would withdraw from that agreement. So that means that agreement’s gone and for Australia we now need to look at other trade options.

JOURNALIST: So is there any sense that the countries that still want the TPP to go ahead will then simply draft up something in line with that?

CLARE: Well they could. The other 11 countries could decide to put together an alternate agreement. But the Government has already said that if America is not part of that agreement then it changes the economics substantially. It may not be as good for Australia. I’ve asked the Government for some economic modelling on what it would mean for Australia if there was a TPP without the United States. They said they don’t have any economic modelling so we have to wait and see on that front. What we do know is that Donald Trump is not going to sign the TPP. So we need to look at what are the other options for Australia.

They include making sure that we sign up to agreements with countries like Indonesia, our next door neighbour which has a quarter of a billion people. They’ll be one of the biggest economies in the world by the middle of the century and trade is massively underdone with Indonesia at the moment. We could do a lot better there. Same with India, the Government promised they’d have a trade agreement with India two years ago and we’re still waiting on that front.

And there’s also the opportunity for an alternate type of regional trade agreement. The TPP was led by the Obama Administration. There’s an alternate agreement led by the Chinese called RCEP that includes India, Japan as well as Australia and all the ASEAN countries. I suspect with the Americans retreating away from the TPP the Chinese may step up now and try and finalise that agreement.

JOURNALIST: Given the challenges though in piecing together these big multilateral trade deals, is that something that’s still worth pursuing from an Australia perspective or should the Government be focussing more on direct bilateral relationships particularly given what’s happening in Europe with the UK Brexiting?

CLARE: Well the biggest impact you can have is what you do here at home, unilateral action. The action that Bob Hawke and Paul Keating took in cutting tariffs helped to open up our economy, create lots more jobs as well as create new businesses. We acted alone, made our businesses more productive and more competitive and that’s had a massive impact creating 25 years of uninterrupted economic growth.

But we should do both. We should look a bilateral agreements like the ones I talked about with Indonesia and India and where’s there’s an opportunity to bring the countries of the region together we should and I think the best form of agreement would include the United States and China. They’re the two big super powers and our prosperity in this century relies on the peace and security in our region. If we can bring those two big countries together in one agreement, governments talking together, militaries talking together and a trade agreement that further enmeshes the United States and China together – that’s good for all of us.

JOURNALIST: But how likely is that though when we’re also seeing signals from US President Donald Trump around protectionism, lifting tariffs and what not, doing the exact opposite of what you said?

CLARE: That’s right we’re not going to see that in the short term. I think that’s much harder, but we should use that as an ambition. APEC, the body that Labor helped to set up under Bob Hawke is the sort of organisation that could eventually get us there to an Asia-Pacific wide agreement. That should be our ambition. But in the meantime we should look at other opportunities.

Now the TPP is dead. There’s no use us trying to implement a dead agreement. We need to look at alternate trade agreements that will help create new jobs and opportunities particularly given that right at the moment unemployment is going up in Australia, economic growth is going down. Rather than focussing on a dead agreement Malcolm Turnbull and the Government should be focussed on new opportunities and new trade agreements.

JOURNALIST: More broadly we’re seeing the rise of this sort of protectionist sentiment across the world obviously in the United States and Europe and perhaps here at home too when you look at some of the Senate crossbenchers. What does that mean for you and for the Government in terms of promoting a message that free trade is good for Australia? Do you have to change the way you craft the message that you sell to the Australian public?

CLARE: You’re right with Brexit, Trump, One Nation you see evidence of protectionism.

People are hurting. Ever since the GFC I think you’ve seen people’s wages falling, people feeling like politics and politicians aren’t listening to them or at least developing the policies that are helping them.

In America for example, lots of people are still earning less today than they were back when the GFC hit and Lehman Brothers collapsed.

The important message that we need to keep telling is that we are a trading nation. The key to Australia’s success is what we can sell in goods and services overseas, particularly in Asia. As Asia grows and there’s more and more middle class people – three billion by 2030 – it’s what we can generate here in Australia and sell to the world in an open market that is going to make us even wealthier.

Those tariff cuts that Bob Hawke and Paul Keating made, they’ve helped to make us wealthier over the last 30 years and we’ve got to continue that. But they don’t come quickly, they don’t come easily and so it’s a hard task to argue that case.

JOURNALIST: Alright well let’s turn our attention to other politics a little bit closer to home to this week and we’ve seen the announcement in NSW of Premier Mike Baird announcing his retirement from politics, somewhat of a shock.

