Interview with David Speers – SKY News PM Agenda – Wednesday, 16 November 2016


SUBJECT/S: Trade; 457 Visas, US Alliance

DAVID SPEERS: Growing ramifications of Donald Trump’s victory last week in the United States. Here in Australia we are seeing debates on a few fronts: 457 visas, the clamp down on foreign workers, which both sides are now talking about. Trade as well. Are we going to be seeing a push to more protectionism here? Are people now nervous about globalisation, free trade and so on?

Well Labor’s Shadow Trade Minister has written an opinion piece today in which he says that trade deals aren’t the reason why people are hurting, but they are a lightning rod for the anger and frustration people are feeling. Jason Clare joins me now. Thanks for your time this afternoon. Let me just ask you what you think the lessons are from Donald Trump’s victory for politicians here in Australia?

JASON CLARE, SHADOW MINISTER FOR TRADE AND INVESTMENT: Well I think one of the lessons from Trump’s victory, but perhaps Brexit as well, is that there are a lot of middle class and working class people out there that are angry and frustrated. People that are hurting because their standard of living feels like it is has been going backwards over the last few years. It’s not just a feeling, it’s a fact.  Since the GFC, in the UK and the US, there are a lot of people that are earning less today than they were ten years ago. You are seeing some of that recently in Australia as well. When people feel like they’re going backwards and they feel like their governments aren’t listening to them and putting in policies that lift their wages or create more jobs, they are likely to lash out. That’s what we’ve seen in the UK and that’s what we saw last week in the US.

SPEERS: Are they particularly attracted to the sort of things Donald Trump said during the election campaign: rip up trade deals, erect tariff barriers, and protect local jobs?

CLARE: Potentially, one of the points I make in that op-ed today David, is that trade is pretty unpopular at the moment in the US and in Australia. There was a poll that Essential did a couple of months ago that said that fewer than 3 in 10 Australians think that trade deals have actually created jobs for Australians. That’s pretty scary, that’s pretty dangerous, when you think about how important trade is for Australia. We are a trading nation, we always have been…

SPEERS: So where do you stand then? What do you say to Australians?

CLARE: With the rise of Asia and so many middle class consumers that could potentially buy Australian goods and services that type of suspicion in the community is a dangerous thing.

SPEERS: So what do you then say to the Australian people as Labor’s spokesman on trade. Are you still saying free trade is a good thing? Are you saying that we need to shift back towards greater protectionism? Where do you now stand?

CLARE: Labor’s got the runs on the board here. Under Whitlam, then Hawke and under Keating, we ripped down tariff barriers, did the heavy lifting there that helped to grow the Australian economy and lift real wages. They weren’t popular when they were done but I think with hindsight people look back now and know that they were big important reforms that transformed the Australian economy.

The point I make in the paper today is that when you’ve got so much suspicion out there, it doesn’t help if you sign up to trade agreements that say that you don’t need to check first if there is an Australian who can do a job before you bring in workers from overseas.  Unfortunately, that’s what the Government has done in a number of agreements.

SPEERS: And you’re saying that the TPP did just that?

CLARE: Yes it did. So one of the parts of the TPP that the Government agreed to was to allow workers from about six different countries around the world to come to Australia before there was labour market testing, which is a term that basically means a company needs to check first if there is an Aussie that can do the job before they bring a worker in from overseas. I think one of the things that really peeves middle class and working class Aussies off is if you’ve got workers coming in from overseas doing jobs that Australians could potentially do. The 457 visa system is always and has always been designed to fill a gap where there isn’t an Australian that could do the job. It shouldn’t be used to replace Australians that are available to do those jobs.

SPEERS: Are you similarly wary about some of the other regional trade deals that are being talked about? The Chinese led, RECP is the acronym, that doesn’t include the United States is being pushed by China. There’s also an APEC wide trade deal which has been talked about for years and they’ll talk about this weekend in Peru. What are your thoughts on those?

CLARE: Well two things. The Government is pursuing bilateral trade agreements with countries like Indonesia and India; I think that is fundamentally the right thing to do. The work that we are doing with Indonesia is very important. They’re our next door neighbour, they’ll be one of the biggest economies in the world in the decades ahead and trade there is underdone. I’m on the record saying that the work the Government is doing there is good and very, very important.  

SPEERS: But presumably with Indonesia and India, you wouldn’t want any free movement of labour under any trade deal that we do with Indonesia or India.

CLARE: Once again I think most Australians would expect, and think it’s fair enough, that before you bring a worker in from overseas you first check and see if there’s an Australian who can do that job. That’s not protectionism that’s just common sense.

On the broader agreements the point I’d make is that what we really need in our region is a trade agreement between China and the United States. The key to success in our region and throughout the world in the century ahead is what those two great powers do. It means their governments working together, their militaries talking to each other and also a trade agreement that helps mesh them and their economies closer together.

One of the weaknesses with the TPP is that the Americans were part of it but the Chinese weren’t, at least not now. And one of the weaknesses with the RCEP – or proposed RCEP agreement – is that the Chinese are part of that but the Americans aren’t.

We need to be looking at an agreement that brings them both together and perhaps APEC, that Labor helped forge all those decades ago, might be the vehicle to bring them together and an agreement that involves not just them but also all the countries of the region, and that would be good for Australia be good for the whole region.

SPEERS: If we go on what Donald trump said during the election campaign he was talking about putting tariffs on Chinese imports of as much as 45% he’s backed off that I think a little bit since, but not exactly friendly trade terms with China in terms of the rhetoric from him.

CLARE: No it’s not, that risks retaliation and catapulting us into a trade war in the region and that’s obviously not what we want. The key here to prosperity and economic growth in our region are those two great countries working together and I think a key part of that is them sitting down and looking at how they can develop an agreement like this. The last thing we want is a trade war between those two countries.

SPEERS: Now just on the 457s, Labor wants to tighten up the rules here particularly around ensuring those who come in as an electrician or a plumber get their ticket pretty quickly and can’t work until they do, having any company that has any more than five foreign workers on a 457 having ministerial approval to do so, the Government’s talking about a couple of different changes on 457s; if you lose your job you have less time that you can stay in the country and try and find another one. At the end of the day where has been the problem with 457s do you think?

CLARE: Let me give you one example of a chicken farm in Queensland where all the local workers lost their job and then they were replaced with people on 457 visas. You’ve got about eleven and a half thousand 457 workers working in cafes across the country at the same time when more than 100,000 people have lost full time jobs in the last 12 months.

The argument we’re making here is that it makes sense before you bring a worker in from overseas to see if there’s an Australian who can do that job. We’ve got labour market testing now, it was restored after the Howard Government removed it, but it can be beefed up and some of the things that we’re arguing here will help to make sure companies have to go through a genuine process of seeing if there’s an Australian who can do the job before they bring workers in from overseas.

SPEERS: Let me ask you finally Jason Clare, Penny Wong today she’s repeated essentially what she said a few days ago about a Donald trump victory – “we are at a change point, we face the possibility of a very different world, a very different America, we need to now consider Australia’s foreign policy and global interest over the coming months”. Do you share that view and what should we be considering watering down at all what we’re doing with the United States?

CLARE: You’ve read what Penny said today and so have I. She made the point first off that the alliance between the United States and Australia is the foundation of our foreign policy and all of the suggestion by Malcolm Turnbull and others today that that’s at risk is just rubbish and nonsense. The hyperventilation that you’ve seen today from Malcolm Turnbull I think belittles him. All this feigned indignation I think is not the sort of thing you’d expect from a Prime Minister. The alliance is and I think should remain bipartisan policy in this country.

But Penny made the important point that there’s a level of uncertainty here. It’s not just trade that we’ve spoken about and the risk of a trade war between those two great countries of China and the United States, but also the relationship between the United States and Japan and South Korea. You were talking to Chris Pyne about that a moment ago and what that might mean for nuclear proliferation. Penny’s argument which others have made, Gareth Evans and others, is that in that environment Australia needs to step up its activity in Asia both directly one on one with individual countries of Asia, but also play a role in making sure…

SPEERS: So this is not about watering down anything with the United States our joint operations, what we do at Pine Gap, our role in the Middle East. None of that, this is purely about beefing up our ties with Asia?

CLARE: Sorry I didn’t hear that correctly, David.

SPEERS: I’m just saying so Labor’s not saying we need to reconsider our military exercises with the US, what we do in the Middle East, Pine Gap. None of that…

CLARE: Of course not.

SPEERS: It’s just about beefing up ties with Asia.

CLARE: Absolutely and potentially playing a role in making sure the US administration is closely – and remains closely engaged with Asia and understand the concerns and issues in our region. That’s the point Penny was making there and all of this rubbish from Malcolm Turnbull I think belittles him. He knows it’s not true. One of the reasons I think Trump was so successful last week is people saw him as authentic as genuine, not a politician making up fake answers. When Malcolm Turnbull goes on and says things that he knows aren’t true but just acts like a try hard Tony Abbott, like the Milli Vanilli of Australian politics just lip-syncing the sort of things that Tony Abbott would say, I think people see that and they think Malcolm Turnbull is not the real deal.

SPEERS: Shadow Trade Minister, Jason Clare thank you for joining us this afternoon and before I let you go congratulations on becoming a dad. That’s wonderful news and congratulations to you.

CLARE: Thanks very much, David. Life changing, not very much sleep but it’s fantastic.

SPEERS: I know all about that and hey I’m amazed that you are still awake. So thank you very much, Jason Clare.

CLARE: Thanks, mate.