CLARE: Bit of a surprise, yeah.

JOURNALIST: Are there implications do you see more broadly at a Federal level of what this signals about where politics is at of course preceding the return to Parliament?

CLARE: It’s not good for the Government because Mike Baird’s one of the more popular Liberals in Australia so him leaving the political scene creates more instability for the Liberal Party and for the Government.

It’s just another reminder I guess about modern politics and how it can burn people up and churn people out even quicker. Mike made the point that he’s got very particular, very sad family reasons for leaving. His mum and dad are very sick. His sister is unwell as well.

He’s done some good things, he made some big mistakes as well. The decision on the greyhounds has proven to be one of those very big mistakes.

I guess it’s a time to reflect on just how fast politics moves, how quick it can churn people out.

We should also remember that it’s not just politicians who have families they need to look after, it’s everybody. In a busy life where people are trying to manage two jobs and a household and look after elderly mum and dad and try to find enough money to look after the kids and to potentially help them get out of the house when they get older, these are challenges for all of us. 

JOURNALIST: Is this turnover that we’re seeing in politics at the moment necessarily a bad thing? I mean Mike Baird came from the banking sector he obviously can go back and find work in private industry. Is there benefits in having political who come in for a couple of years do what they want to do then leave?

CLARE: I guess you want both, you want a mix of experience as well as new blood. When I was in the private sector one of my bosses said that the most valuable employee is the person who has just arrived because they can tell you what you’re doing wrong.

And I remember when I first got elected I thought that. I was looking at the way the political system worked and thought we need to change this, we need to change that. But a bit of experience is important as well, so having both works.

JOURNALIST: I want to just touch on another issue as Shadow Resources Minister. We saw on Friday the announcement of the $900 million expansion of a mine in Queensland. Is that something that you support and think is a good idea?

CLARE: So the Federal Government’s approved it. There’s one more step to take, which is the Queensland Government having to approve that and they have to go through a water licence process.

Coal is a very important part of our energy mix and keeping the lights on here in Australia, but it is also part of the energy mix for the world. If you look at how China and India for example are going to produce electricity over the course of this century, coal is a big part of that.

It’s not just thermal coal which is producing electricity, but metallurgical coal as well which is important for making steel. You can’t make steel without it and we often forget that.

Projects like this are also helping to create even more jobs in Queensland which at the moment we can do with that.

JOURNALIST: Speaking of fuel sources for that energy mix, gas is a very important part of that energy mix at the moment. There is a gas shortage in Australia, we’re exporting a lot of gas overseas now. What’s your view on State Governments putting moratoriums and bans on fracking? What’s Federal Labor’s stand on this given the problems in the energy sector?

CLARE: Our view is States should determine the rules in their own jurisdictions and where they decide to go ahead with coal seam gas production there’s one more step they need to take, which is to go through the water trigger which we’ve introduced into the environmental legislation at a Commonwealth level to make sure that it doesn’t affect the water table.

More broadly on gas, you’re right we’re producing more gas than ever before. We’ll become the greatest gas exporter, I think by 2020, passing Qatar. But it’s important that we not only have gas for the market overseas but gas here for domestic production for manufacturers as well.

So at the last election we put forward a policy that said there must be a national interest test whenever new gas production comes on line to look at both exports and the potential for more domestic production.

JOURNALIST: Before you go I did want to ask you one more question. It’s not necessarily related to your portfolio but it’s a huge issue and one which Labor was the creator of. We understand that there’s going to be a review and this was something that was anticipated, but already there are people who are nervous that this might affect the NDI Scheme will undergo certain changes that may affect the outcomes that may be delivered?

CLARE: What we don’t want to see is services cut or the essence of the NDIS being ripped apart.

We’re really proud of the National Disability Insurance Scheme, it was set up by Labor. It’s the biggest social reform since Medicare.  We want to make sure that it continues to roll out. It’s rolling out now in my neck of the woods in Western Sydney.

The review’s a good thing, we do need to have a review, there was always going to be a review. But it shouldn’t be an excuse to cut the guts out of the National Disability Insurance Scheme. It’s too important for people with disabilities. We need to make sure it works and if there’s efficiencies that can be made terrific, but don’t cut the guts out of it.

JOURNALIST: Jason Clare, Shadow Minister for Trade, thank you very much for joining us this morning.

CLARE: My pleasure, thanks very much.